In a society, where women are conditioned from childhood on to tolerate all forms of abuse in the name of family honour, Lajjawati’s story comes across as a refreshing change.
Now in her 20s, Lajjawati is a teacher in a school in Gadeya Purwa village—one of the villages in Barabanki where Join My Village runs its Maternal and Neonatal Health program. She lives with her parents and three-month-old son Komal. I met her at a Mothers’ Group meeting where this single mother comes every month religiously.
I want my son to respect women and I need to be a strong role model for him for this.
Lajjawati is separated from her husband Bhupendra Kumar, whom she married three years ago. Everything was fine in the first year of marriage and Lajjawati was fulfilling all the ‘duties’ of an ideal daughter-in-law. While her husband worked in another city, Lajjawati moved in with her in-laws.
However, a year after marriage, Lajjawati noticed that her father-in-law’s intentions seemed anything but paternal. One day, her husband and father-in-law went to a wedding in a nearby village, leaving the women of the family behind. Her father-in-law returned early without her husband.
“He said Bhupendra would return late. He kept saying that he had fallen somewhere and there was mud on his trousers and that I should see it in the bedroom light. I told him to wait outside while I called his wife but he ignored and forced his way into my room. I ran out. He yelled at me to come back but I refused,” says Lajjawati.
Lajjawati told her husband about the incident – but he dismissed it saying his father had done nothing inappropriate. When her father-in-law behaved inappropriately a second time, and then a third, Lajjawati had enough.
“This time I slapped him. I kept hitting him. My father-in-law got scared and tried leaving. I grabbed him by the collar and pushed him on the floor. After this I fainted,” says Lajjawati.
When she regained conscious, her father-in-law was missing and she was surrounded by her neighbours and in-laws. She told them what happened and while her sister-in-law supported her, her mother-in-law refused to believe her story.
A month later Lajjawati’s husband came to visit her but told her point blank that he would not go against his parents and she would have to come to terms with his father’s behaviour.
“I told him that I had married him and if he was ready to shoulder my responsibility, then I would come back, otherwise this relationship was over. I wasn’t common property in his family for all men to use,” she says. After this, Lajjawati started teaching at a nearby school to support herself.
Despite their separation, Lajjawati continued to visit with her husband and she soon became pregnant. When his family accused her not only of abandoning her husband but also theft, the case went to court. A month before the court hearing, Bhupendra called up Lajjawati, asking her not to appear in court. “But I wasn’t swayed by his pleas and decided to fight it out the legal way,” says Lajjawati.
“My relatives and family initially feared social stigma attached with a single mother and court cases but now they realise that I will never compromise with that man. If he cannot defend my honour, then I will do it. I am in no way dependent on him anymore. I am working and earn enough to give my son a decent life. Luckily for me, my family is now behind me 100% and they even help me take care of my son. I want my son to respect women and I need to be a strong role model for him for this,” says Lajjawati.