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Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Mardani legal eagle

Which teenager girl would like to have pimples on her face? But at fifteen she prayed everyday for her face to be covered with pimples. She would pierce the pimples and they would leave ugly scars and marks. That is what her objective was. Vidya Babasaheb Hingmire wanted her face to be ugly. That was the only way in which she could escape marriage and continue her studies. 

On the night of 1st October 1982 young 15 years old bride was in labour pains. She was carrying her first child. There was family pressure to produce a male offspring. Her first child was born. But it was a girl child. The house became gloomy as if somebody had died. A girl child was a huge liability. She had to be married off by paying hefty dowry. No wonders naming ceremony of the child was a low key affair with only the immediate family members attending it. As per custom, the honour of naming the child was with the paternal aunt. She whispered the name in the little girl's ears - Vidya, meaning knowledge. 

Vidya stood true to her name. She had a quest to learn. She would see her mother being beaten up by her drunkard father. Her mother was already weak owing to the four deliveries between the tender age of fifteen to twenty. Then too her father would pulverize her bones in the presence of their children. Vidya a bright child understood that it was wrong. However, she could do little about it. That made her feel terribly guilty. Why couldn't she confront her father and save her mother from the brutal beatings? 

The answer was she was not strong. She knew that education was the only panacea for her problems. She was determined to become an Advocate and save millions of helpless wives like her mother from domestic violence. But in a household which treated women and footwear alike, even having a dream without the men's permission was an offence.

No sooner did Vidya achieve puberty her father was on a look out for a groom. Men double her age would come to see her. But her face with blemishes ensured that she was not selected. In India marriage is a big affair. But women, especially the would be bride has little say in it.  She has to devise her own means like Vidya did to escape the ordeal of being a child bride and early motherhood.

Vidya's hunch proved correct. She was allowed to go to school. The school was a kilometer away from her home. One lecherous man followed her to the school everyday. She would walk to the school. He would come on bicycle from behind and touch her inappropriately. If she had told about it at home, one thing was sure - her schooling would have been stopped. Poor young girls mature early. Vidya started going to school along with another girl Nafisa. Nafisa was two years senior to her. For Vidya she was a blanket of security. 

However, soon Nafisa passed out of the school and again the molester began following her. Having no option left Vidya narrated her sufferings to her mother.  Her mother was worried. Her cousin resided in the nearby lane. Vidya's mother went to his house and fell at his feet. She pleaded him to look into the matter albeit her husband's knowledge. The kind hearted brother assured her that she should relax and Vidya will not be harassed. The molester received a beating at Vidya's uncle's hands and the harassment stopped. 

Vidya hailed from a well to do family. They had a pucca house with three floors. The upper two were let out ensuring monthly inflow of cash from rents. There were six buffaloes, a small grocery shop and 2 acres of land. However, spending on girl’s education was considered a waste. Free education up to class 12th had ensured that money never came between Vidya and her studies.

However, now that she had completed her 12th class, Vidya was worried about paying fees for higher education. She broached the subject with her father when he was in a good mood. He plainly refused to shelve out money for her higher education that too of law. “Who will marry a lawyer girl? Nobody wants a girl who is a fighter cock in their house.” He said. 

Vidya had to fend for herself. She worked as a receptionist at a doctor's clinic during vacation and collected money for her fees. 

Now that he did not have to shelve out money from his pockets, Vidya’s father did not have any objection to Vidya continuing her studies until she got married. However, her mother was very weak. Doctor had advised her knee replacement. But her father was unwilling to pay the hefty amount for the expensive surgery. As a result Vidya had to fill in for her mother in the kitchen. She had to tend to the buffaloes and do all the chores which her mother did. 

Vidya entered the gates of the law college. She always wanted to become a lawyer. But the biggest hurdle was the medium of instruction. She had studied in Marathi up to 12th standard and she had problems comprehending English. She drilled the legal terms while she carried baskets of cow dung from the cattle shed. The first year exams were over. Vidya waited for the results. She had nightmares of marrying an old man who treated her exactly the same way her father treated her mother. During day time her job as a receptionist ensured that she was busy. But in the nights she would worry about her results. Finally the results were out. Vidya had failed in two subjects. That night she cried all the night.

She had collected money for education through her job as a receptionist. However now that she had failed her father strongly opposed her studies and asked her to sit at home. Vidya continued with her job as a receptionist. She befriended her class mates who had now gone to the higher class. She went to their homes. She asked for their help in studies which they graciously offered. They even gave her the subject notes which they had prepared. Vidya appeared again for the examination and this time she passed. 

Vidya's five year law course was not a bed of roses. Her mother's illness, her father's tantrums and need to self-fund her education ensured that she did not attend her college regularly. As a result she failed in almost every year. But she reappeared and passed the examinations. She was no more marriageable. Her age was advancing, her face had blemishes and she was studying law. Everybody from her community wanted a young, beautiful, homely girl. Her father had to get rid of his other responsibilities. So Vidya's younger sister was married off. 

Finally Vidya became a lawyer. She went to the court wearing a coat which she had purchased from her own money. That was a very proud moment for her. On her return her father asked how much money she had made. She replied none. She and her father did not know that there is a gestation period of few years in the legal profession for a newbie to earn money. 

Vidya meticulously learnt the niceties of the court functioning. She worked very hard. But it was very difficult for a woman to stand in a small town. Her father would demand her monthly lodging and boarding charges. As she was unable to pay it there was no relief from household chores. Her mother fell down in the bathroom and broke her hip. She was bedridden. She soiled her bed and Vidya cleaned it. Vidya had to take a break for few months to look after her mother. 

Her brother got married and Vidya was partially relieved of her domestic duties. She was contemplating moving to a big city in search of better prospects. She had applied at few law firms. But soon her sister-in-law left to her maternal house to give birth to her first child. At the same time even Vidya's sister came for her first delivery. Again Vidya was overburdened with domestic duties. The tiny toddlers brought lot of happiness into her life. She forgot her struggles with the smiles on their radiant faces. After three months the sister-in-law returned and took up the charge of kitchen.

Vidya determined to make her mark in the legal profession went to Pune. Currently she is practising as an advocate at Pune. She handles family matters. She fights for seeking justice to poor women who are victims of domestic violence. She says it is Krishna who gave her all the courage to fight battles of life. Salute to this real life Mardani!

This is written as a part of I am Mardaani activity exclusively at for Indian Bloggers.

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