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Abused And Forced To Marry Her Rapist, How A ‘Single Yet Married’ Woman Is Fighting Back

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“I had a very bad childhood, teenage was worse and marriage was the worst.”

Sheila was born in a middle-class family and was the elder among two siblings. Sheila was talented. But compared to her sister, she was ‘unlucky’ – a feeling she had since her childhood. She was dark, while her sister was fair.

She grew up listening to the tragic story of her grandfather passing away during her parents’ wedding. Her mother was labelled as a bad omen by the patriarchal society. Not only did the innocent mother suffer this cruel blow, she also met with an accident in which her hair got entangled in a table fan. Sheila’s mother had knee-length hair and was taking an afternoon nap when that incident occurred. Hearing her screams, she was rushed to the hospital – but by that time, she had already suffered a major nerve damage in her brain. She was declared schizophrenic.

Though people expected her father to abandon the newly-wedded wife, he didn’t. Instead, he took very good care of her, till his last breath. Sheila was born two years after this tragedy. Thereafter, she gave birth to a stillborn boy. Later, her younger sister was born. Sheila’s mother was sent to a mental asylum for a year because of her deteriorating health. Sheila was still a little girl of five – and from then on, she had to tend to her young sister.

Sheila took charge of her family. She was like a mother to her baby sister, while also doing all the household chores. Yet, she was a happy-go-lucky child. All she had was her father and her grandmother (who was already battling with cancer at its last stage). Both the sisters grew up well. The younger sibling got married and is now happily settled abroad.

Back in school, when Sheila was an all-rounder, she preferred to play with boys and not girls as she felt the girls were jealous of her. During her college days, a Muslim man proposed to her – but she declined. Luckily, he was kind and never held any grudge against her.

Like many young women, Sheila too dreamed of her home. She also wanted to be a special person to someone who would love her. She completed her graduation in Chennai. To support her family economically, she took up a part-time job and also started giving tuitions. Here, she met Ravi who saved her from getting molested by her employer.

There were several occasions where Ravi saved her from getting abused. Subsequently, he proposed to her for a marriage. But Sheila’s family did not agree due to the fact Ravi did not come from a ‘suitable background’, and due to the fact that to a certain extent, he was a man of a questionable character.

Post that episode, Sheila bagged a job and landed in Mumbai. Her parents joined her after two years. Meanwhile, Sheila had taken a liking to her job, and was happy to be alone, while continuing with her higher studies.

At work, she met Arnab who worked in the same IT firm where she worked. Arnab was a friendly person and surprisingly extra-affectionate towards his female colleagues. He was from Agra, but he lived with his sister in Mumbai. Arnab shared all the good things about his family with Sheila. He said that they had a big house and would like to get married soon. He also gifted her a new dress, which she could wear on his wedding.

Little did Sheila realise that her ordeal was just beginning. One day, Arnab said that he had left his sister’s house and had rented a flat, where he had invited all his friends for a get-together. Not surprisingly, he invited Sheila as well. On reaching his place, she realised that she had been lied to. She was the only one who had been invited.

Sheila, then a virgin, was only 22. She was brutally raped by Arnab. She had no one to listen to her sorrows. She bled for a month, her weight reduced drastically (which ultimately healed). However, her mental scars were never healed.

Arnab then blackmailed her and forced her to marry him. All he needed was a ‘traditional’ wife who would take care of the family and also earn money. Arnab had one more scarily eerie thing about him – he always carried a gun and he married Sheila at gunpoint.

The early years of Sheila’s marriage were very challenging. The culture clash between the north and the south reared its ugly head again. Sheila came from the south, while Arnab from the north – and she struggled to unite with her in-laws. Sheila did everything to satisfy them, so that they would accept her as their daughter-in-law. She touched their feet each day and did all the household chores. She also learned cooking north Indian delicacies. At the same time, she was also sexually assaulted by Arnab, each night. In the process, she had to leave her higher studies midway.

Back in Agra, where Arnab’s family owned a big mansion, she had her brother-in-law Kabir and her sister-in-law’s husband Ankush. Both Kabir and Ankush also repeatedly tried to rape her when she was newly wed. Sadly, Arnab did not even bother to care for the vulnerable young wife. She was often ridiculed by those men, who often said that all south Indian ladies are porn actresses. All they saw in her was her sexuality.

To the whole world, Sheila and Arnab’s story was like the movie “2 States”. But sadly, nothing was alright at the home front. She was also mocked for not being able to bear a child.

