A well-settled groom, kids and a happy home – this is on the checklist of most women and Sunita* was no different. Vishal, a private company employee, responded to Sunita, a tuition teacher’s, profile on a matrimonial website, and they got married in 2008.
Vishal hailed from Aurangabad District in Maharashtra. It was mutually decided that the couple will live in Mumbai with Sunita’s mother who was bedridden. Sunita recalls, “We were very happy in the first few weeks of our relationship”.
However, her happily ever after collapsed within the first month of marriage with Vishal abusing her in front of her mother. “He harassed me mentally over the most trivial issues. He forbid me from talking to or meeting my friends. He changed my mobile Sim card to screen calls on my phone. I was forced to discontinue my tuition classes. The food that he would eat the day before would suddenly have extra salt the next day”, she recalls. Vishal would demand money for his personal expenses from Sunita and her mother “when I had exhausted my savings, he forced me to break my fixed deposits and when that money was over, my mother’s FDs as well. If I refused, he would abuse me. The only reason I gave in to these demands was because he threatened to leave me”.
The incidents of verbal abuse to her and her mother became part of her everyday life, “I told myself that these things happen and everyone should adjust in a marriage, I convinced myself that he will change” Sunita hoped
The noose gets tighter
“When I conceived a few months later I was overjoyed. I thought after the baby he would mend his ways. Instead, he threatened me saying if it its not a boy you just watch” she tells us. “After my son was born, he got very violent and forced my mother to leave her own house! I was very scared so I took my son and mother to my grandmother’s house. After a few days, he landed up there and asked me to come back to my mother’s house with our son, but said that my mother could not enter her own house”. Sunita’s mother called the police. This intimidated Vishal who begged for forgiveness in front of the police and promised to do away with his rash behaviour.
After the incident, Vishal decided that the family would move to his parent’s house in Aurangabad. What appeared like a fresh start, spelt more problems for Sunita, who was barely recovering from her cesarean delivery, “He continued with his violent behaviour at his house. I was forced to do all the housework. One day he lost his temper and threw me out of the house with my son.” After she returned to Mumbai, he followed her back and pleaded with her to take him back. In an attempt to save her marriage especially for her son, Sunita once again conceded to Vishal’s pleas.
The last straw
“I always hoped things will get better, he kept promising and I believed him every time”, says Sunita. Four years into her marriage and expecting her second child, Sunita lost all hopes that her husband would change. In 2011, Vishal demanded money to buy a new car “I had broken all our fixed deposits and I told him I was left with nothing.” “After I refused to give him money, he stole my jewellery. I was shocked beyond belief.” On confronting him, Vishal claimed he was not aware. Sensing something amiss, Sunita called the police, “as soon as he heard this, he took his bags and left. My mother registered an FIR (which was filed the very next day) and police investigations began immediately. Vishal was found in Aurangabad within the next three days and confessed to stealing the jewelry. He was arrested and later released on bail. He promised to pay for my second delivery and told the police he will take care of the children,” she recounts. “This incident broke my trust in him completely”
Vishal moved back to his parent’s house and Sunita was inching closer to her delivery date. “When I lost my maternal grandfather. Vishal came for the condolence meeting. I thought he had come to support me. But, instead, he grabbed my son and took him to Aurangabad. I could not follow him there. I begged and pleaded with him to send him back and finally, he sent him back, more than a month later”. When Sunita delivered, her husband did not come see his daughter’s face, forget paying for the delivery or providing for the children. Deciding that she had had enough, Sunita made up her mind to do something about her plight. After having gone through so much harassment, both mental and verbal
A ray of hope
“I had heard about Majlis Legal Centre from a friend. My mother had also read about Adv. Flavia Agnes’ work in a newspaper. I visited Majlis after my second delivery” With little education and no knowledge of the law, Sunita found a ray of hope in Majlis. They sent Vishal a legal notice, but he did not show up”.
“While I knew nothing about how the law works, the procedures, how long it would take, the lawyers at Majlis gave me full support and confidence. They explained that I could file a simple case for maintenance for me and my children.” Sunita tells us. Her lawyer recalls, “Sunita’s case was filed by my colleague. When I took up her case I remember her as being very scared. But, considering what she had gone through, she was very determined too”.
Sunita has managed to get her jewellery back and also some of the money she gave Vishal. The Family Court has granted her interim maintenance for both her children. Her petition is at the stage of evidence.
A new lease of life
Admitting to being apprehensive initially about petitions, lawyers and courts, “I had made up my mind that even though the process may be time consuming, I wanted justice for me and my children”.
Seven years on, Sunita is no longer the scared woman she was. She lives with her mother in the eastern suburbs of Mumbai, her life is slowly getting back to normal. She has resumed her tuitions, her older son is in the first standard and her daughter has joined junior KG. “I want to study law and I will, but between my tuitions and my children I do not have time to pursue my own studies right now.” With a commonly held perception, that women don’t want to or should not access courts, she clarifies, “nobody likes to go to court and disclose their problems. But when you are at the receiving end of harassment and injustice on a daily basis, you should resort to the law. All women in such a situation should use the law”. Majlis finds that more and more women, across class and caste boundaries, are seeking legal help to get relief from their troubled marriages.
* Names of all people have been changed to protect their identities
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