This is another day, yet I find this day very hard. I felt sick in stomach at morning and threw up twice. Since then I am scared, I am very scared. Could I be pregnant? Oh God, please help me, I don't want to be pregnant again.
I have three daughters- seven years old Bishakaha, five years old Sulekha and three years old Rekha. I was pregnant again a year ago. When I was four months pregnant, my husband and my mother in-law coaxed me to see a clinic in near by town to find if this was a boy. Bad luck to me and to them, she was a female again. They wanted me to terminate that pregnancy then and there. Though I did not want another daughter but I did not want to abort that baby either. They forcefully got me admitted to the clinic. I opposed, I fought and I cried but none cared. On that day, then and there, that pregnancy was terminated.
This is a different India, a hell inside an apparent heaven. My village is just 100 kilometre away from the metro city but still almost everybody here is as poor as me. My husband works as a labourer and do some farming in our little piece of land. I don't starve everyday but I do starve. On top my already existing misery my husband drinks. He indeed drinks a lot and shouts abusive languages on the street.
I am used to tyranny of the poverty but I am still not used to cruelty of mankind. My reluctance to accept the cruelty of mankind subjects me to more cruelties. With my mother's insistence, and for her long drawn fight against her family, I managed to go to high school. I am not sure if this is a blessing or a curse for me. My husband thinks education creates a bitch out of a woman. My husbands reminds me that everyday. If he is drunk or if he is angry, he calls me a bitch. In anger, he even call our daughters bitches.
I am not sure if I truly believe in God. Like everybody else in the village, I pray. And like everybody else, my prayer goes unanswered. These days I am rather angry with God and despise God in my heart. Why not? If I show so much love, devotion and care to Him, He is bound to do me some favour. He has never done that. Yet I continue to worship God, like another few billions of people in the world. I don't know why I do it but I just do it. I pray God.
I still don't understand why this society kills girl child and celebrates birth of a boy child. Girls are more caring to their parents, they are more affectionate to everybody else. They are easier to raise anyway. Even in old age of their parents, girls support parents more than boys. Boys can be very fearsome to their parents. My husband abuses my mother in-law everyday. He even sometimes beats her. Yet she loves a boy. Yet society hates girl child. The society hates but possibly doesn't know why.
My mother in-law says I have to have a boy child to continue the tradition of our family. This is an omen not to have a boy in our family. Even she suggests that I am an omen myself, and that is why I could not bear a boy child. Often she calls me "bitch the omen". I often wonder being a woman herself, how she could be so cruel to women! I guess this is for so called conditioning by the society. Here everybody is a fox. If one shouts, so does the other. I often wonder if we really have brain that is capable of thinking! Are not we brain dead being? We just copy the society, we never ever use our brain.
My husband tells me that we can't afford to pay dowry and that's why we can not have a girl child. We are too poor to pay dowry. How the dowry came into being in first place? Isn't that the attitude to say women are inferior being and they better be treated as commodity? India boasts that she has passed "anti-dowry law" long long ago. Yet the practice of dowry is wide spread. It's not only limited to poor and illiterate group of people, it's practised even among educated and rich people. For rich, dowry may be just another way to express that they are rich and generous. They can give, they can give outrageously. And that further puts poor people under more pressure.
I can't think any more, I have the obsession that I can't stop thinking. My brain is my worst enemy. It just gives me more pain and tortures my mind. May be my husband is right that education creates a bitch out of woman! I am such a bitch that I don't sop tormenting myself and tear myself into pieces.
Now everybody in my family is fed. I take dishes to the pond for cleaning. I am too tired to clean them now. I sink them into edge of the pond and I sit on the broken stairs of the pond. Sun behind me puts a shadow of mine onto the surface of pond. I see my shadow on the still water. I move, she moves. Then a kingfisher catches a fish and flies away. This causes a little ripple on surface of the water. I see my shadow breaks into pieces. Gradually the ripple dies down and my shadow rejoins herself again. I wonder if my life's challenges are just ripple of a pond or tsunami of a sea! I could possibly survive if this is just ripple but what happens if those challenges are all consuming tsunami! I hear cries of other women every day and night. They are either beaten by their husbands or by their in-laws. I watch in television frequently that some women have been lynched, some women have been burnt, some women have been hanged from trees and some women have been raped. I hear news- dozens of female foetuses have been recovered from an well in one of the states. This scares me to death. I don't know when I shall be one of those poor women. May be I shall be burnt or I shall be hanged. I live every moment in utmost terror.
