An 18-year-old girl gets married, gets beaten up by her husband next day onwards, has children, goes through abortions and 26 years on, her battle for rightful money for her daughter and herself continues.
No, this is not the story of a Bollywood drama, it’s the real-life saga of 55-year-old Asha Manwani, who was tormented and ridiculed by her ex-husband for her short height and looks.
In 1984, Asha had to get an operation done for an ulcer. Her husband asked her to move to her mother’s home. He then refused to let her return and sold off all her belongings. Her own family did not support Asha and threw her out of their house too, supposedly on the instigation of her husband.
Asha, however, learnt her lesson and took it upon herself to help other women in distress. Hence, the inception of Lakshta Mahila Sansthan in Ajmer, Rajasthan. The gritty woman was honoured with the Neerja Bhanot Award at the UT Guest House, Sector 6, Chandigarh, on Sunday, and awarded a cash prize of R1,50,000 for the same.
“My husband started beating me up the very next day of our marriage. I eventually learnt that he was having an affair with his sister-in-law, and even before our divorce came through, he got married to her. I, meanwhile, had four children and five abortions,” says Asha, who has been fighting a case for her rightful money since 1986. “I don’t want a few papers to decide my case. I am being made to accept the meager amount that was promised to me as my ‘right’. My ex-husband, however, has married a third woman. I, on the other hand, have two children—Kaanta (32 and unmarried) and Vinod (29) to take care of [two of my children, twins, died in infancy]. Since 1998, I have been knocking the courts’ doors to get the due amount my ex-husband owes me for our daughter,” says the women’s rights activist.
“Other women should learn a lesson from my story; they should learn to put their motherhood on the backburner at the time of the divorce. Women should not opt to raise the children on their own. The father has an equal part to play,” says the Ajmer-based woman who went on to work with numerous women-centric NGOs such as the Mahila Jan Adhikar.
At her own NGO, Lakshta Mahila Sansthan, Asha says she comes across many such cases. “I receive innumerable cases involving dowry and domestic violence. What’s surprising is that even the educated class ends up being the victim. A few days ago, I was approached by a lady doctor who became the victim of her husband’s (again a doctor) male chauvinistic quirks. When I see women like these putting up with injustice and still tagging their husbands ‘pati parmeshwar’, I feel ashamed. Husband is not God; a man should learn to be friends with his wife,” says Asha, who earns her livelihood by stitching clothes (due to her lack of education).
Year 1988 onwards, Asha has helped thousands of women get their ‘streedhan’, reunited families out of court, helped divorced women and their children get shelter.