|THIS is the story of a woman who dared to challenge patriarchal norms of subordinate behaviour expected of married women. It is the story of deep inequalities inherent in the prevailing Hindu personal law in relation to the property rights for women.|
The concerned woman’s name is Kamla. She is 35 years old and has a son, Vinod, who is 18 years old. She lives in a village in Hanumangarh district of Rajasthan. Two years after her marriage to Ram Swaroop, she was deserted by her husband who subsequently married another woman. She and her baby son were driven out of her marital home, by her in-laws. Her natal family comprised a disabled father, her mother, a sister and a brother. They supported Kamla in her struggle for justice.
Kamla’s case against her husband on charges of bigamy could not be proved even though he had produced four children by his second wife, by the time the case came up in court. The bigamy laws are framed in such a way as to make it almost impossible for a man to be arrested. After a decade of struggle in local courts, she was awarded Rs 350 as maintenance under Section 125. But to get even this measly amount, she had to file several additional cases as her husband refused to pay her the amount.
In the meantime, Kamla appealed to her Bishnoi caste elders for help. The panchayat decided that she, along with her son, should have the right to 9 bighas out of the 108 bighas of land owned by her in-laws; of this land, 27 bighas are in her husband’s name. This was a most unusual decision, perhaps a unique one of its kind. It was made possible only because of the strong intervention by the former CPI(M) MLA, Het Ram Beniwal, who pushed through this pro-woman decision in spite of the strong objections of some other members. The in-laws also had to accept the decision at that time.
This happened three years ago. Kamla, along with her son, went back to her in-laws’ village, built a room for herself and started cultivating the land. She faced many threats and was warned of dire consequences if she did not leave. But this brave woman asserted her right to the land. She informed the police of the threats. But no action was taken.
On July 26, armed with iron rods, a group of around 12 men picked up her son Vinod from the field at around 7 in the morning and broke both his legs, leaving him grievously injured on the edge of the field. Kamla was at home at the time. The same group of men, who included her husband’s relations as identified by Kamla, dragged her out of her home and took her forcibly to their own house. There they used filthy language against her and asked her to vacate the land. But she refused to sign any papers. They then put her arms on either side of her and systematically used the blunt iron handle of a scythe to break the bones in both her arms. Almost simultaneously they broke both her legs in a similar way. Abusing her, they said they could never allow a woman to own and cultivate their land. They threw her unconscious in front of her home. Later Kamla and her son were hospitalised. While the police took her statement, no arrests were made. On the contrary, on the same day, the police filed an FIR against two of her brothers on the charge that they had "fired in the air" at her in-laws, a blatantly cooked up case.
A few days later this case came to light when the Rajasthan state conference of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) was being held in Hanumangarh. AIDWA general secretary Brinda Karat and its Rajasthan state president Sumitra Chopra met the seriously injured Kamla and her son in the hospital.
Next day, hundreds of women including Kamla’s mother and sister gheraoed the police station, demanding immediate action in the case. The police had earlier learnt of the plan and, anticipating the women’s anger, arrested five of the accused and put them in the police lockup a few hours before the demonstration. But this did not pacify the women. Sumitra Chopra and Durga Swamy (Rajasthan AIDWA general secretary) read out the memorandum and demands to the police. These included an additional case under Section 307 to be registered and arrest of all the accused; withdrawal of the false cases against Kamla’s brothers; prevention of any encroachment on the land by the in-laws; compensation to Kamla and her son and punishment to the officer in charge of the case for his blatant connivance with the accused.
Except for the last demand, the police officials who rushed there to meet the demonstrators, agreed to all the demands. After that the gherao was lifted.
The local unit of AIDWA in Hanumangarh --- led by Chandrakala Verma, Sarabjeet Kaur, Gurjit Kaur and others --- has assured the family of their continuing support in the case. Kamla’s aged mother, moved to tears by the strong solidarity shown by the organisation for her daughter, congratulated the women. She said it was only after many days that she was looking forward to seeing her daughter smile. She assured that she will join any action whenever she hears of it.