It can't happen that leaders and lawmakers don't know this. This hell is so widespread that even a blind can see and a deaf can hear. I wonder how come nothing has been done to end this. I wonder if this is a deliberate creation of the society to nurture the tradition where women will always be treated as slaves and commodity. I get lost into the darkness of fear. I feel numb and unable to move. These days when I cry, tears don't flow. My eyes are so dry! Just a heaviness grips my heart and pains me. I fear if I will die one day out of an heart attack. Then I see light in my death. I hope I die fast and soon. That will be my freedom from all these pain and sufferings. Then I clinch my fists and tighten my jaws, why would I die like that? If I die I would die for a reason. I will die one day any way. Then why not make my death a little different. Why not fight all these cruelties? My heart jolts in fear again but I rejoin myself again like that broken shadow in ripple. I must fight. I will not die before my death.
I am now four months pregnant, and my husband wants me to see that clinic in nearby town again. My mother in-law joins in, she says this time I am lucky and this will be a boy. But just to be sure, they want me to go to that clinic. They have been relatively kind to me so far. Because they hope I will bear a boy child this time. My mother in-law is confident, she says I look too big now for a four months old pregnancy and that is because I got a baby boy within me. Over last four months I have a thought a lot and I have lost sleep a lot in just thinking. Now I know what to do. I tell them "no". I tell them I won't go to any clinic to check if I have a boy or a girl. They are now bit surprised that I can tell them "no" on their face. In this society here women don't speak up. In this society here women must not speak up. That is the unwritten law of this society. Nobody breaks that law. And foolish women who break this law, they are burnt or they are hanged. My husband first tries coaxing me. Then he shows his usual anger. He calls me a bitch. I keep silent. My mother in-law tries persuading me too. She then throws all her anger and abusive languages. She calls me "bitch the omen". She threatens me she will drive me out of this house. She curses me that I should be eaten by vultures and street dogs. I keep silent. My silence is my power to say "no".
At evening, my husband is drunk. She asks me to go to that clinic now with him. I keep quite. Then he holds my hair and hit me with his slaps and fists. She kicks me in my tummy and chest. I fall on the ground and I start crying loudly. Hearing me crying, our next door neighbour and his wife come in. They save me for that moment and take me to their home. But now I have to decide what I like to do. The neighbour and his wife tell me confidentially that they can take me to my parents' place. I have been to my parents' place earlier being hit by my husband. My parents keep me for a while, after that they send me back to my in-law's place again. They say, this is not right for a married woman to live in her parental place. They love me but they fear this society more. Between love and the fear, it's always the fear that wins in this society. And that is why this tradition of torture is perpetuating. Today's young mother will be tomorrow's cruel mother in-law. Woman will learn to despise another woman. Woman will learn to burn another woman. Woman will learn to hang another woman. This is like a conditioning of the whole womanhood here in this society. Law against all these violence and torture does exist but who care? This is a world of apathy. Nobody cares until that particular cruelty hurts him or her. To their surprise, I tell my neighbours that I shall now go to police station. Their enthusiasm in helping me goes off. Rather, they ask me not to do this. As this will hurt the prestige of my family. I feel like laughing through my pain. what this family-prestige comes from? Does this come from killing unborn life in her mother's womb? Does this prestige come from beating woman for not agreeing to their conspiracy of killing an unborn baby? I can't help, I laugh. I laugh loudly. I thank them for being kind to me and request them not to tell any one at least for next few hours where I am going. Otherwise I can be attacked by none other than my husband. I leave my neighbour's house and walk out in darkness.
