Tuesday 20 March 2012

When the child custody dispute haunts divorced couples (Part I)

This came as a great shocking news. I couldn’t control my anger or feeling when I came to know that one of my friends’ former husband has filed a case against her for the custody of her child. Yes, my friend Leela (name changed to protect the identity) was tortured by her husband Sanjay (name changed to protect the identity) and in-laws for dowry and she had no other go, but to get a divorce from him. Let me give some background about Leela who underwent all the pain…

She is a doctor and was married to Sanjay, the first son of a family. Before the wedding, she and her family were told a lie that Sanjay was earning handsome, a five digit salary, while he was earning only three digit salary. The Sanjay’s family even hid the fact from Leela’s family that the second son was already engaged and they told about it only after the wedding cards were printed, only 15 days before the marriage.

Before the marriage they refused to take any dowry, but the avarice for the newly married bride's jewels started coming up soon after the wedding. Leela was treated like a servant, made to wash everybody's clothes, clean the dishes, clean the house.

Didn't I mention that her husband's younger brother Vikram (name changed) was engaged earlier? Yes, their wedding took place in a week's time. Sanjay’s mother was very smart, rather call cunning, that she made it sure to use the same divide and rule policy between the two newly married girls – Leela and her sister-in-law Prerana (name changed).

Divide and rule
She compared and contrasted between them and lauded and criticised each girl in front of the other, making both the girls to feel jealous, bad and envious about the other. And the girls never understood their in-laws' tactics, till one fine day. While that realisation came for Leela within two years, it took nearly four- and- a- half years to realise for Prerana.

Ok, leave that. Let me come to the main point of how she was harassed and tortured for dowry. Soon after the wedding, Leela’s in- laws took all her jewels, let me tell you not 10 or 20 grams, nearly 500 grams, yes half kilogram, to their custody.

Did I mention that god knows from where and how this custom among Malayalis developed, they demand minimum one kilogram of gold from the bride's parents during the wedding. I have so many Malayali friends who have given all their jewels to their in-laws and have lost them. Let me tell you a few of them.

Saakshi’s story
One of my friends Saakshi (name changed), a Kannadiga, who was married to a Malayali brahmin lost all her jewels to her mother-in-law. Saakshi is the younger daughter and since she had lost her mother, all her mother's jewels were given to my friend during her wedding.

Saakshi trusted her mother-in-law and handed over all her jewels before leaving for Bangalore. Whenever she used to attend the functions in Kerala, she was given one or two pieces to wear and she was denied access to her own jewellery. Later, Saakshi was speechless and nearly heart-broken when she found all her jewels on her sister-in-law, the new bride.

Saakshi was consoled by her mother-in-law that she would get back them after the wedding and they never returned! Saakshi’s sister-in-law took all the jewels of my friend and constant fights happened between her and her husband, but in vain. Till now, she has not got back any of her jewels.

Kala’s sufferings
Then there is Kala (name changed), another friend, also a Kannadiga, married to a Nair. Since we had warned her in the beginning itself, Kala took care of her jewels and didn't lose any of them to her in-laws. But I know how she was continuously harassed for the jewels for more than four years of her wedding, to the extent that her in-laws even put a pressure on their son to divorce her! 
Unable to bear the pressure, Kala's husband made her to give the five sarees which were given by his parents to her during the wedding. Surprisingly, they didn't take her mangalsutra! Maybe they would have, had she given it back ;)
When in-laws pledge even managalsutra
When it comes to taking away the managalsutra I should mention another incident. There is this journo friend, Tara (name changed), who is a Kannadiga and is married to a Malayali guy settled abroad. One day while chatting, Tara told me: "These b@$$&# Mallus can kill anybody and everybody for gold."

I couldn't control my laugh at her humour while we were discussing about a serious issue like dowry harassment. Then I realised that it was like a comic relief in the Greek tragedies, Shakespearean tragedies, or call whichever tragedies. Tara wanted to make the scene lighter when there was a hot discussion on a hot topic!

Being the lone daughter, her parents her given lots of gold for her wedding, as her in-laws asked no dowry, but asked them to put lot of gold according to Malayali tradition and do a grand wedding. Hmm I remember it was very grand enough and later I came to know that they had spent over Rs 15 lakh for the wedding, that too imagine, four years ago!

 Then they even gave Rs 10 lakh for her visa so that she could join her husband abroad. And before going abroad, Tara’s in-laws took all her jewels, including mangalsutra. Even she didn't listen to her parents who advised her not to give all her jewels to her in-laws, but the newly married girl was so blind in the love of her husband that she blindly trusted his parents and gave them everything silently.

