In India’s patriarchal society women continue to be severely disadvantaged, despite the legal equality of men and women. Especially women who belong to the lowest caste are often treated like mere servants, without any rights – even by their husbands and family. They are expected to manifest no needs or desires of their own, focussing their role on caring for the children and taking care of the house. Ideally, women should give birth to sons, who are the pride of the family. Only a son is allowed to perform the burrial ceremonies necessary for salvation when the parents pass away. Girls, however, usually mean a financial burden for the family as they will have to be equipped with a large dowry at the time they marry. While a man has the freedom to divorce and remarry, for a women in the lowest strata of society this is unthinkable. After a separation she could not just return to her parents' house due to the "shame" she has brought onto the family. 

Saruja was married to a man at the age of 18. Immediately after the wedding the problems started. Instead of the agreed dowry, her husband suddenly demanded a "supplementary payment" of 200,000 Rupees (almost 3,000 Euros). Otherwise - he threatened - he would divorce Saruja. Her family could not afford this extra payment, but the two stayed together. In the following years Saruja gave birth to four girls, including a pair of twins. Her husband, who had become a heavy alcoholic, regularly lashed out on Saruja, brutally beating her. He also brought their four daughters to his mother’s house who lived in another village. He usually stayed with another woman. Due to "unexplained circumstances" two of the girls, her first born and one of the twins, sadly died in the care of the grandmother.

Saruja was 24 years old when she joined our “Bal Adhikar Manch” women’s group. She told the other women about her story and found not only heartfelt sympathy, but also actual help. The group encouraged her to fight back against her husband. A Back to Life staff member contacted a social worker specialised in domestic violence and invited him to the next group meeting. He then supported Saruja as she reported her husband to the local police. But, as so often, nothing happened except for a short memo. 

As such, they went to see the husband themselves, but the children were nowhere to be found, and he would not reveal their whereabouts. Together with the courageous social worker, Saruja then traveled to the federal capital of Lucknow, 300 km away, in order to initiate an official procedure. She knew this could take many years in the Indian legal system, but she had to take a chance. 

Saruja and the group of women at her side did not give up. They searched everywhere for the children and eventually found them at the house of a relative. This time, the husband was not the one threatening Saruja, instead he was threatened by the group of women. Sheepishly and anxiously he returned the two girls, Kritika and Akriti, to Saruja. They now live happily with their mother and their friends from the Dholatpur slum make sure that the father would never get to them again.


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