I start telling the story to a police officer. He seems to be a kind man. He nods his head in frustration and anger. He stops me and tells me that I don't have to tell any more. He says, he faces this sort of problem everyday. He says he is sick and tired of this. He asks me if I want to go back to my in-law's house. Then he suggests, I should rather go to my parents' place. He writes a FIR. He suggests, a police van will take me to my parents' place. He assures me, next morning he will go to my village and look into it.
My mother starts crying when she sees me getting off the police van in middle of the night. I am calm, I tell her not to worry. I ask if I can eat something now. My father looks at me and then goes back to his bed room. His silence tells me his helplessness. He is also part of that same society that treats women inhumanely. He can't even ask me why I am there at the middle of the night. After I have eaten something, my mother asks me what has happened. I say- well, this is another bad day for me. I tell her I shall stay there for a while. The police officer has suggested me that I should not return to my in-law's place until he advises me further.
Five days later, the police officer comes. He tells me that he has spoken to my husband and my mother in-law. He has informed them that a FIR has been lodged and any further misconduct from them will force the police to arrest them. "FIR" and "arrest" are the two scary words in a village. An intelligent police officer can do lot of good for a village just by pronouncing those two words. This officer has also spoken to the village chief just to ensure my additional safety. He says when I am ready, he will take me to my in law's place.
I reach my husband's place next day. Reaching my husband's place being escorted by a police is never a good feeling. But for me this is more of a survival for myself and for baby in my womb. I tell to myself - Janaki, you have to do it, you just can't let this torture to continue. Some one has to stand against all these oppressions one day, and say enough is enough. Why that someone should not be myself? I try staying calm and composed. I keep praying that deaf God, if He listens to me one day. When I reach, my mother in-law disappears from my sight. My husband leaves home and goes out. I get into house hold chores and take care of my three children. They sob and then they cry. They tell me how scared they are. I kiss all three of them, and tell them I shall not leave them again. I am not sure if I could stick to my promise to them. This is school time, I prepare my older two daughters for school. They have missed school in my absence. I feed the little one and put her to sleep. Then I cook for the family. In no time I am back to my business again.
My husband comes late at night. Children are sleeping already. My husband is drunk as usual. I prepare food for him. He eats and then he goes to bed. I make my bed with kids on the floor. We all five have just one room to sleep. Some time the older one sleeps with her grand mother. My husband gets up from cot, holding my hand he takes me to the corner of the kitchen. He suddenly starts crying and expresses how sorry he is. He still smells alcohol. I stand silent. I don't feel anything. Constant pain has made me so numb. He keeps crying and I keep standing there. He tells me, he loves me and this is just for poverty that he is so cruel. He sobs and then he tries putting his head on my chest, I step backwards. I am so numb.
Time passes. This seems that my husband is more responsible now and he promises to his children he won't drink again. He breaks his promises frequently but he drinks less than before. He works harder. I feel good about it. My mother in-law is as before. She keeps taunting me for not being able to bear a boy child. She prays God and and she curses God. She cusres children, she curses her son, she curses herself. As if cursing is the only thing she is living for. She shouts and then she cries loud. She is fanatic. She is destroying her own peace and she is destroying peace of ours. I can't even think- once she too was a daughter in-law like me. How come a human being turns into such a witch? Poverty alone can't turn a human being into a witch. This must be the cruel conditioning of the society. They make you hate everybody and everything. My mother in-law is the living example of that. I resolve to live with it.
I am bigger in size now. Any-day I could give birth. My husband speaks to dhai-ma (untrained midwife in village) , to ensure she is available in time. For some reason, my mother in-law is more hostile to me and my three daughters. She gets into her madness frequently. I am scared of it. I express my fear to husband. He tells me "don't worry, she is like that". But I notice a distinct change. She prays for hours asking God to give me a boy- child. She tells everybody that this is going to be a boy-child. I find this very alarming. A fanatic can harm if things don't go their way. I am scared and repetitively express my fear to my husband. He puts me off again and again saying ‘don't worry, she is like that".
