Here, our husbands are like God
Every available chair and mat was filled with people, although the meeting was progressing, the men identified the community's needs and the doable solutions drafted. Economic empowerment was the lock and the key is skill acquisition. Yet, there was something wrong with this meeting, believe it or not the space was filled up and several people were standing. Our conversation was ongoing, the interactions was sustaining the great momentum.
Yet, I sensed that something was actually not right, and I made the discovery, it is the missing of the opinions of more than half of the community's population; I raised my hand immediately, to signify that I have a question. Where are your women?
Oh Yes; no woman from the community has contributed a single word in the conversation during the meeting!
I begin to wonder, how can women remain silent in a meeting that is supposed to address the issues that are most paramount to their existence? Economic empowerment, skill acquisition and non-conventional education.
Our slogan is and has always been; "Not for us; Without us", but here, the women willingly became voiceless, even when their opinion were sought.
In actual fact there were less than five women, an elderly woman who had an expressionless face, it was hard to understand, if she was sad, happy or indifferent but she was the oldest woman, therefore, she is entitled to the luxury of a relaxing chair. The second woman who had expression was all smiles, while the third woman; a young bride, preferred to avoid any facial contact at all cost.
Awkwardly, I made a request to be allowed to meet with the women separately since it dawned on me that women’s contribution at the meeting was impossible. Fortunately, I was relieved when the request was granted and there was a separate session where women bare their mind.
The women were receptive; they invited me to join their community and promised to introduce me to their means of livelihood. This is the highest form of acceptance in any developing world. They are open to strangers.
Like ever society, it was economy, social and political. Without gender equality, many of the world’s aspiration would be in jeopardy because it is clamoring for sustainable development without the sustainability agent or relegating them to the background or making them the laughing stock.
The women leader was quick to narrate the struggles, women are so strong in communal society, they hold the community together. The leader informed everyone that there is gender equality because boys and girls are allowed to grow together without disparity. Although the issue of dowry from the bride’s family is mandatory, the bride’s family must pay the dowry before she could be allowed to marry the man.
It is strange that wife battery, dowry and women’s denial to hold the community leadership position have nothing to do with gender equality in this community; especially from a woman's perspective. According to the women's leader; a husband has the right to beat his wife. It is an everyday occurrence because majority of the men have become frustrated and sad, therefore, when they return home at night, they usually beat and drag the women on the ground, secondly, girls are culturally expected to pay the dowry and lastly, women can never, and has never led the community because it is a position that is reserved for the eldest man.
I was quick to ask, why the beating could be daily occurrence when the women can flee for their dear lives?
It was shocking when her response to separation and divorce was a stern warning with a reply; “ here our husbands are like God, if they beat us, we wait for three days, then complain to the elders. The misunderstanding is amicably settled. In our community; no separation, no divorce, no remarriage; the women endure the battery till death, but in most cases, we pray for change .”
As we rose on our feet, one of the women smilingly expressed her deepest joy “today I will sleep well because it is Lord Krishna’s birthday, no liquor shop will be opened and my husband will not drink, so he will not beat me” This is a temporary happiness because Lord Krishna’s birthday, like every other birthday, comes once in a year. Definitely, she was able to bare her mind because we separated women from men. Alcoholism is her husband's challenge. A day of good night rest is so precious to her. What a life?
Alcoholism is a symptom of an unidentified problem/problems. When a man in a community accepts continuous drinking as a way of life, the issue must be tackled from the root. What are the root causes of alcoholism amongst the tribal communities in India? Why will a woman continue to worship a man that batters her? Why is there so much silence and apathy amongst these tribal women? Why must these men beat their wives when they become drunk? Why do women accept battering as part of marital life? Why must separation from a abusive marriage be an abominable act whereas wife battery is an acceptable act? Why is it that violence against women should continue to be a private affair and must be addressed by an elder who batters his own wife at home? Why it is possible for these men to have access to more than one wife, yet the women cannot consider remarriage? Why do women leaders perpetuate and condone violence against women? How can alcoholism that leads to drunkenness and wife battery be eradicated in the tribal communities in India? Why do men enjoy Godly position and women accept servitude? When will all girls and boys enjoy equal status in this part of the world
These were just few of some of the unending questions that befuddle minds of gender experts present at the meeting.
As we proceeded in the meeting, I watched the faces of the young girls who were smilingly silent throughout the meeting. I wonder what lie ahead of these young innocent girls. Where there ever be change? Will these girls suffer the same fate as their mothers? Who will rise to save India's females? Will these unimplemented laws work within India?
In a situation, where, the women were comfortable with domestic violence, when the issue of escape from violence caused a stern warning and the subject of dowry from the girl child became a sacred topic, that must not be explored. Instantly, my knowledge about domestic relations Bill in Uganda, Gender and equal opportunities Bill in Nigeria or Anti gender based violence act in Zambia became ordinary theory that I could no longer relate to the reality on ground, my memorization of my Powerpoint on the Domestic Violence Act 2005 of India failed me woefully.
In short, I forgot what the United Nation Women is reiterating about Violence Against Women. It was hard for me to quote any law or make any relevant citation of any bill because nobody was ready to accept that violence against women is gender based or against the law.
How will a Bill or law work in a community that is closed towards change?
For any development to take place in any developing community, mindset change is highly imperative. The introduction of any Bill or law regarding violence against women will serve no purpose, if everyone believes that wife battery is an expected acts in marriages, must be endured, unreported to the constituted authority and a non-punishable offence as long as it is perpetuated by a husband or partner.
Therefore, the women must be empowered to understand that they are an entity that must be respected, heard and have the right to free expression too. Formal education will not address the issue as long as everyone has a closed mind. Although, mindset change takes a longer time to achieve but it will surely have an eternal impact in the lives of the present, up coming and oncoming generation.
If these communities are able to identify that this highly needed change is absolutely important for any sustainable development to take place, if they are able to identify the barriers to change; such as ignorance, lack of self esteem, purposeless living, if they can make a conscious effort towards accessing relevant information that is empowering and useful to them, if they can weigh the benefits and consequences of violence on their women and the communities in general, and finally, and if they are able to come up with a new vision of life without violence against women, where more than half of the population is not automatically silenced and the men drink alcohol to the level of oblivion. Definitely, the Vedar community would become a society worthy of emulation in India and the world.
As I sat in the bus during the ride back to campus, I was tired, depressed and became silent like the women at the meeting. My mouth could utter nothing, but my mind rumbles with many unanswered questions. Will India truly become the change we want to see? Time shall tell.