Sukanti is a short-statured , lean and thin woman who works as a Maid servant in various houses of our colony. She has an air of peace and confidence about her. When our previous maid left us, we hired her as a part time worker. She is very efficient in her work, does cleaning, dusting and other household jobs with dedication and efficiency. Unlike most of the maids who absent themselves quite frequently without informing their employers, this one is quite regular and if at all if she has to skip a job she would give prior notice. She generally remains very quite but I could see the pain behind her otherwise peaceful face.
One day I asked her about her family. She has been married for the last fifteen years and has five children four of them being daughters. Three of her daughters are going to the government school and one has left studies to work as part time maid to supplement her mother’s income. When asked about her husband, she felt very sad and described the ordeal that she went through. She belongs to Uttar Pradesh (U.P) state of India and used to live with his parents. At the age of ten her mother died and his father promptly took another woman as a wife. Her step mother ill-treated her and her schooling stopped. She was sent to work in rich farmer’s household to work,. Whatever she earned was snatched by her step mother who often beat her black and blue. When she complained to her father, he expressed his helplessness. At the age of 14 she was married off to Ramesh, a young man of twenty from the nearby village. Her husband was illiterate and worked as a laborer in a nearby farm. He was a bad and mean person who was addicted to liquor/drugs and would invariably come home drunk. When confronted by her wife, he would beat her badly. Life carried on and Sukanti gave birth to four daughters. With very limited means, she had to work in the many houses. As the local employment reduced in districts of UP, Sukanti decided to shift to Punjab, near Chandigarh (India). Here a lot of construction activity of high rise buildings was going on and so finding a job for her husband as a construction laborer was no problem. Thus Ramesh was employed as a laborer where as Sukanti worked as a maid in many houses. She was soon blessed with a son, her fifth child. Ramesh continued to behave as usual as he spent most of his earnings on liquor and would often beat Sukanti.
One day Ramesh came home late in the evening. He was drunk and demanded that Sukranti provide him with non vegetarian food. Sukanti’s one daughter was having a high fever and she had been able to cook only a simple meal of Dal and Roti (Indian bread). Ramesh lost his cool and hit her so hard with a stick that her head was injured and she started bleeding . This was the end of her patience. She picked up an iron road and started hitting Ramesh back. Hearing the commotion, the neighbors rushed in and intervened to stop the fight. Ramesh was badly injured and bleeding from his face. He was taken to the government hospital when ten stitches were applied and his face stitched up. Police came but did not do much considering it to be a case of domestic quarrel. Ramesh recovered after about a fortnight and was discharged from the hospital. On return to his house, he asked Sukanti to give him some money as he was feeling urge of having a drink. This was a limit and Sukanti lost her cool, she picked up the same iron rod and threatened her husband that if he entered the house now, she would have no hesitation in killing him. The resolve and anger in her voice was genuine and this scared Ramesh. He left the house and has not returned till now even after two years of the episode. Sukanti is quite content in working in many houses and looking after her children. Her eldest daughter who had studied up to 7th standard had to be taken off from school and works to supplement her mother’s income. Sukanti has bought her books for private studies so that later she could complete her matriculation. Sukanti’s three daughters attend a free government school and her son has recently been admitted into the school. Sukanti is determined to impart some level of education to her daughters and son so that they could face the world. She is very happy minus her husband and has reconciled with her life.
We and others like us do try and help Sukanti by small monetary help from time to time, but it is she alone who has to stand up, have courage and settle her children. May God grant her such a resilience.
Much lip service is being provided about the “Women empowerment” in India, more so by our politicians and many NGOs but such a change is not possible till our society wakes up to the challenge, spread the message of providing education to the needy, help in curbing the menace of liquor and drugs, stop child marriages and create social awareness to effectively stop ill-treatment of women. There has to be a silent social revolution in this regard. Above all, a woman has to herself stand up for her own ‘Empowerment’ as Sukanti did.