While working for the empowerment of rural women, we were discussing the skill sets in the group and how members could use them for income generation. All women present commended Sudesh's exemplary tailoring skills. When I asked to be introduced to her, one of them informed me that she was staying with her mother nearby. She was called from her home. I looked at the frail woman. She was married but her wraith-like appearance was accentuated by tremors in the hands. I walked over and hugged her to give her the confidence of acceptance.
She broke down and cried her heart out. Slowly, she shared her pitiful tale. She had been married off at a tender age because her father had died penniless and her mother wanted her to be secure. However, all their efforts had come to naught. Within two-and-a-half years, Sudesh had given birth to two boys. Because of her frail health and nursing the two children, she could do very little about the house. Her mother-in-law did nothing to help. Instead, she hurled abuses at the poor thing. She threatened to send her back to her widowed mother. Yet Sudesh worked hard all day and succumbed to the wiles of her husband at night.
Meanwhile, she had many picked up health problems such as a failing sight, tremors in the hands, thinning hair and weakening of teeth. Then one day, she lost her front tooth and her husband beat her up for looking ugly and old. He declared that he had been defrauded by her old mother. The atrocities took their toll. Her mother-in-law had gradually deprived her of all creature comforts. She had carried away her cot, all but two sets of clothes, even the pots and pans in which she cooked meals for herself. The rest of the family ate separately.
The last straw was when her husband began teaching her sons to hurl abuses at their mother. Sudesh sobbed herself to sleep that night but was rudely pulled out of sleep by her husband who dragged her all the way out of the house. She cried and protested but she was told to go wherever she wanted to. When she asked for her children, she was told that they belonged to the father. She had no right on them. Sudesh sobbed all the way to her mother's village where she collapsed at her mother's door.
As I sat numbed by her revelations, I lamented her illiteracy, her youth, her lack of information and awareness and the absence of a helping hand in her life. Over the next few weeks, I tried to help Sudesh gain back some of her confidence and build her self-esteem. She began working on home furnishings. At first, she worked from home and then hired a room in the nearby town. After getting a bank loan, she began a micro-enterprise of making household linen. With help from the police and some lawyer friends, we could help Sudesh gain custody of her sons. She went on to set up an embroidery unit after obtaining training on embellishing techniques.
It was two years after that day when I had first met her that Sudesh came to my office. I sat admiring her silently as she exchanged greetings with other women. She was complaining to an assistant about keeping the phone busy and admiring the embroidery on the stole worn by her. Today, she is a confident and content woman.