By Luavut Zahid
20 May 2016
Dania endured violent beatings during her pregnancies. But leaving was not an option; she was sent back to live with her tormentor
In the six years Dania has been married, she has spent four-and-a-half at her mother’s house. Her children were born here after all — though their father never witnessed the births.
“He began hitting me as soon as I was married,” she says. “Even when I was pregnant with my first daughter.”
Each incident resulted in the same play of events: Dania would rush to her mother’s house, only to end up going back — sometimes of her own accord but often on the persistence of her community and its elders.
Her parents told her divorce was a terrible idea. “It’s better for a family to settle down,” they told her, “Hum Izzat Wallay Log Hayn [We are respectable people]. Such people do not have divorced daughters.”
The issue was discussed at the village Panchayat, which decided she should go back to her husband immediately. Each time she approached them for help, she was given the same ruling: “These things are not unusual, they happen in homes.” It was better, the Panchayat decided, for Dania to return to her husband.
Dania did, as she had before, but her husband was not going to change. When she was pregnant with her third son, her husband added to the years of bruises and pain by kicking her down a flight of steps. And once again she left — only to return.
Dania’s story is interrupted by the cries of son. The impact of his mother’s plight is clear on his face. He cries when she talks about the violence; when she lifts up her Shalwar to show the scars on her legs. He continues crying as his elder sister sits still, the fear dark in her eyes.
Her most recent return to her husband's home — her home — was marked by a particularly gruesome act. Dania's parents were informed by a neighbour that their daughter had been hospitalised because her husband had poured bleach into her mouth. It was another chapter in the sordid episodes of abuse that have come to define Dania's married life.
Efforts to have her husband held accountable with the local police have borne no fruit. The police too encourage the two parties to reach a compromise. According to Dania, they said the crime of making her ingest bleach "did not seem like one to warrant punishment".
“I work now,” she says, gesturing at small decoration items scattered on the bed at her mother's home. “I am feeding my children.” As always, she is pushing for divorce but her family is not convinced. They don’t want her to live with her husband, but they are not ready for her to end her marriage either.
“We have our family’s honour to protect,” her brother says. The complicated notion of honour has already had a ripple effect in the family. Dania’s frequent returns home have brought about an unintended consequence for her family — one of her sisters is no longer married.
“Another one of my sisters was married for 10 years," says Dania's brother. "After we began police proceedings against her husband for attempted murder, that sister was divorced. Her in-laws said our family attacks in-laws and her marriage ended.”
While Dania is adamant she will not return, the likelihood is that after the dust settles, her family will once again push her in that direction.
Her brother places his faith in God, who he believes will fix everything.
“Maybe He will make them more human,” he suggests, “Maybe her husband will realise he had children with her. We have hope, we don’t want her divorced.”
Things work in a "set way" here and societal pressures are heavy. Her brother says that’s because it’s not a city; it’s a village. When a married woman in their village stays at her mother’s house for a long period of time "it is a terrible and dishonourable thing”.
“We have a saying,” he goes on to explain. “Once a woman leaves her mother’s house as a bride, she can only return in a coffin.”So would he rather she die than get divorced?
As if wondering the same, he slowly nods. “For us, her getting divorced would be much worse than her dying.
All names have been changed to protect privacy