The day comes, one fine evening, I give birth to a child. And it's a girl. I am disheartened but I have carried this fear so long that I have got used to it. My husband is very disappointed too. He gives me a stern look and then he leaves home. I know he will come back drunk again in protest of his misfortune. My mother in-law shouts and cries loud. She curses me, curses my parents, curses my children and curses her. She keeps cursing and crying. She does not want to stop. I am so pained and exhausted. Sleep overcomes me.
When I open my eyes by early morning, I unconsciously extend my arms for my baby. I can't find my baby on my side. I am still sleepy, I rub my eyes. No, she is not in bed. My heart jolts. I open the windows, to get more light. She is not in bed, she is not in floor. Fanatically I call my husband, he does not come. My other children wakes up hearing me shouting. I am too exhausted too shout loud, but I shout fanatically. My husband is still sleeping on kitchen floor, still very drunk and smelling alcohol. I tell him that baby is not in the bed. He shows irritation at first, then regain himself first. He stands up quickly.
On my shout, everybody from neighbourhood comes in. Everyone wants to know what has happened. I tell them. Everybody looks for baby. One of my neighbours asks me where my my mother-in-law is. I am so mad that have not thought of that. Everybody starts looking for my mother-in-law. None finds her. I ask my husband to report this to police. He jumps in disagreement but I insist. With my insistence he goes to police station.
Two police officers come soon. They interview my husband then they talk to me. I can't talk. I am in so much pain and distress. I get angry to those officers. They talk to my children, they talk to my neighbours. Then they leave our place.
By evening, the OC of the police station comes. He calls my husband. I also come along him. The OC wants to speak to my husband only. I insist that I need to know what is happening. Since he knows me already, he retreats of his wish to speak to my husband alone. He explains that a baby has been recovered from a nearby jungle.
A dog was barking loud there in the jungle, one villager followed the dog. He found a shallow newly dug grave. A pair of hands and legs were popping out of the grave. He ran to police station and informed the police.
The police and few villagers went there and removed freshly dug soil and recovered the baby. Police took the baby to district hospital morgue for post mortem.
Villagers searched for my mother-in-law, police searched for my mother-in-law. She was not found anywhere. I suffer guilt and frustration. I should have gone to my parents' place for delivery of this child. But I did not since I was too preoccupied with idea to prove a point. That point was to prove my courage to bring a baby girl to this world against wishes of my husband, my mother-in-law and this society. I get angry with my husband. I expressed my fear repetitively to my husband. But he never cared. He always thought all would be good. He never thought this could have happened. He knew this sort of incidence happened around the country though not very often. He possibly never thought this could happen to him. He looked very shocked too. We all were crying and sobbing all day and night. None had anything to eat. Children also hardly had any food. I didn't even notice this until I found that my little daughter was crying incessantly in hunger. I fed her and other two children. Myself and my husband stayed starved. We did not sleep. He was silent and grieved. And I was sobbing all night.
Next morning, few TV reporters come to our village. They speak to few villagers, take a brief account of what has happened. Then they come to our house. They ask questions to my husband, he stays silent. He seems to have gone numb and dumb. He walks away from them. Then they come to me. I walk away from them and then I come back. I have pain, I have guilt, I have stupidity but I have courage too. I don't care any more. Why should I? My whole life is pain and suffering. I am now so used to it. Things can't go worse than this. What about the idea of telling my story to the world? Would this world listen to my story? Even if it listens to my story, would it care? I am not the only one with this sort of misfortune. World has been told about such horror before. But has the world brought in any change so far? No, it has not. Otherwise why would I meet such a fate? Is this world deliberate to bring pain and sufferings to the women? Possibly it is. What's the point then telling my story again to this apathetic world?
A young woman journalist comes forward, she says " I am sorry this has happened to you" and then she puts her right hand on my left shoulder. She asks me if I want to tell anything. My lips quiver but I can't pronounce anything. I try again, this time too my lips shiver. All of a sudden, I burst into tears and then pronounce "I am dead and my soul is buried" and I then run away to that jungle.
© Arun Maji
Topic(s) of this poem: child, story, superstition, woman, womanhood
Form: Free Verse
This poem has not been translated into any other language yet.