Wednesday 21 March 2012

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

Losing the identity
Leela had lost her identity the day she entered that family. Her in-laws had given her a different name and told her that it was a lucky name for her! When she told me about how she was called by Lalitha, a new, different name, I couldn't stop laughing at her. Leela had not just been called by a new name, but she had lost her own identity, the name her parents had given her was completely gone, she was identified by her new name and called by it by not only her new family, but also by her new relatives!

Leela’s pain knew no limits, but she couldn't even share them with her husband, as he would never trust her. He was a loyal son, but not a loyal husband. Sanjay would even beat or kill her if his parents asked him to do... He had no mind or heart of his own, his brain worked according to his parents and he danced to their tunes, he was a mere puppet in his parents' hands.

Leela couldn't stop herself from telling her pain to her mother and brother when one day her mother-in-law gave her the food kept for dog. She openly told her to adjust, as she cannot cook food! Yes, Leela was made to eat the stale food which was kept in the fridge for a day or two. That day, she was made to realise her position in that family... She felt the need to find a job for herself.

Wondering why she didn't go for work? Leela was denied to practice at home and was merely treated as a servant and the fact became obvious when her unmarried, younger brother-in-law, Rakesh (name changed) once told his mother that he would unleash the dog if any patients come in search of treatment to their house!

Her mother-in-law who had not even passed her high school had a different attitude. She couldn't digest the fact that her daughters-in-law were well educated and could earn very well, in fact better than her own sons... Even though she was expecting, Leela didn't think twice to find a job, as it was suffocating to stay the whole day, doing the service of her in-laws and the unmarried brother-in-law Rakesh.

Leela went to her parents' house when she was five months pregnant and fortunately, they gave her jewels for the pre-baby shower ceremony. Maybe her in-laws expected that she would give them back after the function. But by that time, Leela had realised how greedy they were and could do anything for gold and money.
She had even come to know that her in-laws had kept the jewels of one of their relatives' daughter-in-law, who was a young widow, in their custody. They had not even allowed that young widow to remarry. She was made to spend her life with her two small children with her in-laws! My friend's in-laws even hated the idea of giving back the jewels of that widow too...

Dowry in the name of tradition
After Leela went for the delivery, her in-laws continued asking her and her parents to return her jewels and they cited tradition and custom that the girl should give all her things to her husband and in-laws. When she refused to give, her in-laws and Sanjay abused her, using all the wrong words, in front of the hospital staff and she was made to cry for hours immediately after the delivery. The fact that she had a caesarean and needed rest didn’t get the importance in front of the gold jewels she owned.

Slowly, the gap between the husband and the wife increased, thanks to her in-laws. Even while Leela was staying with them, they didn’t allow her to speak with Sanjay over the phone, all she could speak to him was just checking how he was and informing him that she was fine! Her mother-in-law kept a constant watch on what my friend talked to her husband and never allowed her to have any lengthy conversations with him.

Given the time period she spent with her husband, Leela hardly got any time for understanding him. Within three months of her wedding, she was pregnant and her husband was living away from her. When they met, only his hands spoke on her body and never his mouth!

Later, Leela was told that Prerana had purposefully not gone to see her and the newborn. Her in-laws never told her that Prerana was in the hospital because of them... But the fact was they had not even informed Prerana about the delivery!

Moreover, Leela was told that Prerana purposefully didn’t come for the ‘choroonu’ ceremony -- the first rice giving ceremony of a child -- held at Guruvayur, when in fact, her father-in-law openly told her and Vikram not to attend it… All this was just to create a riff between the two women and unfortunately, Leela didn’t understand it at all. After the birth of her son Ravi, slowly the torture also increased. For every small issue, they created ruckus.

New life, new pain
After three months when Leela returned to her in-laws’ house, within a week’s time, she was sent to join her husband in Bangalore. Her joy knew no limits, thinking about the life lying ahead of her. Husband, she and a son, what more could have she expected for a happily ever after life. But it didn’t take too many days to realize that all that was mere dream, a daydream, a castle she had built in the wind.

Once Leela reached Bangalore, her life was literally trapped inside four walls. All her day was spent in looking after the child, cooking, washing the clothes, cleaning the house. She became a mere parrot in the cage, a dumb, speechlees parrot, a wingless parrot. She waited for her husband to come back from work and by the time he returned it used to be 8 pm and she forgot how the outer world looked like.

