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When systems created for women’s safety become their worst enemy….

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Salma was married at the tender age of 15. By the age of 23, Salma has seen the worst life has to offer. With no education, plagued by poverty and discrimination, the odds were stacked against her.

Soon after marriage Salma’s husband severely abused her. He would force himself on her with little consideration if anyone was around. In a small dwelling in Mumbai where 8 adults and children slept cheek by jowl, he would drag her to the washroom and rape her.  Barely two months after her marriage he raped her outside a public washroom in broad daylight in front of her neighbours. When Salma confronted him he beat her brutally. Salma was so embarrassed that she attempted suicide. Salma was pregnant and lost her baby due to the incident. Even while she was in hospital her husband tried to force himself on her. Within five months of marriage when the abuse was unbearable Salma’s mother took her to a local corporator and with his help an NC was filed at Kandivali police station after three months. (Yes, that’s how long it takes for a woman facing domestic violence to file a simple NC for such a gruesome act). The Kandivali police tried to call her husband but he ran away to his village in UP. In April 2018 within one year of marriage Salma delivered a son.  In February, 2019 her husband’s family contacted her to make the marriage work. Salma was forced to go to the village and reside with her husband’s family. “I faced constant abuse so violent that my screams could be heard across the village’. The horrific incidents of abuse are too gruesome to describe. When Salma’s father passed away she was not allowed to visit her mother. Salma went into depression. Around this time Salma delivered her second child and due to lockdown Salma was stuck in the village and could not get out. 

In June, 2022, Salma managed to return to Mumbai with her kids and started living with her mother and brothers. Her husband used to come to her mothers home and sexually abuse her. On one occasion he beat her brutally outside the Goregaon police station. The police intervened and thrashed her husband, but of course, no case was registered! The common refrain by the police is ‘it’s a family matter, we can’t do anything, go to court’. Her husband again fled to his village in UP. Salma was finding it impossible to manage given her mothers financial condition.

Salma first approached Majlis in September 2022 via our partner NGO Swadhar. We advised Salma about her legal rights including filing a criminal case and/or a civil case for reliefs, but Salma had no faith in the system and decided not to proceed. 

Salma’s ordeals were far from over as two months later her husband returned and in spite of her son being extremely unwell, forced her to go with him to a lodge to have sex. When Salma refused, a huge fight ensued and her husband slapped her mother. Salma told him she was done and wanted a divorce. Her husband then did the unthinkable. He grabbed her elder son and ran away to the village in UP. Salma was inconsolable. She feared her husband would harm her child. Her husband refused to let her speak to her son and switched off his phone. Salma went to the One Stop Counselling Centre (OSCC) in Jogeshwari (the government’s initiative to address all violence against women cases under one roof) but they refused to help. Salma then called 1098 (the child helpline) and registered a complaint. Few days later Salma got a call from the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), Balrampur, UP asking her to appear before them. Salma explained that she had no money, an infant son and that it was extremely cold in UP. She pleaded with them to return her child to her in Mumbai but they refused and insisted she come. In the meantime her husband went before the CWC and made allegations against Salma. Salma borrowed money and under great hardship, along with her old mother and infant child, went to Balrampur, UP. When Salma saw her elder child at CWC he was sobbing to come to her but CWC insisted that the child should stay with his father and that they will pass an order only after 10 days. Salma approached the OSCC, Balrampur but they refused to help. 

At this point Salma again called Majlis for help. We were shocked at all that had happened. We spoke to CWC, Balarampur and insisted that they allow Salma to return to Mumbai as she had no money and due to the cold her mother and infant son were very ill. Though they gave her custody of her child, CWC refused to pass an order. In the meantime Salma’s husband filed a case of theft against her stating she had robbed jewellery worth 40 Lakhs! Salma approached the Mahila Thana, Balrampur for help. They called her husband and tried to force her to reconcile with her husband. When Salma refused they told her they cannot help. They did not file any case against her husband for the abuse she had faced. 

Salma’s family in UP feared harassment from the police so they put pressure on Salma to approach a private lawyer. The private lawyer filed a case of maintenance against her husband in Family Court, Janpat, Balrampur. Majlis advised Salma to come back to Mumbai immediately and that we will take care of the case from here. On Salma’s return we approached the CWC, Mumbai with the facts of the case and sent a copy to CWC, Balrampur asking them to restrain from harassing Salma any further. Salma’s husband continued to call and threaten her family so we approached the Kandivali Police to file an FIR. It has taken a great deal of grit and determination by Majlis to finally get the FIR filed. The callousness and insensitivity of the police when recording the statement including the sexual abuse incidents will make for another story.  Even now six months later there is no progress in the FIR. 

In the meantime Salma’s children are enrolled at a Municipal School. Salma does jewellery bead-making with her mother but the income is scarce. Salma has taken up learning Arabic and dreams of becoming a teacher. Her brothers who initially supported her are now losing patience with Salma and her minor children. Her husband continues to call and harass her using filthy abuses. He has threatened Salma he will not give her maintenance nor will he give her a divorce. 

Recently Salma came to meet us at Majlis as she has a marriage proposal from the Maulana who teaches her. He is ready to accept her and her children. Her mother is eager to get her married as she is getting old and is worried about Salma’s future… ‘but not without Majlis’ approval” Salma says shyly. The innocence, but also the despair, in her voice, wanting so much to believe in ‘ever after’ makes one realise that we as a system have failed her. 

About Majlis

We are a team of women lawyers and social workers who work for the protection and promotion of women and children’s rights through legal representation, advocacy and training. We provide social and legal support to women and children victims of sexual and domestic violence. 

Names have been changed to protect privacy.

‘Ummeed’ celebrates the courage and determination of women who have stood up against violence and emerged stronger. Through this sharing, we hope to inspire others to take the first step.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Geetha

    Kudos to the Majlis team for being Salma’s rock of Gibraltar!
    Your consistent efforts will definitely bring about a change in the system….and soon!!
    March Majlis!!

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