What could be a better place than one’s home? The space of love, safety and care where one gets nurtured and learns social norms. This privilege of being loved in a household is not for everyone. Over the past three years, I have learned how lives can be shaped by experiences and fears of violence coming from the intimacies one shares within the home. My perspective is based on immersive action research that I did in my M.Phil in a village called Dokal in the state of Chhattisgarh. The action research was based on the stances of domestic violence that was recurring in the village and women were suffering it quietly. The populace are the indigenous tribes of this core forest zone of central India.
The populace are the indigenous tribes of this of physical harassment, molestation, marital rape, sexual abuse, mental harassment, emotional abuse, financial crisis, humiliation, self doubt- everything gets formed with the existence of violence or in anticipation of it.
Looking at the continuous suffering of women in the village with continuous effort; together we (me and women) formed a collective of forty women called ‘Sangwaari’ (means companion or friend in Chhattisgarhi; the local language of Chhattisgarh). The collective was a place for women to share their suffering and understand the situation of their houses and together it was an effort to find a way to deal with it as it was an everyday matter. Here are few instances that led us to think about the situation of form the collective:
A seven member house; where two families live together. One woman who is infertile and can never carry a child lives with her husband, who steals everything she earns for consuming Mahua, an alcoholic drink made from fermented flowers of the Mahua tree (Madhuca longifolia). The other is a dominating woman with a political identity in the village. She has a husband and two children. Now, this empowered strong woman has all good faith in making others empowered too; but only outside her house. Instead of a caring and empowering relation with the woman who cannot bear a child, there is one based on disgust and humiliation. I am referring to the infertile one here as Badi Maa. She is the one with a caring heart as it craves for a child but unfortunately the reality is complicated. She bears the threat of getting killed, and is humiliated for being a useless woman. She gets abused since her husband is alcoholic and of no use. In spite of everything, she works hard to earn a bit of respect silently and lets people abuse her thinking this is fate.
Since her birth, Dimple (now 7 years old) has been taken as a bad omen as she is the girl child of Dulaari and Vikend. Vikend (an alcoholic) took every opportunity to beat Dulaari and sexually assault her in order to have a boy child. The marks on Dulaari’s body signifies the terror that she has against her husband and in-laws as they all held her responsible for having a girl child and abused her for not being a good wife. Dulaari is open hearted, loves to dance, have small talks, and is chirpy, but all of these make her an unconventional daughter-in-law. She does not talk to people freely now.
How easy it is to continuously get beaten up and fulfil the expectations of giving love at the same time? Everyday Raajbai opens her door with a smile and to learn something new, forgetting the slap and abuse of last night, but for how long? She is a worker of the panchayat (village council). She has pushed herself to come out of the cocoon just to give her girls a better life. However, it is strenuous for her to rise everyday and make a good day till the end. She is fighting for a better life with four girl children by her side and to make a statement that even if one beats her every day, she won’t stop as it is not going to give her what she deserves or desires.
There are many such stories in the villages that are being made every day. Every story here draws a picture of home coloured with the heaviness of the fear and threats that one acquires from the most intimate relations of people around. It has created self-doubt in many women.
Looking at all the instances, a collective borne out of that pain “Sangwaari” was formed to help each other in rebuilding the lives from scratch with the families they love. The collective was the space where women with such traumatic journeys could come out and get a space to share their lives and dilemmas, sort of a therapeutic place. It was the path of collective therapy that we intended to build.
The normalisation of alcohol consumption and violence after that was such that women or even men (who do not used to drink) never took a gender based violence as an issue; though they used to complain about the misbehaviours of such drunkards. Such paradoxical context several times interrupted the mode of interaction with the collective. Such normalisation creates the culture of violence.
To understand the actual scenario of the ongoing violence and its effect on domesticity, we started having focussed group discussions not only with women but with men as well. Due to severe cases of physical violence and abuse, women also took the critical step of entering the homes that were brewing mahua and broke the distillation set up of those homes as well (where mahua is brewed). Later, the discussion deepened and a conscious thought occurred regarding the changing the course of conversations in the house saying, an eye for an eye will make the world blind and we cannot respond violence with violence itself. Dokal has a group of dancing troops which is called ‘Nacha party’ consisting of men who perform folk dance with folk stories.
Small steps are being taken by these strong, collective women every day, just to show her family that she can survive and, by doing this, she is discussing the wrongs of the world and her efforts to make it more liveable.
Anubha Sinha, Alumni Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi, MPhil Development Practice (2015-2017). Her thesis is titled ‘Rethinking Violence, Understanding Domesticity: A Journey with ‘Sangwari’ in Dokal, Dhamtari, Chhattisgarh’ Currently she is a consultant, PRADAN working with women’s collectives. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org