The earth, the holy cow, and a mother have to endure (Dharti, Maiye, aur Gaye ko sahna parta hein), says a Bihari proverb. Hemashri details the insensitivity of the bureaucratic machinery towards the sufferings of women, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.
Kundal Sinha was a beautiful Manipuri woman in her early 30s. She came to lodge a complaint, as her husband had not sent her a single penny to maintain the family for the last eight months. She was helpless as she could not maintain her two school-going sons. Both the sons were compelled to drop out of their schools. She could not pay house rent but somehow the aged landlady was sympathetic to allow her to stay. Sinha was somehow managing to survive with the support of her younger brother. We recorded her complaint as the Officer-in-Charge of the District Women Cell. We traced out the address of her husband who was a BSF jawan posted in Punjab. We sent a letter to his officer in charge apprising the situation and to send him for an appearance to hear both the parties. Sinha one day turned up to tell that her husband had come to Silchar but he had not visited home. The man was having a torrid affair with the wife of his brother. Often it is a woman who torments another woman – what an irony! I decided to request the Superintendent of Police for assistance to compel his presence. After a telephonic discussion with the Superintendent of Police, I decided to visit his office with the lady.
This Superintendent of Police was a very interesting man, who was convicted for a case related to violation of human right. He served his conviction period in Tihar Jail where his next cell neighbour was the controversial godman Chandraswami. Very often he used to narrate to us stories of his jail days, ‘Jab mein Tihar mein tha…” A normal person would try to keep it a secret, this man would share with all to entertain. He was a generous man and a wonderful host, who used to throw lovely parties.
I narrated the plight of the distressed lady seeking his support to compel the appearance of her irresponsible husband. In response, the officer said something which made me mad. The District Women Cell was constituted under Assam State Women Commission Act and the district forums had no power to compel the appearance of persons against whom complaints were lodged. So I needed his help for which I was there. The responsible officer who was from Bihar told me that day, “Madam, Bihar mein kahawat hein – Dharti, Maiye, aur Gaiye ko sahna parta hein (There is a Bihari proverb that mother, earth, the cow and a mother – they have to endure).” I felt I was wasting time talking to such an unreasonable man who does not even have sympathy for the poor lady. I handed over a letter requesting to provide police assistance to produce Mr Sinha before the District Women Cell and left. After a few days, the man appeared before the district Women cell. However, without paying any money he left town. This time we wrote to his head of the office to provide a part of the salary to his wife. The lady kept coming to my office and I felt helpless for not being able to give her prompt relief. I had written a letter to the Chairperson of the State Women Commission narrating the inconvenience we endure in field for not having enough legal authority to settle disputes. Even after two reminders, no response was received.
The owner of the parlour where I used to go for my haircut one day told me about a lady, Pronoti. Hers was a love marriage with a lecturer of Assam University. During her pregnancy, she did not receive proper care from her husband and mother in law. After a caesarean operation, she developed paralysis on one side of her body. She was sent for physiotherapy in the clinic next to this parlour. The parlour owner and she had become friends. This ailing lady used to narrate her stories of domestic abuse. My friend told me she would come to the parlour to trim her nails as she could not do it herself. The abused lady with the help of a few neighbours had lodged a complaint in the District Women Cell, said the parlour owner. I started my search operation to trace the complaint of Pronoti married to one Depankar. After several weeks, finally I managed to trace a letter related to Pronoti. The letter was received nearly six months back but was gathering dust. We pursued the case and read the complaint of Pronoti, which was a painful tale of a love marriage that had ended in a disaster. The lady from Upper Assam had married the man belonging to another community without parents’ consent. We served letters to the Vice-Chancellor to ensure presence of the lecturer, her husband. He finally had to appear but my senior officer, who was the Chairperson of the District Women Cell was very lenient towards the oppressing husband, which led to arguments as I had protested. We were pursuing for maintenance as Pronoti had already left for her mother’s home. My senior had agreed to an absurdly low rate of maintenance. The matter was finally taken up by the State Commission. After a few months, I came to know from my friend running the beauty parlour that Pronoti was suffering from cancer. Perhaps my senior male colleague also believed, “Dharti, Maiye, aur Gaye ko sahna parta hein”
We have so many Acts to safeguard the interest of women but have we been able to implement these effectively? A piece of legislation remains a piece of paper until it is implemented in the right spirit. This country perhaps possesses too many laws for women. We now need to work on the right framework to implement our legal provisions and perhaps one crucial issue is sensitisation of law enforcing agencies. Until and unless such issues are handled with sensitivity, people with feudal, sadist mentality will reduce it to jokes.
How long the earth, the holy cow, and a mother can endure it all?
Photos from the Internet
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Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.