After one year, when Tara returned home for a vacation, she came across an ugly truth. Her father-in-law had lost pledged her mangalsutra to play betting and lost it! And angered by it, when Tara asked her mother-in-law to return her jewels, she refused to give the locker keys.

Continuous fights with her husband for another year, at last got her the locker keys, but she didn't get all her jewels, as some were misused by her in-laws. And when enquired, they said all that she had kept were only that many and they don't know anything about them!

Deepika’s love
Another friend who is a journo, Deepika (name changed) dated a Malayali guy for two years and he just disappeared from her life all because his mother threatened to end her life if he married a Kannadiga. The issue was not that she was not a Malayali, but she would not get kilos and kilos of gold with her.

Deepika didn’t even realize that the guy was greedy like any other Malayali even when used to ask that he like Hyundai Accent and he would like to have it as his wedding gift. He had invited my friend to his elder sister’s wedding, not just to show his family, but also to make her aware that how Malayali weddings are conducted and how brides should wear kilos and kilos of gold from head to toe!

It’s a different matter that Deepika realized the fact that he left her because she would not take so much of gold with her for the wedding, through one of their common friends.

Seetha’s catches
It will be unjust if I don’t mention about Deepika’s boyfriend’s elder sister Seetha, who was fortunately or unfortunately my roommate when I went to Bangalore for the first time. She literally tried to search a guy for herself who was not a Malayali. She flirted with a Kannadiga from Mysore, who was literally in love with her, but later she dumped him after realizing that he was not from a well-to do family.

In between she kept in contact with one of her old boyfriends, who was also her classmates and was hurt by him long back. She tried like anything to convince him to marry her and he was too smart to fall into her trap. Then, she moved on to a North Indian guy. She flirted with him for about a month or two and confessed her love to him and he openly told on her face that he would marry the girl whom his parents agree and they were already looking for one!

And surprisingly, Seetha had even told me a lie that she was the younger daughter, while in fact she was the elder one! Then she had no other go but to accept a proposal accepted by her parents. Though not interested, she married a techie from her own caste, from her own state, but settled in Bangalore.

Later, she opposed the wedding of Deepika to her brother for the sheer reason that Deepika was not a Malayali and would not bring lots of gold along with her. But her greed didn’t allow to settle peacefully with her husband also. She kept on dreaming of settling in London, as most of her relatives were settled there.

Plus, later I came to know another bitter truth that her past haunted her and her husband came to know about all those things and decided to divorce her. Then, it didn’t take many days to get her another guy and she was remarried and settled in London. Don’t know how she is now and what she’s doing.
Seetha often used to tell me that Malayali girls love to marry outsiders, because they don’t wish to burden their parents, whereas Malayali boys will never wish to marry an outsider, because they do not want to lose the huge dowry she gets with her!

Loyal son, not loyal husband
Okie, let me come back to the original story, what I was telling from the beginning. When Leela was given an old saree to wear the very second day of her wedding, she was in full tears, at the plight of her life in the new family. And unfortunately, she was not even allowed to live with her husband, as Sanjay worked in Bangalore. She was made to live with her in- laws and wait for her hubby, who used to visit her once a month for two days!

Being a doctor, I wondered why did Leela even agree to stay back and waste her educational qualification, but it was the decision of her in- laws and Sanjay had no say in it. He was a Sravanakumara, Rama in following the words of his parents, his blind love towards his parents was so strong that he never felt like taking the side of his wife. If his parents said that the child was not his, he was even ready to believe that!

Leela never realised that her husband was creating trouble in the family life of his brother Vikram also. Even after the wedding, he didn't stop borrowing money from Vikram, what else could have he done, he and his parents had told a lie that Sanjay was earning very well and was leading a luxurious life in Bangalore!

Had she found a friend in her sister-in-law
Then, one fine day, after three months of their wedding, Leela came to Bangalore to be with Sanjay for two days. She even visited Vikram's place and was happy to know that they are happily living away from her in-laws.

She couldn't say much to her sister-in-law about the pain or torture she was undergoing back home. All she could say was: "You are very lucky to live with your husband. It is very difficult to live away from my husband, but I can't help it."

Prerana tried to know the reason and Leela changed the topic, for she thought it was not wise on her part to discuss her personal life. I wish she had opened up there and then itself, maybe the amount of pain she underwent after that would have been reduced, if not completely checked.

