A life of dignity, free of violence is all they want

Ramvati Bai, a tribal woman, was sexually abused by her father-in-law, just a week after her husband died leaving her with two children

Photo by Stella Paul
Photo by Stella Paul

Stella Paul

I was only 24 years old when my husband died; it was soon after my second child was born. I did not know what to do after my husband died. I would often think of killing myself. No, it was not because I was a widow and scared of living alone or taking care of my children, but because my father-in-law was constantly trying to sexually abuse me and I was sick of it.

It started a week after my husband died: I woke up in the middle of the night once and found my father-in-law trying to grab me. As I screamed, everyone in my house woke up and my father-in-law left the room quietly. Next morning, I expected everyone to discuss this and make my father-in-law apologise. But, to my shock, nobody said anything except my mother-in-law who started calling me a bad woman who had eaten her son alive.

In the beginning, I was disgusted and angry. It hadn’t even been a month since my husband had died, leaving me with two little children and now I had to support my children and bring them up all by myself. How could they even utter these words? Didn’t they know how sad and miserable I was already feeling after losing my husband? Which woman wants that?

Hopeless and helpless, I would just keep quiet and wish that they would stop being so cruel. At night, I would not sleep, scared that my father-in-law might take advantage and abuse me.

But soon, my anger and disgust turned to fear as both my parents-in-law started asking me to leave. My father-in-law also started to sexually harass me again. As I protested and resisted, my mother-in-law became more and more abusive and started putting pressure on me to take my children and return to my mother’s house.

Hopeless and helpless, I would just keep quiet and wish that they would stop being so cruel. At night, I would not sleep, scared that my father-in-law might take advantage and abuse me.

I live in Bakud village of Madhya Pradesh’s Betul district and I heard of a woman who had been fighting a case against her husband who was abusive towards her. She was also a tribal like me and she was neither rich, nor educated and was from the same area. But she knew a lot about the law and legal support for women facing domestic violence. I was very surprised to meet her and also very inspired to see how she was fighting against people who abused her. She told me that she was part of a network called Narmada Mahila Sangh, which supports all women who were facing domestic abuse and domestic violence. After talking to that woman, I decided to join the network and become a member.

Soon after, I told the fellow members about the harassment and abuse that I was facing at home from my parents-in-law and with their support, I filed a case against my in-laws.

Three years have passed since then. In these three years, things have changed so much! After I filed the case, the police arrested my father-in-law. The court later released him but warned him to stay away from me. The case is still continuing, but I have seen so many changes: my parents-in-law have divided the property and given me a plot. Although it’s a very small share that they have given me, I have built a two-room mud house there for my children and me. I, no longer, have to sleep in my parents-in-law’ house. My mother-in-law also seems scared and has stopped asking me to leave the house.

Recently, I got the job of cooking midday meals in a government school. I have admitted both my children in this school. I hope one day soon the court will give its verdict on my case and that I will be able to get the rightful share of my husband’s property. I also hope my father-in-law will get the punishment he deserves for sexually harassing me.

There are nearly a hundred such tribal women in our Narmada Mahila Sangh who have started to fight for their rights like me. We all want a life of dignity, free of violence.

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