Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Strength, thy name is Woman

When she speaks to me, I am almost sure that Usha Rani holds the spot as having been the world’s most cheerful person of all time. But as she takes me through her story, I see that she has a catena of things to lament about: but she makes the choice of bravery and resilience, instead. 

Usha Rani, Madurai, unplugged, for you.

"I got married in 1990. And that was when all my problems began. My father-in-law started off at first saying that he saw me as a daughter, and wanted all the profits of a new business that he opened in my husband’s and my name, to be solely for us. But within a couple of months of our marriage, when the business began succeeding, he sent us out and told us that we had to live separately. When my husband and I were driven out, we began our own line of business, competing against them. In one year, our business of selling appalaams* began to do well and it was around that time that my first daughter was born. I left to my mother’s house to deliver my daughter.

In my absence, my father-in-law approached my husband. He told him that with a daughter now, he couldn’t afford to stay separately. My father-in-law brainwashed my husband to believe that he wouldn’t be able to buy my daughter the jewellery she would need for her future. My husband believed him. In his hasty folly, and in my absence, he managed to transfer all our hard earned wealth to my in-laws, writing off all the property we had amassed in their name. He also wound up sharing information on the licenses we obtained – the numbers, the dates and the like – with them. When I went back, life was miserable.

I was not allowed the luxury of money for anything – whether for food or medicines. If I needed money, I had to work. And if I needed more than what they gave me, I was expected to work that much more. Life was very difficult. They had an issue with my daughter, as well. They said that they didn’t want a girl, but a boy, and that my daughter had a faulty horoscope. My husband threw me out of the house, and didn’t let me go back until six months – because I mothered a girl. It was only when tongues started wagging in society around us, that the fear of a stigma got them to take me back.

When I went back, and saw the papers, I learned of the way they had extorted us of all our earnings and property, I raised my voice. My father-in-law threatened my husband and me with all kinds of abuses – but I stood firm. My father-in-law declared that we were dead to him, and that he had nothing to do with us. The next thing we knew, we were thrown out of the house, bag and baggage, with a baby in tow.

When we were left out on the streets, my husband and I began our own business under a new name – Butterfly. We carried on in this strain, and my daughters grew up under our care. I had to put them in boarding school so they enjoyed quality education. When my older daughters were in middle school, without our knowledge, my father-in-law had taken them out of school, and took them to his house. He kept them in their house, and attempted to brainwash them. He told them to give up studying, and to marry their daughter’s sons.

When we found out, I went to the police, where a Superintendent of Police was sympathetic to my cause. He conducted an inquiry, and instituted a charge, and then got the girls out. The headmistress of their school made it a point to care further for their safety and security, and ensured that they studied.

Meanwhile, my father-in-law had begun making demands on me to transfer all the property that I had in my name, and all that my mother had. He claimed that I had to give them all that was in my name as I was an only child. I refused stoutly, fighting for my rights. They beat me up, but I didn’t give in. One day, when we were in that house, my daughter saw my father-in-law taking all my jewellery out of the boxes, and leaving the boxes empty inside my cupboard. She asked him why he did that. Instead of answering her or realizing his mistake, he attempted to brainwash her again. He told her that if she agreed to marry her cousin, he would give her all the jewellery.

Life went on in that strain. My husband’s abusive ways were not new – since 1995, he was absolutely difficult to handle. But I never took it sitting down – I filed many complaints against him for harassing me and my daughters. He would promise not to harass me each time in the police station after I complained, and then come back to me as though nothing happened. In 2007, it became too much to bear and I divorced him.

But he didn’t stay away – and convinced me to get back in 2011. I did, because I wanted to give my daughters a future that would be secure. When I went back, his usual behaviour reared its head, and he was misbehaving again. I decided to leave, and take my daughters along.

On February 9, 2012, he came to the house I was in, and assaulted me. Not stopping with that, he attempted to molest my 19-year-old daughter! I was furious, so I intervened and tried to shove him to protect her. Blind with rage and fury, he picked up a cricket bat that was lying nearby and just beat me with it. I did the first thing that came to mind – and snatched the bat, and smashed him. He collapsed on the floor and died on the spot.

The police came in and arrested me in moments. As I climbed the van, my thoughts were with my children. My two daughters who were with me, and my third – who was writing her board exam that day – I sent up a silent prayer asking God to give them the courage and the fortitude to bear the ordeal, an prayed that life for them would only get better. But what happened next was a gift that God himself gave me.

It was unprecedented – the police conducted an inquiry and took down witness accounts from everyone around. The Superintendent of Police who was there that day saw how much I had suffered. Just overnight, he released me. I was given the benefit under Section 100 of the Indian Penal Code, a provision for self-defence, where I was released for having killed my husband only to defend myself and the modesty of my daughter.

But my father-in-law did not sit back. He filed a petition saying that I had premeditated the murder, and assailed my character saying that I had illicit affairs with many men and that the same affairs were the reason behind the “murder”. When the petition went up before the Ex-Collector, he sought to forward the case to the CB-CID, but the petition seeking the recommendation was dismissed.

Today, I am proud to say that I’ve raised my three girls without borrowing even a pice from anyone. My eldest daughter, as we speak, is returning home with a copy of her appointment letter for a job she begins with, on February 1, 2013. My second daughter is doing her B. Sc., and is a gold medallist. My youngest one is now pursuing commerce in the hopes of taking up Chartered Accounting. I struggle with having to pay for her hostel fees, but my earnest prayers are with my girls. I hope for a brighter future for the three of them. I want to tell you a lot more, but the case is still sub judice, so I am forced to stop short of sharing a lot more.

People have reacted both ways to my story. Sometimes, people have questioned its veracity by demanding to know how I claim that a father would do such a thing to his own daughter. Still others have been there with their quiet support. People liken me to Kannagi – well, of course, hell has no fury like a woman scorned – but I always tell them that every house has a Kannagi of its own, fighting battles without a moment’s rest.”

*appalams are a lentil based snack, usually fried or dry roasted.

Kirthi Jayakumar

This interview also formed the basis of a story written for Eve's Times, India.