Not free to love

His story

He starts his testimony with a video showing a young woman of about 20 to 24 years, singing a popular bollywood song. She was clearly enjoying herself as she sang, aware that she is being recorded on a phone camera. He stands there letting the video play for a good 2 minutes until someone helpfully suggests that he should turn the clip off and speak now.

I was aware that the young man about to speak, was going to tell his own experience of the price he and his wife paid for their audacity to fall in love and marry each other despite belonging to different castes, two particularly hostile groups in Rajasthan.

I hoped against hope that he wouldn’t say that this young, vivacious woman, singing for -most likely – his camera phone was now dead. She was. She died of electrocution a few months back at her father’s home. An accident, the young man was informed.

They fell in love when they were in ninth standard at school. They broke up because the woman’s family had come to know about their relationship. They met again after many years and found themselves in love again. There were difficulties again when the woman’s family came to know. She feared that her father was going to take her away to another town and get her married to someone else. They were left with no choice but to elope and get married. They stayed away, sheltered by an organisation that promised to keep them safe for a few months. They were struggling to find a safe place after that until the young man’s mother convinced him to come back home and bring his wife along. She would stay safe and with them, she promised. The young woman was apprehensive but he assured her that they could count on his mother to be on their side.

Who would have I trusted, if not my own mother, he asks the audience.

What kind of an arrangement is it that denies the most ordinary of choices to a young couple and allows the most sickening, extraordinary acts of cruelty to be passed off as an unfortunate but ordinary incidence.

At the railway station, the two families waited for the couple to arrive. The young woman was taken away by her father. He recalls the phone calls she could make to him, thanks to a sympathetic sister. She would tell him of her ill-treatment, the abuse and shame heaped upon her for ruining the family’s honour. He went to meet the father. He begged and pleaded, offered to change his caste officially, anything, that would convince him to let them live together. He was advised to be patient until the young woman’s older sister’s approaching wedding was done. They will then resolve this issue, he was told. His wife told him that she had reasons to fear for her life but was certain that she won’t be harmed until the wedding. The two of them decided that they will find a way to get her out after that. She told him to wait for her call on a certain date.

He waited. He waited the next day too but when the promised call didn’t come, he called her home in desperation. The father picked the phone and informed him that she was dead. In disbelief, he set out to find for himself. The girl had already been cremated, he learned. From bits and pieces of information he could get from neighbours, he has reasons to believe that she was electrocuted in a water tank that had current running through it. Yes, an accident, the family informed him.

This happened about three months ago, we learn. She left a long electronic trail but the justice system hasn’t moved. He has compiled every single document he could and has been running from pillar to post to get some semblance of justice, a closure. He finds little help. Those who sympathise tell him to accept the fate; it was unfortunate but nothing will bring her back, he is advised. Only this group stood by me, he says pointing to the activists who have been helping him since they found out about the case. Tell me what to do, he implores the audience, as if someone would be able to give an answer that could make things alright. His bewildered helplessness was for all to see and most of us present there, perhaps, felt it ourselves.

We learn later that he continues to interact with her on facebook. Writes to himself from her facebook account and then responds from his. Both of them declare their love for each other in their interactions. After his testimony, he sits with a bowed head staring at his hands and I catch him counting something on his fingers, once. 

How ordinary their story could have been. Two young people fall in love, decide to spend their lives together and go through the joys and tribulations of relationships, of life. But they did not have the good fortune to experience the ordinary. A young woman’s life was snuffed out of her for being audacious enough to want to live. And a young man was left broken; left to play the part of both his beloved and himself in his desire to continue living a few moments of the normal, the ordinary. 

What kind of an arrangement is it that denies the most ordinary of choices to a young couple and allows the most sickening, extraordinary acts of cruelty to be passed off as an unfortunate but ordinary incidence?

How often have we heard people saying, beti toh ghar ki izzat hoti hai*?

She is not!

She is a human being, damn it!
*For a family, a daughter is their honour.

(A survivor's testimony at a recent conference in Jaipur as recounted by Zeba Imam who was present there. Zeba Imam is assistant professor, centre for women’s studies, Tata Institute for Social Sciences)



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