PUBLISHED IN EI SAMAY KOLKATTA
Story of Lakshmi
She is trying hard to rub off that thin red line from her forehead. It must disappear. It was not a marriage, but a forceful association for a few days.
This was the first taste of freedom for this 20-year old Bengali girl in the last 6 months- the freedom from a prison named ‘sasural’. She fell short of words when she was trying to reframe the intensity of torture that she had faced there. All she wanted to do was to collapse into the arms of her ailing mother and her elder brother. But she was yet unaware of the fact that she was bearing a child for 3 months. She did not know who the ‘father’ was. So it had to be aborted.
Yes, this is a true story, the story of a poor girl from Jalpaiguri. But this is not the world of fantasy; there is no light here, only a fade silver line bordering the dark clouds of terror.
Surrounded by the hills and tea gardens of Kalchini was a small village, where Laxmi (name changed) had grown up with her family. But this outwardly serene place was devastated from within. It is one of the hot beds of human trafficking in Bengal. Girls are regularly traded to Delhi from here. The traffickers entrap these girls garbed as lovers, well-wishers and sometimes by promising lucrative jobs.
Since childhood, Laxmi was suffering from ill health, which kept her parents anxious. Local conventional remedies had failed to show any effect. Adding to this agony, Laxmi’s father passed away, marking an end to the sole source of income in the family. The eldest sister, who was married, took a work in the tea gardens. But the meagre amount that she earned was not enough to keep together their body and soul, and medical treatment was unthinkable. Being the youngest of the four children, Laxmi was loved by all the family members. In spite of the extreme poverty, she remained the centre of her brothers’ worlds.
On one such day, while she was helping her mother in cooking, suddenly one Muhammad appeared. Around 40 years of age, this man was a familiar face in the locality. Although his whereabouts were not known, people knew that he had gained the adoration of the villagers by proving himself a ‘philanthropist.’
This Muhammad was a spotter. People like him, at first get friendly with the village heads and acquire the minute details of vulnerable groups. Then they befriended that family or the girls, what happened in this case. According to police, Muhammad convinced them to go to Delhi.
Lakshmi is not a healthy girl, her brother is dumb —- nothing evades Muhammad’s eyes. Thus, he started his story of ‘Miracle Baba’ of Haryana, who is known as panacea. His touch made everyone healthy and wealthy. So Lakshmi too would be cured, so would be her brother. ‘Unbelievable’!! As if Lakshmi and family had been waiting for this moment.
Thus, they started for Delhi via Howrah. All of them boarded Poorva Express along with Muhammad. They didn’t have to pay anything; all expenses were borne by the traffickers.
But as soon as they got off at New Delhi station, some men, who look like Goondas, surrounded them. They took Lakshmi and family to a car, which was waiting outside. Since then Muhammad was silent, as if he didn’t even know Lakshmi or any of her family members.
They heard that the Goondas were calling him ‘Rajinder’, not Muhammad.
Something must be wrong, they suspected, but Lakshmi couldnot measure the magnanimity of it. According to Police, by taking several fake names, these gangs operate. Sometimes they just hand them over, sometimes they sell on their own.
The car stopped at Khedi Mansingh village of Haryana. It’s a village by looks, but no proximity with green Bengali villages. Some unknown person became custodian of Lakshmi.
The very next day, the dumb brother and mother of Lakshmi were kicked out in worst possible manner. They were sent back to Jalpaiguri. Thus ended their contact with Lakshmi.
The innocent girl was captivated in the murkiest life. Though, one of her brother’s was allowed to stay back.
Where Lakshmi was staying, each evening there used to be a Majlish. Customers used to come from different villages of Haryana. No, not only for a night’s pleasure, but also to buy wives.
Don’t be surprised. Due to the alarming number of female foeticide, it is girl-less. So, buying and selling of wives are rampant.
What was done to Lakshmi?
She was brought well dressed. The potential buyers used to touch her in various places, the touch which was never desirable. Nights after nights, she was raped by different persons. Not only them, the owner of the house too assaulted Lakshmi and forcefully made ‘love’ with her.
Facing these atrocities, three months passed. Suddenly, she got to know that she was getting married. The groom was a widower with a little kid, named Chandan from the same village.
Lakshmi had to bite the bullet.
But was it a marriage?
According to Hindu Shastra, marriage has been defined as ‘unconditional surrender of soul and body to the spouse’. If we go by this definition, it was nothing but a forceful sexual encounter.
Thanks to female foeticide, Haryana doesn’t have many girls alive. So, there is huge crirsis of girls of marriageable age. According to NGO reports, forced marriage in this region have become an industry. Everything happens in front of police. Khap panchayat is there to give the diktat. Thus, buying of brides an open secret, no one protests. Exactly what happened to Lakshmi too.
The script was perfect. Her marriage took place at Chandan’s elder sister’s home in a different village. Lakshmi’s brother too was brought there. He was threatened to be killed if he didn’t give his ashirvaad to his sister. By immense coercion and threat, the marriage became reality. The photograph of the brother giving blessings to his sister was kept an evidence of ‘all is well’ marriage saga.
Once the marriage was over, the brother was beaten up and was sent back to Jalpaiguri.
Lakshmi was left alone.
Her sasural was nothing but a prison, you may call it hell as well. So many people, all of them treated Lakshmi as maid.
Moreover, it was a total cultural shift for her. Neither language, nor food habit matches with her. She was staying just besides the pen. The filthy place was full of cowdung and other things.
Most of the day, Lakshmi couldn’t eat. Fasting was her normal feature. Praying to god was her only job. The tears made her vision unclear. Tears, her only companion, may be for the rest of her life.
She was tired of hearing that childbearing is the sole job for her. She was repeatedly raped, tortured, tormented.
Lakshmi, who is otherwise a quiet girl suddenly got a strange power. May be, when something hits a dead end, it is the norm. so one day, she ran way. But luck was not with her. She was taken back by her husband and others. Now, she had to stay in the cowshed, she had to go to her room everynight to ‘satisfy’ her husband.
So, when her didi-jija reached with the rescue team, she couldn’t believe her eyes. Is she dreaming? Isn’t it so good to be true?
Her elder sister didn’t waste a single moment to give her a warm hug and wiping away her tears. By that time police force and NGO had surrounded the home. And all the village heads were there to see, what was happening.
Lakshmi was soon taken to the magistrate. She was handed over to her elder sister.
But neither the rescue operation, nor the event after that was easy. ‘bahurani ko uthake laya hai’ sighting the reason Panchayat members followed the rescue team to Police station and magistrate’s office. The head of them requested the NGO man Rishi Kant that he wanted to have a talk with Lakshmi. He even asked, whether any journalist was present. My identity was then that of an NGO worker, not a scribe. So he told that what’s wrong in this delaing, Chandan’s image would be soiled if Lakshmi was taken away in this way. He even used threat factors, so that the girl could be sent back.
This is not an exception. This is a normal practice; the village boy will be bad named as ‘ghar ka ijjat’ bride is abducted! But Shakti Vahini and police had tried their best to keep Lakshmi with her family.
Lakshmi is now living with her family. Tagging her as a ‘bad girl’, her family didn’t disown her. She is back to life, again.
What could be the better silver lining than this?