Slowly, Sanjay started drinking and beating her. She bore the abuse silently, as she was the mother of a kid now and not alone. When the physical torture increased, she made up her mind and informed her parents. Her parents came and took her and the child back with them. Sanjay didn’t feel repentful by his action, when asked, his parents supported his action.

His mother said: “To control her, he beats her, what’s wrong in that?” Leela’s parents were shocked to know the fact that how uncultured people they were. Her husband completely cut off the contacts with her and stopped calling her. He didn’t even bother to enquire how the little kid was.
When things lead to divorce
Maybe life would have gone like that had Sanjay, his father and his uncle came asking her to return the chain and clothes given to the kid on the 28th day ceremony. Among Malayalis, 28th day from the birth of a newborn, the naming ceremony is conducted. During this ceremony, it is the custom for a guy’s parents to give a chain and clothes to the child. Leela’s husband went with his family to get back that chain which was given to her son on the 28th day.

After they asked her to return the chain, Leela realized the fact that they do not want to continue the relationship and decided to file for divorce. What could hurt a mother more than such an incident?

To add salt to the wounds, they even demanded Leela to return the toys and clothes presented to the kid by their relatives, and even friends! They fought the case in the court and by mutual agreement, got the divorce. Surprising and shocking off all these was Prerana didn’t even know that there was a divorce! She and her parents are kept in dark about the whole incident. And I will write about Prerana and her suffering at the hands of Sanjay and Vikaram’s parents in another post, keep watching.  

Leela got her freedom from her torturers and later felt that she did a mistake by not filing a criminal case against her husband and in-laws. Had she filed a dowry harassment case against them, they would have been behind the bars for minimum 15 years. She accepted a paltry sum of Rs 5 lakh and signed the divorce papers. She didn’t bother about the money aspect, as she had got the permanent custody of her child.

Sanjay and his parents had agreed for the permanent custody and had mutually agreed to meet the kid once in a week. While taking back the managalsutra on the day of the divorce, Sanjay’s mother had taken a goldsmith along with her to check if the chain and the thali were genuine! She wanted to confirm if the thaali was genuine and said in front of the lawyers that she had bought the thaali and the chain from Malabar Gold Jewellers.
Single mother, new responsibility
Now, she is single mother, happily living with her parents and working in a reputed hospital. But that happiness couldn’t remain for more months after the divorce. She came to know that Sanjay’s parents were searching a bride for him, for the second marriage. And now, earlier this month, Sanjay has filed a case against Leela seeking interim custody of the child.

And funnily, he has stated in the case that he’s very rich and is well settled in Bangalore. He thinks that Bangalore is the best city for the child’s education and his parents are ready to move to Bangalore to look after the child. Not just that, he also has said that his second brother is well settled abroad and the last brother is a well settled techie!

Funny to know how does the economic status of his brothers make Sanjay a rich man, a well settled man. A person who can’t even look after himself with his meager salary, now wants the custody of his child. Not because he loves the child, but he can’t see Leela to move on, he can’t digest the fact that a single mother can bring up a child without his support.  

I don’t understand why Sanjay or his parents are not understanding that a mother can look after her child, no matter how difficult situation and circumstances she faces. Maybe they will never understand that they are getting the curses and tears of two mothers, one Leela’s and the other Leela’s mother’s.

How can Sanjay and his parents ever live happily, peacefully? Will not the guilt haunt them to their death? Will not the tears and curses of a suffering woman bother them? Maybe not, as the greed for wealth is so much that nothing bothers them, nothing stops them.

All I wish now is at least Vikarm realizes that who’s fake and who’s true and who would risk it all for him. After seeing Leela, now nothing surprises me, no people surprise me. I wish sooner or the later he sees the original face of his brothers and parents and live a happily ever after life with Prerana.  
Why not a rebel, a feminist?
It will not be surprising if another rebel, another feminist takes birth in Leela or Prerana. I would love to see a rebel, a feminist in them, who oppose oppression, who help other women to come out of oppression, for they have seen all it, they have suffered all it and they know how to tackle situations and help women come out of it and build a new life, with lots and lots of hopes and fresh dreams.

Now, don’t start thinking why am I talking about feminism all of a sudden. When people brand women as feminists and rebels, why don’t they just stop and think why did they become one? Why not put in the shoes of those “feminists” and see for themselves? Feel for themselves?

Not everybody wants to be branded and separated from the common group. How can anybody who has experienced what Leela or Prerana have gone through in their life to be normal? Why can’t and why shouldn’t be feminists?

