Once she would cower in front of her drunkard husband who beat her up everyday. When she tried to leave him, she faced worse: abuse from the all-powerful khaps in her Saharanpur village. But today around 20 years later, says Nirmlala Kumari, 40, "I am not afraid of khaps anymore. Now, they are afraid of me."
On Wednesday, NGO Breakthrough recognised Nirmala Kumari, Shadab Jahan, Saroj Sharma and seven other NGOs and individuals who have helped women fight domestic violence by participating in their Bell Bajao campaign at a progarmme in Hotel Meadows Inn in the state capital. For some women who were honoured, the journey has been a personal one.
Nirmala, a dalit woman who was married at the age of 14, has a network of 1,500 women fighting domestic violence in western UP where khaps are extremely powerful and social mores rigid. Liberation was not easy for Nirmala, she tolerated abuse for several years before deciding to walk out on the marriage. "Initially I thought my husband will improve with time, especially after my son was born. But then I had two daughters and my family started starving me," recalls a teary-eyed Nirmala. After eight years of marriage, she left her husband, completed graduation and set up NGO Anchal Gramin Vikas and Samajik Sansthan to help others like her. Shadab Jahan of Saharanpur was a graduate fluent in English, when she was married off to an uneducated unemployed drunkard. Shadab had to work with an NGO to make ends meet but her husband would constantly accuse her of having illicit relations with co-workers.
"I filed for a separation three years ago. This was a big step in an orthodox Muslim family but I didn't want my sons to suffer. Now, I am living in Roorkee and working for women's upliftment through NGO Astitva," she says.
Saroj Sharma too suffered everyday for eight years before deciding to change her life and that of other women like her in 2005.
"One day, my friend, who was an Anganwadi worker, told me about the Bell Bajao campaign. I met the activists and the next time my husband hit me, I called the police immediately. From that day, he has never dared to beat me. Today I work in Kanpur against domestic violence," she says proudly.