Log Kya Kahenge? // What will people say? 1
Introduction In 2012 a 23-year-old physiotherapy student was brutally gang raped in the capital of India. The country was furious, we named her Nirbhaya which literally translates to warrior. From that moment on, Indian society has constantly fought against the patriarchal way of thinking in the name of feminism, or as I’d like to call it, equality. While the progress we made as a society was enormous and so heartwarming, the one sub-topic we forgot about was divorce. In a country like India, where marriage is considered so sacred, the institution of divorce is still commonly looked down on. After my mother filed for divorce in 2017, I have come across many single women who choose to lie low as they feel intimidated a solo woman in a male-dominated society. Although stats show that there is one woman to every three men in my country, it is not only men who have a role to play in this stigma. The patriarchal school of thought effects the behavior of society as a whole, and, through this graphic novel, I have tried to voice and visualize the stories of these four women, who’s strengths have gone unnoticed as they would have felt weighed down by this school of thought, be it socially, legally or emotionally. India’s culture is bright and vibrant in so many ways. We are one of the world’s oldest and complex civilisations in terms of art, history, food, science and so much more, however, the beauty of any society could never be appreciated without recognising and tackling the dark side.
“Feminism isn’t about making women stronger. Women are already strong, it’s about changing the way the world perceives that strength.” G.D. Anderson
I had walked out of my marital home in July 2004 and three months after that, my husband had filed a restitution for conjugal rights petition in the court
As best known to lawyers and how they carry out proceedings, they thought it would be best to file a case for domestic violence against his petition.
I went to the womenâ€™s police station in Gurgaon to file the case. I had to go quite frequently and speak to women officers about the case I had filed.
They called him as well.
Many weeks went by before the case actually came up in court. This is because they attempt to have you reconcile in the womenâ€™s cell but we were just not reaching an agreement. In the meantime, I got a lot of threats and flack, and phone calls of threats from my ex-husbandâ€™s friends and family.
They even sent his brother and sister to try to â€˜talk things outâ€™, which never resulted in anything positive. It was so distressing for me, but by then I had decided and was sure that I was willing to fight this case.
So the case went on for many month which was a nightmare in itself. 11
They had hired a very flamboyant and a very goon-like lawyer, who would leer at you and look at you. He would try to make your defence crumble so that you wouldnâ€™t be in a mental state to face it all.
But I never went alone, I always had my own support.
Multiple hearings were in the Patiala House because once you make a criminal case (I had filed a case in the womenâ€™s cell) it becomes a criminal case in court as well. 13
They had already taken an anticipatory, which is a form of a bail, as a family. The hearings evetually took place at the family court in New Delhi, since it was a divorce case.
When we went to the Patiala House court, I had to face a women judge, who was extremely anti-women herself. 14
She made very sneering remarks at my character and asked why I couldnâ€™t just over-say everything and go on with the marriage.
She directed me in the following hearing to bring my son, which was absolutely uncalled for as he was only 10 years old at that time, however, since it was the courtâ€™s order I had to comply. 15
I remember going to the court with my son twice and it was the most horrible experience ever because my son had no idea what was happening, and at 10 you still donâ€™t understand these things. 16
So he was brought into stand and was asked quite a few questions including asking him to comment in favour or against my accusations. I found it absolutely senseless, how can you ask a child these questions?
I was working at a school at that time and they were extremely supportive. Nobody really looked down at me, so all that was fine but the legalities were quite nightmarish. 17
After concluding the court battle over custodial rights for my son, visitation started fortnightly, and continued for 7 years till my son was a major.
Itâ€™s never a great thing to fight a divorce case, but it turned out alright.
Gurmeet Kaur (Narrated by Mandeep Kaur)
GURMEET KAUR My mother had left her marital home in 2001 and then she started getting out and working.
While she was married, her in-laws would give her labels and would call her characterless
She could not conceive me for the first three years and they blamed it on her. My mum was actually healthy and eventually was able to give birth to me. 22
GURMEET KAUR 1 year 20 days later, she gave birth to my brother. 23
She eventually got into another relationship and was with him for 9-10 years.
So yes, growing up with a single mother was always a challenged and moving houses is always a struggle and weâ€™ve moved a lot. 24
GURMEET KAUR We still lie about saying that our dad is in running a business in Dubai and thatâ€™s why no one has ever seen him before
We had a lot of hard times back in school because they used to call my mum names such as sl*t and prostitute in Hindi. 25
We were evicted from a house in 2013 and we had to vacate the place urgently. My neighbour at that time, we had been best friends since 2007.
GURMEET KAUR Because of the incident that caused the eviction, which included the fact that had a single mum, her parents instructed her to cut all ties with me
It was heartbreaking and Iâ€™m pretty sure that is the reason since there was no other reason at that time. 27
GURMEET KAUR Coming back to school, people there were never easy on us. They continued to call my mum and I names and they would pick fights with my brother for no reason. They would pick on us because we were living in a rented house, so they would call us ‘tenants’ in Hindi. They would also pass ugly remarks about my mother’s relationship such as ‘you guys have two dads’. I never understood what angered them so much because my family situation never reflected on my behaviour at school.
GURMEET KAUR We face a lot of problems whenever we have to purchase non-routine things like a car. People try to scam my mum just because she’s a woman and she doesn’t have a husband or any support. Often, my brother gets involved but they know that he’s young and they take advantage of that.