Here, I’m using the term feminists in a broader perspective, because I can’t forget the fact that Leela’s mother-in-law was also a woman and she feels empowered controlling and suppressing her daughters-in-law. So a feminist here I mean, one who opposes the oppression, questions the male authority, and sometimes female authority as required, and establishes her own mark in the society, in the family, in the life.

Most of the women, often end up becoming feminists after the wedding. Reason? Ever thought of even thinking the reason behind it? Just merely calling them rebels or feminists will not help you get the answer. Many dream of a happily married ever after ending of the novel or story or film they have come across in their adulthood, weave so many dreams, imagine life would be like that, like this. They think sapnon ka rajkumar will come and life will be a bed of roses. And it takes a while to realize that it was a castle in the wind and very soon, all the dreams shatter.
When sacrifices, compromises go in vain
The umpteen number of compromises and scarifices go in vain. The more and more we, women compromise, the more and more we start getting hurt. And sometimes, it so happens that the family members, including the rajkumar of our life, fail to understand our emotions. Every time, we try to please them and keep saying “sorry” in the hope that we may have hurt them by any chance. They fail to understand that when we say sorry to them, it's not meant that we are wrong and they are right. It is all about the importance we give to a relationship more than our ego and this simple fact goes unnoticed!

Why do men, and their parents, refuse to allow the women to choose how to live? Allow them to make changes instead of giving excuses. Why not motivate them in all efforts instead of manipulating things? Make them feel useful instead of giving them the insecure feeling of being used? Help them to excel in life, not compete with other members in the family. Allow them to choose their self-esteem and put a stop when they self-pity. More importantly, realize that they have all the freedom to listen to their inner voice and not to your random opinions and advices.
If the man and the family members of the man realize a simple fact that family isn't always blood and it's the people in your life who want you in theirs, the one who accept you for who you are, the ones who would do anything to see you smile and who love you no matter what, a woman can live a happily ever after life, she need not become a rebel, a feminist who will want to raise her voice, who demands her voice to be heard, who wants to question the authority and atrocity of in-laws. Utopia? Then, checking women from becoming rebels and feminists after their weddings is also a distant dream.

We women are strong because we are weak, we are beautiful because we know our flaws, we are lovers because we are fighters, we are fearless because we have been afraid, we are wise because we have been foolish... and we can laugh because we have known sadness. At the end of the day, people shouldn’t forget that after everything, still we try to put a bold face. We always tell ourselves, we may not be there yet, but one day or the other, we will get there, no matter what it takes, we will get there. For, we often refuse to let the trivial things of today weigh down our tomorrow!

At the end, let me make things clear, it is not that I'm against Malayalis or their customs and traditions, what I'm against is just their greed and lust for gold. It is not just Malayalis who are taking dowry and it is not just Malayalis who torture brides and daughters-in-law for dowry. There are many other friends who are not Malayalis and yet have gone through the ordeal. Since Leela is a Malayali, I have just given the instances of a few other friends who have been harassed by Malayali in-laws. Definitely it's not something which is meant to show Malayalis in a poor light and I'll shortly come up with stories of other friends, who have suffered because of this ugly dowry system, in the next posts. And yes, it will need more time for me to come up with other posts on those issues...   


  1. The ending of your article saved the grace of Malayalis. The whole article is against them and I agree that it is not just Malayalis who are after wealth through dowry, but most of the communities in India are. Waiting to see more such articles, keep up the good work.

  2. Leela should have filed a case under Section 498A against her husband and his family members. If she had done it, she would have not faced this problem now.
    Dowry harassment or violence can come in many forms:
    Hinting, asking or demanding, whether directly or through a mediator, for property, items, specific expenses etc.
    Any of the following actions for not complying with a dowry demand:
    Threatening you with a divorce or with throwing you out of the house, or with physical violence, etc.
    Verbal abuse (humiliating, insulting or harassing you or your loved ones)
    Harming you physically (not giving you food, hitting you, pushing you around, slapping you, beating you with objects, pulling you hair, slapping you, etc.)
    Not allowing you contact with your friends and family
    Throwing you out of the marital home
    Not providing you money for groceries, rent, children’s needs, personal needs, etc.
    It is time for women to make the problem public. They should refuse to marry a man who asks for dowry and seek legal help if they are harassed after the wedding.

  3. To stop the torture from the in-laws, you(woman) start from your family. Try to stop or control the torture which your mother is doing to your sis-in laws. In future you can see a better community who respect and give importance to individuals(regardless of male/female) views/interest/dreams.