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Monday, 24 August 2009

Bad Marriage: Four options

Ours was a love marriage that had the blessings of our parents. The wedding was a grand affair. Not wanting to embarrass my well-placed in-laws, my parents went way beyond their means.

For a while, life was idyllic. Then my husband started becoming less attentive, increasingly argumentative, and began putting in longer hours at his workplace. One day, he didn’t come home. He returned after a couple of days saying he’d had to take a sudden trip out of town. When this happened a few more times, I enquired with his friends and collegues and stumbled on an extra-marital affair that had been going on for 10 years.

I dug out the lady’s address and dropped in on her. She was out but I spotted photographs of my husband and her together. She was a widow with two sons.. One was still studying while the other had just started working. My husband had been paying for their upbringing.

The beatings began
That evening I confronted Paritosh (name changed). He didn’t deny the affair. He told me he had duped me because he needed a wife who was socially acceptable. He was aware that his older, widowed lover would never be welcomed home but had hoped I’d learn to share him with her. No way, I raged, and the beatings started.

I was four months pregnant but that didn’t stop him from getting verbally and physically abusive. After a couple of months, I returned to my parents. He refused to support me.

I was wondering what to do when my younger sister came home one evening from a training programme and educated me about the Domestic Violence Act. She urged me to press for my rights. I went to the cops and filed charges. I didn’t want a divorce but I told Paritosh that if he didn’t come home, I’d make sure he paid the betrayal of trust.

Initially, he resisted. His lover, too, refused to let him go. But after several counselling sessions and talks with his parents, we reconciled. Our newborn baby helped bring us together. I took him back even though he’d cheated on me. He’s stopped visiting his lover. He’s stopped abusing me. The nightmare seems to have ended.

Social worker Kanmani’s take
I visited the couple a month ago. Sunita (name changed) seemed happy. Paritosh has promised never look at another woman. But I can’t help wondering if a leopard can change its spots completely. He did betray her trust once.

‘Speak up and fight for your rights’
Sonali Khan, director communications, has for the last five years, spearheaded Breakthrough’s mass media initiative in India. Breakthrough is a non-profit, international human rights organisation using the power of popular culture, media, and education to transform public attitudes. It will complete 10 years next year.

In 2005, Breakthrough’s first multi-media campaign addressed women’s vulnarabiltity to HIV. “What kind of man are you?” was released in seven languages. Its second campaign raised the issue of stigma and discrimination faced by HIV positive women. Both these award winning camapigns have reached out to over a 100 million people. Bell bajao! (featuring Boman Irani) is the latest initiative and addresses over 130 million, appealing against domestic violence.

Khan who was a senior correspondent with Televsion 18 and an independent producer of documentaries, points out that domestic violence transcends caste, culture and class boundaries but is often swept under the carpet. “In the last one-and-a-half years, I’ve heard so many stories about abuse even from progressive, upper-class, financially independent women who are afraid to come out for fear of social stigma. But the only way out of the nightmare is to speak up and fight for your rights,” asserts Khan.

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