GURMEET KAUR My mother was a real-estate broker. She used to get paid very less but the times were like that.
GURMEET KAUR She also eventually got into politics, and people used to make moves on her, and they did not exactly provide the right kind of atmosphere for her to work in, so she left. 31
My mum is made to believe that a woman should â€˜know her placeâ€™ and a woman cannot do a lot of things a man can do.
She has been oppressed and has been made to believe in this system which has made her who she is today
This is why she has so many mental health issues, and sheâ€™s accepted that she cannot do certain things.
Itâ€™s crazy out there, its really crazy.
Punita Chandra (Narrated by Namrata Chandra)
My mother decided to keep her divorce a secret for the first year as she told me that she was worried that we would lose our roof over our head and her business would be impacted
Soon after she filed for divorce, she started to go out and make new friends who were in a similar situation to her so she joined a singles group for emotional comfort. 38
It was helpful for her to be around people who related to her situation, as she found it easy to talk and be open.
Soon after she began her life on her own, she had confrontations with friends who openly told her that they felt that divorced women were loose charactered and were a threat to their marriage. 39
She also felt that her business was being impacted as she was a woman running solo, and people did not take her seriously as a business woman. Basic conversations were becoming a struggle.
People would assume that doing business with a woman suggested that the woman owed them other â€˜favorsâ€™ and networking solo was almost impossible. 40
Although we wanted to ignore the mindset of people, we realized that it was impacting our finances and therefore she decided to take on a business associate who was a man.
People would make assumptions that she was an employee and not the owner, and clearing out that miscommunication always resulted in shock, as she was a woman running a business.
As a divorced woman, my mother would struggle with building relationships with landlords. We waited for a year before informing our then landlord of my motherâ€™s divorce.
When we decided to move house, it was a struggle to convince any landlord that a she capable of paying her own rent and sustaining her own lifestyle. Landlords would always bring up the topic of her husband after a few meetings. 43
Whenever they found out that our finances were independent from my fatherâ€™s, we would always hear some lame excuse.
We lost touch with our extended family after my mother got divorced as they considered preserving a marriage more of a priority than a woman’s mental health. Their common remark (my mother divorced in her late 40s) was ‘Is this any age to divorce?’ 45
My sister and I would receive snide remarks from people we considered our friends.
Some people felt entitled to opinions of the decisions of single parents.
My mother is a strong and smart woman. She picked herself up quicker than most woman would after making a life decision as extreme as divorce.
However, Indian society tends to hold us at a lower standing due the stigmatization. Fortunately, the struggles Iâ€™ve watched my mother face gives us the power and knowledge to work towards normalising this less-discussed stigma.
In Conversation with Minreet Kaur
Minreet Kaur is an Indian Sikh* woman based in London. She uses her experiences as a divorced woman in Indian society to represent and empower the community. Her collaboration on a photography series called Desi Divorces was brought into awareness by the BBC, in order to start conversation about the underlying thought patterns of Indian society towards divorced women.
*Sikhs are a community originating from the Indian state of Punjab.
How did society react to you decision?
They judged me
They labelled me used goods, there was a huge stigma attached 56
They werenâ€™t happy. The Gurdwara* wouldnâ€™t introduce me to single guys, I was only made to interact with divorced people. Single men were not interested in mingling with divorced women. *A Gurudwara is a Sikh place of worship.
It was horrible and I felt ashamed.
Did you find that your existing relationships with people were impacted after your decision?
Friends didnâ€™t want to hang around with me
I felt isolated all the time 60
Relations would insist on sorting the marriage out and tell me to try to make it work
A relative in India said to my parents that we should have given the family more gold and then they would have been â€˜fineâ€™. 61
Did you find that your work life was impacted as a woman running solo?
It was hard to go to work I felt really depressed, and I didn’t feel I fit in anywhere. I think I felt like your mum I just felt I’m not good enough, I’m a loser as I’m divorced. I didn’t feel confident in work.
My role was a marketing professional in a pharmaceutical company and I had been there 10 years and I just left as it got too much. I started to attemp at different places but I never stayed long in once workplace.
I just felt I couldnâ€™t talk about my life and that Iâ€™m divorced. 65
I have shared my story on divorce to help women to have a voice so they donâ€™t feel afraid and they feel strong enough to speak up.
I have brought women together to talk to each other to feel they arenâ€™t alone.
I want women to help one another
Empower each other, and lift one another up.
Acknowledgements Behind every woman, man and child is a story with a lesson to learn. In a world that produces so much information daily, we are only granted limited lessons. I hope to teach and empower through the stories of these 4 women and strive to use their strength for the greater good. I would like to thank these women for sharing their stories with me, only one knows what courage it takes to speak about their own experiences. I would also like to specially acknowledge my sister as her essay that she wrote in 2018 made me realize that most of society is in fact unaware of this stigma. After seeing her research in order to write this essay, it made me wonder- how many people talk about this? After the Nirbhaya gang rape in 2012, women empowerment became a topic that impacted the lives and emotions of every member of the Indian youth. We protested and fought for justice, but this small community of immense strength remained quiet. I hope to make a noise for them, even if its slight one.
Namrata Chandra Final Major Project