Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shackles of another kind!

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!”


Unknown said...

May clear-headed people like Lakshmi usher in awareness among the ignorant..

Anonymous said...

creating awareness among the ppl will help a lot...i have heard many telling each other to stay away from hiv .even mosquito bite can spread the virus..those ppl are not helping the society.they spread their own versions of stories to others.. can help a lot...

mathew said...

very heartening to know that this lady is standing up for herself..wife beating though heard in the so called "upper class" society is often reported and hence less..i have even heard of drunk adults abusing their own mother's...sad...but it is unfortunate that the many woman are not aware of their basic rights...people who suffer from it should get voice through NGO's and blogs like this will making people who never knew such problems exist in the society aware of it..

Anonymous said...

The remarkable point I can see here is how this once-taboo subject is out in the open for even maid servants.

The one who has loved and lost said...

"Protection is expensive and men are not willing to spend precious money on the same. Wives who do not cooperate are beaten or abandoned."

Well need not be, if this becomes true.

I think Lakshmi is being very sensible. Anyways if the guy is adamant he wont use protection, then well a hundred rupees is certainly not that important when compared to being burdened with unwanted child births and fatal STDs.
But as always, different people .. different perspectives.
I am an arm chair critique..
They toil with blood and sweat for the hundred rupees..

Anyways, it's a good thing your mom did. Sometimes, the right advice to one person saves so many people :-)


A very nice and relevant post today. I admire your mother's sagacity in advising Lakshmi to leave her husband, Lakshmi's courage in leaving him, and Lakshmi again for taking it upon herself to give advice to young uninformed women about the problems involved in their dalliances with men.

Sriram said...

Wha- oops that first comment was me! Didn't realize mom hadn't signed out!!!

Deepti said...

Kudos to her .... Its so heartening to see women stand up for their rights . We need more like her. Awareness is half the battle won!!
nice post anjali

Karthik said...

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!”

Why only these idiotic religious leadrs? Even most of the TV soaps show the female family member sacrificing everything and listening to whatever the male says. Even this has to stop.

Anyway heartening to know that women like Lakshmi exist in this society

Anonymous said...

When you started off, I expected a typical filmy sequence to follow. But what followed... well am impressed too!

Protection is costly? Rilly? I thought they had some coin operated condom vending thingy in Kerala, I think they need to implement that in Karnataka as well..
(I have seen only one or two here, that too in check-posts where police check lorries..)

Anonymous said...

All those stories about women forebearing every bad thing on earth and not reacting, made to look like the most saintly way of life continue to pass a wrong message to young girls. Even movies continue to make that the moral of stories. Bad wife trying to be independent and talkative gets a good spanking and she turns good.
Wish there'd be more like Lakshmi around. Its good to see people open their eyes and react.

thomas said...

"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!”" -- True, all these so called 'leaders' are under a fake layer of hypocrisy, below that layer is full of crap!

Anonymous said...

Very well written post. Hey, I'm s w a t. Landed on your blog through gReader.

silverine said...

Sorry for the delay in replying to comments friends!

Sriram: I second that!

Hari: I hope Lakshmi creates awareness and not fear as I am not too sure of her expertise in the subject. :) But right now fear is a better weapon than ignorance.

Mathew: OMG!!! I am shocked at that piece of information!! Now I am beginning to realize why those govt posters extols alcohol as evil!!
p.s I wonder where the NGO's are. from Lakshmi I hear there is no one giving counseling at her slum!

Pradeep: The maids are a very informed lot indeed, I have realized lately! :)

the layman: You are right about people who sweat and toil for a their rupees! I don't know if DD's rural channels air govt ads on AIDs. I hope they do as the message that a one time investment in an AIDs test can eliminate recurring expenses for protection, will have great impact.

Raji: You are right! Instead of going about her life and struggle she is imparting some of her experiences to the younger generation. That's so unselfish and commendable!!

Sriram: Don't worry I have done the same, many times. Now it has become a habit to open Gmail first, when I am using someone else's comp, as I am sure to find that they haven't logged out! :p

Deepti: Very true! We need more people like her as we cannot expect the govt to reach so many people so effectively!

Karthik: You are absolutely right!! Lets start by shooting Ekta Kapoor! :p

Balu: Protection is costly for some people. For the others lack of awareness makes them think it is an unnecessary expense.

ms cris: I have always wondered why censorship is applied to nudity and violence only. Why don't they ban messages like women being 'straightened up' that many movies, especially mallu movies show!! Most mallu movies start off with an over confident heroine who is later 'bought down to earth' by the hero!

Tom: The very term, religious leader is an oxymoronic word. They neither know their religion nor do they know how to lead. It is just another position of power in religious clothing.

Swat: Thank you for dropping in and welcome to my blog! :)

Anonymous said...

fantastic post! and these misconceptins r the norm rather than exception!

Psmith said...

this is all too common ! we once had a maid whose husband would come to our house completely drunk asking for money and trying to beat up his wife when she refused, and one of my most enduring memories from summer vacations during my school years is one summer afternoon with the deccan sun beating down mercilessly, my mum with her hands on her waist staring down and shooing off 2 raving red eyed drunk lunatics while their wives (maids) watched through a window.

My regards to Lakshmi and your mum.

silverine said...

chandni: Absolutley right!

psmith: In my house the same scene reenacted with another pair of eyes...mine looking out of the window fearfully! :) Thanks!