After eight long years, Sheila went for the artificial test tube technique and got a baby girl through a C-Section procedure. She remained in hospital for 15 days, as there was no one to take care of her – not even her husband. Instead, she was ridiculed for bearing a daughter and not a son. Once again, she was mentally tortured to go in for another child – this time, a son.

How could they have thought like this? How could they have thought of exposing her to that grueling process again? Frankly speaking, I think they should have been dragged to jail.

Sheila’s ‘loser’ husband then decided to get rid of his job, right before he would have been transferred to Bangalore – something he did not appreciate. Rather, he wanted to be an entrepreneur. Despite having a husband and her in-laws at home, the baby was kept in a day care centre as Sheila had to resume her duties to earn money for the lazy husband and run the household.

Sheila’s family offered her support to take care of the baby whenever possible. But, they were not allowed to do so by the in-laws. They were taunted that after her marriage, they should not have kept any relations with her.

On one occasion, her in-laws supposedly stole all the jewellery she had – and then branded her. Her indifferent husband did not even support her. Sheila suffered in silence, but she never revealed her agony to her parents, because her mother was mentally unstable and her father was old. She felt that she was guilty of love marriage and should have considered arranged marriage instead.

The little daughter grew up witnessing the cruelty of the callous father. She often complained to her mother – “Mummy why didn’t you get a better daddy for me?” Sheila had no answer.

In the meantime, the couple managed to buy a house of their own. However, she realized that her indolent husband had already become bankrupt as he had taken a huge loan in her name to start his business. But he had no money to pay back, as the business did not fare well while his partners cheated him. While we all know that in business we need to work hard and not depend excessively on partners, that man used it as an excuse to sit back and enjoy his wife’s earnings.

She was dealt another cruel blow when there was a robbery at her home. Whatever little valuables she had also got stolen. The couple went to the police station to lodge a FIR. Instead, the police accused them of lodging a false complaint.

Her married life was made all the more miserable whenever her husband physically abused her, leaving wounds and scars on her body. Also, Arnab seemed to be an atheist whereas Sheila was god-fearing. Often, he mocked her, saying, “You have been raped, so you should always love to get raped”.

At this time, she also realised that he had faked his birth date to her. During the marriage, he said that he was two years older than her. Later, it was revealed that he was actually eight years elder to her. Sheila could not go for a divorce due to her abusive dominating husband.

Arnab, now fully bankrupt, enjoys the money his wife brings home. He is a chain smoker and an alcoholic. Sheila lost her father recently. Now, she is the only bread-winner in the family taking care of her daughter, her ill mother and her crazy husband.

Though she works in the corporate sector and earns well, she has had to compromise a lot on her health. She put on enormous weight and has a low haemoglobin count and blood pressure. She also suffers from cervical spondylitis, acute vertigo and depression. At one point of her life, she was desperate to end her life. But she couldn’t for the sake for her teenage daughter and ailing mother.

Though she is married on paper, there is no relationship between Sheila and her husband. She is continuing the marriage only for the sake of society and for her daughter’s sake, so that she can complete her education and become independent. All the loans of her bankrupt husband are in her name, while the house is also mortgaged. Hence, she has to continue with her job and the marriage.

Sheila, who is now in her mid-40s, had to tolerate such abuse. But still, she refused to die.

In this article, I spoke of my friend Sheila who opened up to me. She is my best friend, but here, I have a message/warning for our misogynistic society. We women have tolerated enough. Now, we refuse to give in to the demands of such men. Sheila is contemplating divorce, but I am cautioning you people not to play with our emotions. If you dare to raise a hand, get ready to be hit back in return.

We all are Nirbhayas now, and we will no more tolerate abuse. As women, we should be aware of people who go out of their way to befriend us. Malicious people like Arnab need to be dealt with extreme caution. They can ruin your lives forever – as Arnab did to Sheila.

Marital rape is a crime, and calls for imprisonment. Also, it is the duty of parents to indoctrinate a child with the value of self-esteem. Sadly, in Sheila’s case, her parents couldn’t, as her mother was ailing and her father had to take care of her mother and the finances. She grew up feeling that she was unlucky. No, I refuse to accept this. We aren’t unlucky. Even if we are, we should turn that ‘unlucky’ thing to a victory. It should be a challenge for us.

To each woman, I say share your stories so that we can fight out our battles together. We need to unite and punch people like Arnab in their faces.

Let us not increase the number of Sheilas. Let us put an end to every possible Arnab. We refuse to give up. We are ready to break your spines, if need be. Better be prepared for it, Mr Arnab!

All the names have been changed to protect identities.


Featured image used for representative purposes only.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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