Bhavna*, a young mother in Dhanbad, Jharkhand was disowned by her husband of three years in May 2020. She was abandoned for giving birth to a girl against the wishes of her husband and his family.
After their marriage, Bhavna and her husband began living with his family, which included his parents, his elder brother and sister-in-law. Just two months into the marriage, Bhavna, 23 at that time, started getting harassed daily by her in-laws who demanded more dowry from her. Bhavna’s parents had already given her husband’s family 1.5 lakh rupees at the time of their marriage. She had to endure severe emotional and physical abuse in her marital home because she and her family could not meet their demands. Many times, they even forbade her from eating food or drinking water. Bhavna’s husband made no effort to protect her, instead he himself regularly inflicted abuse on her.
Bhavna’s struggles in her marital home worsened when she became pregnant. On January 25, 2020, halfway through her pregnancy, her husband and in-laws ganged up on her and beat her up. Blood poured out of her mouth as she was being attacked. She feared for her baby’s life and herself and managed to call her sister who came and rescued her. Bhavna had to be hospitalized because of the severity of the injuries she sustained from the attack. Thankfully, she did not lose the baby. Bhavna began staying with her parents after this incident.
Bhavna gave birth to a girl on 28 May, 2020. Her parents had no means to support her daughter or the baby. Bhavna herself is uneducated and unemployed. In an effort to reconcile, Bhavna’s parents reached out to her in-laws on the phone. However, her husband refused to even come to see the baby.
On 1 August, 2020, Bhavna’s parents took her back to her marital home with the baby. Her husband and in-laws, on finding that it was a girl, refused to accept the child as theirs. They said a girl child was of no worth to them. The in-laws also harshly informed them that they were looking for a more suitable bride for their son to marry, a bride who could bring a handsome dowry with her. They humiliated Bhavna’s family further by spewing insults at them and threw them out of the house.
This was the last straw of injustice for Bhavna. Gathering courage, she decided to fight for her daughter and herself. She filed a complaint at the Women’s Cell on 2 August, 2020. The authorities advised her husband to reconcile with his wife and take care of her and the child. However this led to no effective outcome.
Recently, Bhavna heard of ADF India’s legal aid services through a friend and reached out to us. Our allied lawyers helped her file another complaint with the Women’s Cell and are preparing to file a Domestic Violence petition against her husband and in-laws seeking monetary damages for what she had to undergo at their hands. An application seeking maintenance will also be filed on her behalf.
Carrying out sex-selective abortions and demanding dowry are punishable offences under Indian law, but very often these crimes go unreported and therefore unpunished. In India, every day, 7000 girls are killed in the womb, just because they are girls. More than 20 women are killed everyday in our country due to the evil practice of dowry. These statistics reflect the low value that Indian society places on women and girls. Their right to equality is routinely violated even 70 years after the Indian Constitution came into force. There is no denying the fact that women in India have made considerable progress in the last fifty years but they continue to struggle due to social evils like son-preference and dowry.
A research study has shown that the most immediate cause of son-preference or sex-selective abortion is the perception of daughters as economic and social liabilities due to factors like dowry costs, protection of daughter’s chastity and concern about her marriage. 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, abandonment and sometimes, even murder.
“You can tell the condition of a nation by looking at the status of its women.” - Jawaharlal Nehru
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.
ADF India provides free legal assistance through our panel of allied lawyers to women like Bhavna who suffer for giving birth to girls. For more details, visit www.adfindia.org/legal-aid.
*name has been changed to protect the privacy of individuals