Our maid, Lakshmi was screaming at someone on the road. I peeped over the compound wall to see what the commotion was all about. On the road stood Lakshmi, arms akimbo looking at a very frightened girl called Maya. Maya works as a stay in maid in my neighbor’s house. Lakshmi had apparently caught Maya and her boy friend smooching at the dead end of the road. “Do you know you can get AIDS?” hissed Lakshmi. Maya looked scared. Apparently she knew of the malady. “And then” continued Lakshmi hissing “you will die a slow and painful death” Maya looked absolutely horrified and scared.
Lakshmi had cause for concern. She was a mother of a teenage daughter and a son. She met her husband when she worked as a stay in maid herself. She was pregnant by the time she was 16 and was kicked out of the job soon after. Her parents married her off to the father of the baby and since then she has been toiling as he is a drunkard. This story repeats itself even today. Most young maids in our colony have boy friends, who are unemployed boys, looking for a sound financial investment for their future in these girls. Almost all the girls I know in this category have got pregnant and were married off to the father of the baby. It is not even looked upon as shameful, but as natural. Then the dashing guy, armed with her salary starts drinking and these girls join the multitude of women living with alcoholic husbands struggling to make ends meet.
Maya looked at Lakshmi helplessly. She was clearly not equipped to make any decision here. Lakshmi continued in a milder tone “at least insist that he wears protection” she advised. Maya looked at her bemused and blurted out “then how will we have children?” Lakshmi slapped her forehead in irritation. “Ayyo!” she exclaimed. "Before you get married, get him tested” she exclaimed. Maya thought for a moment, nodded her head and walked off with the groceries she was sent to procure.
I was maha impressed by the whole incident and narrated the same to my mom. Mom immediately called Lakshmi inside for a tete a tete. From Lakshmi we learnt about the huge misconceptions that exist amongst slum dwellers about AIDs. It is considered a deadly disease, but no one knows how to prevent it. Protection is expensive and men are not willing to spend precious money on the same. Wives who do not cooperate are beaten or abandoned. Like alcoholic husbands and abuse, they take AIDs as fate. If the women want protection, then they have to buy it themselves. The husbands are pretty clear that they are not “wasting” their money on the same. And many women know that, they had better protect themselves as there will be no one to look after their kids if something happens to them. The husbands will merely marry another willing victim.
Lakshmi abandoned her husband a long time ago, when my mom advised her to. She never regretted the decision, as a huge financial liability was lifted off her shoulders with his departure. She was able to put her kids through school and was forever free of beatings and abuse. My mom on the other hand was free of the frequent hospital trip to repair her after the brutal beatings. Today she acts as a one woman NGO, advising girls of the dangers of AIDs and the importance of protection. I do not know how successful she is, as gullible young girls are not wont to listen to preaching’s when they are flattered by the attention of their men. But Lakshmi tries. She says the girls are smartening up with television becoming affordable and the resultant information flow to the slums.
Listening to Lakshmi, you are made aware of the age old traditions and beliefs that cripples able bodied women into helpless slaves. Just changing laws is not going to break the shackles religion has placed on the society. Because as long as these women are bought up on mythical stories of women who sacrificed their lives for their husbands, they will worship their men as Gods! Religious leaders, have to play an active part in cleaning the misconceptions instead of harping on “our culture and traditions being decimated by Valentines Day celebrations!”