On a cold November evening in 2019, we were left in shock by a phone call from Payal*, a young mother from Haryana. Married in 2012, Payal had endured years of unfathomable pain and brutality. After marriage, she had lived with her in-laws and was made to do all the household work for the entire extended family. There she was repeatedly abused verbally, physically and sexually. She was particularly blamed and abused by them because she had given birth to three daughters. Her husband turned a blind eye to her cries for help and advised her to get used to such treatment. Even with the existence of several domestic violence laws in India, it is difficult for victims to access such help.
Many times, Payal had to rescue her daughters from the attempts of the in-laws to kill them. One day, she decided that she had had enough and that she would secure justice for herself and her daughters. Despite Payal’s impossible circumstance, she courageously escaped her ensnarers after multiple failed attempts. Showing amazing resilience, she fled to another city with two of her daughters and found employment as a maid. Her husband and in-laws had forcibly and illegally detained her second daughter, four-year-old Jaya*, in order to force Payal to come back to the matrimonial home.
Payal reached out to ADF India’s allied lawyers to help her to protect her daughters. In January, this year, a High Court directed her husband to produce Jaya in Court in the presence of the mother. The High Court also directed the corresponding family court to complete proceedings, on Payal’s petition seeking her daughter’s custody, within 4 weeks. The family court thereafter granted interim custody of the girl to the mother.
The father refused to follow the directions of the family court and instead challenged the order in the High Court. The High Court was not inclined to overturn the ruling of the family court and instead directed the husband to pay Payal for any litigation costs incurred by her.
ADF India’s allied lawyers then made an application for maintenance on her behalf. They have also filed a Domestic Violence petition against the in-laws, that a complaint may be filed against them and also that she be awarded monetary damages for what she had to undergo at their hands. ADF India will continue to stand beside Payal as she courageously wages this battle for the safety and future of her daughters.
Unfortunately, such stories like Payal’s are not uncommon in India. India’s rate of violence against women, particularly domestic violence, is one of the world’s highest. 70% of women in India are affected by domestic violence in one form or the other. A survey by the International Institute for Population Studies showed 56% of Indian women believed wife-beating to be justified in certain circumstances.
In India, domestic violence is rooted in the same social, cultural and religious practices that enforce rigid patriarchal norms of son-preference and gender-biased sex selection. The fallacy that sons are critical to a family’s social survival for carrying on their lineage, and ensuring the family’s financial security, encourages son preference. Women face extreme societal pressure to produce a son. Failure to do so would entail bearing the consequences of violence or abandonment in terrifying degrees.
Another young mother, Savita, shared her story with us: “After my second daughter was born, my husband and in-laws started abusing me. I had not been able to give them a son. Then, the third daughter was born and the violence against Savita and the children grew more brutal. When my little baby girl fell ill and finally died, the violence stopped,” she said.
The 2011 census reflects that the child sex ratio, a crucial indicator of gender equality, stands at 834 females per 1,000 males in Haryana. This latest census clearly exposes the daughter aversion in the state. While the birth of a son is welcomed with distribution of sweets, fanfare and festivities, the birth of a daughter is considered a curse and invites ridicule. A traditional Haryanvi folk song shows how the birth of a girl child is unwelcome in the family:
Jis din laado tera janam hoya, hui e bajar ki raat. Tuti khatoli ghaal ke amma soi, babul phire udaas. Nau lakh diwe laado chas dhare the te bhi ghor andhera
O Daughter, the night you were born, that night was the darkest of all. On a broken cot your mother slept, and your father was sad. Nine lakh lamps were lit up but still it remained dark
Mothers bear the full brunt of the scorn and shame that come from the birth of a female child. They consequently become victims of abuse, beatings, and sometimes, even murder. Families desperate to escape the financial burden of having a daughter can resort to disowning the mother. The man is encouraged to remarry to increase his chances of having a son. Not only does the mother compromise her health and well-being, she also loses her status and honor in this patriarchal set-up because of divorce or abandonment.
ADF India is committed to cultivating a future where human dignity is affirmed for all women and girls. Through our Vanishing Girls campaign, we advocate for the right of all women and girls to be loved, to have equal rights to the family inheritance, and to have their freedoms protected and promoted.
We invite you to join us in defending the life and liberty of women like Payal. To do so, donate here. Your financial gift today will transform a life tomorrow.
*names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals