A woman called Reva
"The best protection any woman can have...
is courage" - Elizabeth Cady Stanton
Every person has a story to share and this 28 year old beautiful woman too has an inspiring story to share with us. Let us know more about her by my favourite name Reva. Reva along with her household chores has the zest of learning new things. She started her work in an NGO with learning and making beautiful things out of paper quilling, clay, recycled waste and papier mache and now she has started teaching this work to teenage boys within government homes along with play sessions based on play for peace games in different communities.
Reva was five when, due to some conflict between her parents, they decided to separate. Her mother was given a choice of whether to be with her kids or to leave them, she chose the latter. Her father started to stay with another woman who was his childhood love and got two kids with her. At present all of them are staying together. She went to school till fifth grade, got married when she was 15 and became mother of two, a boy and a girl in the next two years.
When she was getting married she called up her mother to invite her but she did not turn up. Instead her mother scolded of why she was calling her after all these years. To that Reva shared that, “there was a day when you chose to leave us behind and not me, today on one of the most important day I don’t want food, clothes or anything from you. Just come and bless me.” But her mother denied and told not to call in future.
She stayed and served her in-laws in Mumbai after marriage while her husband started to live in the village after the birth of their daughter. Her husband would talk to every member of the family but not her and later he even stopped visiting her. She also went through domestic violence by her husband, brother in law and father in law which left her with serious leg injury.
When Reva’s daughter was around one, there was a conflict between her and her in-laws regarding whether to continue feeding the child with mother’s milk or not. Reva believed that her daughter should be given her milk at least for another six months but the family disagreed due to some reason. This lead to domestic violence and she decided to lodge police complain against her husband. From the police station she was sent to a government home for few months. There as per the procedure she was sent to a Psychiatrist who diagnosed her with depression and prescribed her anti depressants.
Her morning dose use to make her feel drowsy and sleepy because of which she couldn’t do her daily chores, so she asked the doctor if she could take that medicine at night which she was permitted. One night while she was in deep sleep, she could feel somebody touching her, it was her father-in-law who was sexually abusing her when she was under the effect of her medication. Next day, when she gained her senses, she talked with her father-in-law and reminded him that she was like her daughter and he shouldn't be doing this just because her husband wasn't around and he couldn't satisfy his needs with his wife due to some medical conditions. She tried to threaten her father in law by saying that she would tell her mother in law and husband if he tries to approach her again but her father in law convinced her that no one would believe her, but think that it was she who approached him to fulfill her sexual needs.
Each night turned into a horrific nightmare for her. Reva called her father but couldn't share what exactly happened to her. She just said that she doesn't want to live there, to which she was told to go to the railway track and die. After three days with no other option left, she ran away from her in laws’ place with her five year old daughter as she was afraid that they would do something to her too.
She was on streets for the next fifteen days where she encountered various people and had varied experiences. From home she went to the bus stand where she was approached by a woman who took her home and later tried to convince her for prostitution. When she denied it led into an argument and even violence where her daughter was physically harmed. Reva could not take her daughter getting harmed, so at night when everyone was asleep, she ran with her daughter but unfortunately she was traced by the pimp who took her home and asked her to sleep with him. Listening to this she attacked him and ran again. It was raining heavily, she got her periods, her daughter was in fever and was prone to having fit attack in such a condition. It was 3 in the night and somehow she managed to reach the bus station and tried to hide under the bus as she was afraid that she might again get caught and they may sell her daughter too. The brothel owner did reach there but couldn't trace them as it was dark and raining heavily. Once he was gone she left that place and tried to find some shelter. She went to a temple but the watchman did not allow, when she started walking away he called her back but she did not go as she couldn’t trust him. While finding the way to the railway station one stranger offered her lift but she denied. She saw police but she did not approach him also.
Around five she could reach the railway station, all drenched. She only had 10 rupees that got her a packet of biscuits for her daughter. Another man offered them sandwich but she denied as she couldn’t trust anybody at this point. She went to the washroom leaving her daughter with the cleaner outside for few minutes but then took her too as she feared someone might take her away. The female serving at the public toilet also told her to leave her daughter with her but she did not. She placed part of her saree beside the commode and placed her daughter there, though her daughter complained of feeling suffocated and couldn't take the smell, Reva forced her as she could not trust anybody at that point.
At the back of her mind she was thinking that going to her in laws was out of question, neither would her father accept her, so taking the path of prostitution seemed easy as she would get money by sleeping for few minutes. She thought, “As such I have been abused, so a little more will do no harm.” But then the flow of wisdom sprang from the heart of a mother where she thought, "If I choose this path, what will my daughter learn from me? What kind of upbringing and environment will I give her?”, and so she decided not to go on that path. This was a turning point in her life and from here there was no looking back.
From there she went to the same place where she was sent by the police few years back but they did not accept her. She then went to other government homes for children where she thought of keeping her daughter so that she remains safe from the outside world, but wasn’t allowed. Finally she was rescued by one shelter home where she stayed for three to four months. Meanwhile they tried approaching her father and called him but he did not come initially. Then one day Reva herself went home leaving her daughter at the shelter home and brought him at the center. There they shared all that happened and that was the time when he broke down and asked for forgiveness, and took them home.
While staying with her father, it was important for her to earn. So she joined a bakery which gave low wages and too many burns on her hand. In between Reva’s husband and uncle came to take their daughter back home. Reva did not want her to go alone so she also went with her. Meanwhile the in-laws asked their son if he wanted to stay with Reva, the one who has blamed his father of sexual assault; and he said no to it. Her in-laws informed Reva and she asked her husband to prepare the divorce papers. Reva’s father had given her assurance that he would file a case for the the custody of her children and will try his best. On the contrary on one of her most crucial day, the day when she went to sign the divorce papers, nobody came from her family to support her. When she called her father he said that he has to go to the village as someone has passed away, but when she came home she saw every member sitting in the home including her father. When asked about why didn't he join her, he said that he got constipation. The real reason was that he wanted to avoid paying the legal charges. Adding to this he even accused Reva that he is not even sure whether all that she shared was true as she was under the effect of medicine.
Though she was angry with her father for not being by her side when she needed him the most, she did forgive him taking her own time. She verbally abused him at times, felt like never going back to him but with all these emotions there was love and affection that overpowered her anger. As a listener it made me question her, “How come after all that happened, I still see so much love for your father?” She smiled and said, “My mother had the choice of taking us with her but she left us. After that all we had was my father. He was my mother, father, husband, son everything. She used the metaphor of hen who embraces her chicks under her feathers. She felt similar while staying with her father. She shared that, "I have seen other parents selling their children but my father did not do that. I have known stories where parents kill girl child but my father did not, he chose life for me".
After all what happened, she very bravely decided to choose the path which was challenging but enriching and self-helping. Her valuable sharing, her love for her children and people around her, her positive attitude and resilience and most importantly the choices that she made during her dark days is just incredible. Each day I see that spark in her eyes of learning new things and how she can bring more smiles on people around her. After listening to her, my faith in her and her faith in me made us overcome her dependency on her medication. Just few weeks back we couldn’t resist smiling and hugging each other outside ward number fifteen, the psychiatric ward. It was a dream for me to see her life without the medication and yes she is off medicines after an year. With too many dreams in her eyes, one of them is to donate her mere salary that she earns to an orphanage just to see smiles on their faces.
Her story and her presence around me remind me of a statement by Nelson Mandela – “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.
Reva is my colleague officially but a sister, care taker, my everyday inspiration and a source of laughter and joy in an unknown city.