Leela could have found a friend, who would have stood up to her, who would have given her a shoulder to cry, but the ego came in between in such a way that she didn't even try to open up or search a friend. Or maybe the poison her in-laws had filled in her head and mind was overwhelming to give space for any other thoughts, space to look out for a friend in her own sister-in- law.

Leela forgot the fact that Prerana too had come from an outside family and she too was trying to adjust to Vikram's family. Or maybe she thought her sister-in-laws was more happier, as it was a love marriage! Leela didn't know the fact that her in-laws had not agreed for the wedding for two years and it was only after they threatened that they would go for a registered marriage, that her in-laws agreed for the marriage.

Sadly, Leela had not even known another truth that even though it was a love marriage, her in-laws were torturing Prerana also for dowry! Even though she had a clue that something was not alright between her in-laws and Prerana even before the wedding, she didn’t give much thought into it. She had seen how her mother-in-law had not bought any sarees for Prerana and Vikram had to fight with his mom to buy new sarees for his would-be wife.

After continuous fights, his mother had agreed to buy sarees and bought them just two days before the wedding! Leela didn’t even know another truth that her sister-in-law was discriminated when it came to the jewels given by her mother-in-law, a custom among Malayalis. Yes, they give a bangle and a chain along with a saree for the bride during the wedding.

When smiles hide the pain
Leela never realised that even her sister-in-law had fights, her own problems with the family and her in-laws and all was not well. She didn't even understand that all was not well even after coming to know that Prerana had suffered a miscarriage and she was not even told by her in-laws about that!
And every time, Prerana tried to keep an eternal smile on her face and tried to behave normal, usual. And Leela failed, often failed, or maybe never even made any attempt to see that Prerana’s smiles hid her deepest secrets, deepest pain, her eyes never showed to her or the world that they have cried the most tears and her heart has felt the most pain. And people, including her relatives and friends, went by her smiles and thought she is living a romantic, happily ever after life!

Then Leela went to the office of her husband where she found her man flirting with his female colleagues. When she retorted, Sanjay dubbed her as a villager and told her that it was a part of socialising and she would never understand it. Even though she felt very odd about his behaviour, she took it the right spirit and forgot all about it. How can she keep all that in her mind and ruin her own happiness? She had gone all the way from Kerala to Bangalore just to be with him and spend some quality time with him?

After returning home, Leela’s mother-in-law was curious to know how her second daughter-in-law was, was she quick in cooking, doing household work, blah blah blah. When she came to know that Prerana was good in cooking and household works, she couldn't digest it. She used to criticize her in front of Leela.

And after a few days, Leela came to know that she was expecting and knew no limits for the happiness and joy. But in between, whenever there were functions and weddings, she was denied to wear her own jewels, she was literally at the mercy of her in-laws. (To be continued...)


  1. It is very rediculous thing from the in laws part. I really appreciate the strength of Leela, that she could tolerate such nonsense of her in laws. They are really hopeless people. My best wishes are with leela. I wish leela a great strength to fight with these cunning people. She needs to strnger than before as these people are trying to create more problems for her. But i am sure leela will definitely overcome from this situation and will make her way... She is a brave girl......


    1. In Kerala marriage is worth its weight in gold. Many remember the incident of Sreekala from Kollam who walked away from the marriage hall and filed a case against the groom and his family, who insisted her parents to give dowry including 100 sovereigns of gold to be paid before tying the knot! Why don't men and their families realise the amount of hardship a girl and her family has to go through to pay such a huge dowry? Leela has to be brave and give a tough fight to her cunning husband and her in laws.

  2. Marriages are made in heaven but dowry is made on the earth. It is surprising to see how even educated women to are tortured and hope one day they will realize their mistakes and oppose to marry the person who asks for dowry. In Kerala marriage is a big market. It is because of that bullion prices are soaring making marriage a very hard bargain for women.

  3. Despite several social reform movements and decades of revolutionary Left Rule, Kerala is still plagued by dowry system. God knows how many more Leelas and Preranas will be victimised for this inhuman system.

  4. When do you learn? When do you realize? When do we grow a little higher than this chain of gold? I wish one day all this dowry system reverses and men start giving dowry to women.

  5. poor leela................. nw i understand wat z the real story..

  6. many parents bring up their Children by giving more importance to money.
    Its no wonder such children when grown up chase money,gold.....
    they give least importance to relationships.
    Whether boy or girl they should be taught to respect each other,no one is superior or inferior...
    "No dowry attitude" should begin from family....
    then such suffering girls will not be created.