Misogyny in India: My Voice was Silenced and My Son Stolen
The Godh bharai is a ceremony very much like an American baby shower in which an expectant mother is showered with gifts. Usually done in the seventh month of pregnancy or later, the Godh bharai, which means to fill the lap, is a Hindu celebration of motherhood. I felt like a queen at my Godh bharai, despite the fifty pounds I had gained during pregnancy, as one person applied methndi on my feet and another applied on my arms and in between random people stuffed sweets called meethi in my mouth. My Godh bharai felt like a welcome party into a wonderful world of motherhood.
Coupled with my Godh, every day when I would come home, a gray statue greeted me with “A child gives birth to a mother.” I could not help but smile and in my best Tina Turner voice inwardly sing “I’m a mom!”
My son, who I often call BooBoo, was born on April 18, 2012. I thought at the time that I was well equipped for this mom thing. Breast pump. Check. Fancy stroller. Check. Britax car seat. Check. Diaper pail. Check. Perfectly matching Janie and Jack outfits in the baby room. Check. “I’m doing it,” I told myself.
The words uttered by my lawyer—”If you do not leave, they will kill you”—resound in my ears as I think back on the day I had to flee and leave my son behind.
However, a year after my son’s birth I found myself stuck in a horrible situation like a whale stranded upon the land.
In June 2013, a bailiff showed up at my (now-estranged) husband’s house in Goa, India, with court papers for me to sign. Utterly shocked, confused, and terrified, I looked at my husband who sheepishly said, “You have to sign.”
My head still reeling, I bent down to pick up my sleeping son and in that instant the reality of what was happening became apparent. My husband threw me on the ground and simultaneously grabbed my son from me. As looked up, I saw my husband hit the record button on his phone. “She’s hurting the baby, she’s hurting the baby, she’s hurting the baby. Mom, call the police! Take the child to safety.”
The man who had lovingly given me the injections I had to take for my two IVF treatments now grabbed my wrist, causing me to scream out in pain. My son hearing my cries also began screaming in terror. The recording continued.
The words uttered by my lawyer—”If you do not leave, they will kill you”—resound in my ears as I think back on the day I had to flee and leave my son behind. This is where my journey began. I was thrust into the Indian legal system, a world I knew absolutely nothing about. In my attempts to prove myself a devoted mother, I was to be violated over and over and again.
In India, more than half of society believes it is okay for a man to beat his wife. I was beginning to understand the unspoken words.
In June 2013, my lawyer filed a domestic violence case in the Mapusa, Goa court with the aim of me getting custody of my son. Two weeks later, the judge hearing the case asked for my husband and I to appear in her chamber. There, I recounted the verbal assaults that my husband hurled on me: “I will wring your f—ing neck.”
I recounted the threats he made to my parents on the phone, warning them to not let me return to India. To all this, the judge chuckled and said that when the wife is a foreigner and the husband Indian, disagreements are natural. Brushing off my trauma as a mere lover’s squabble, she instructed us to book a hotel and spend three nights together there. In India, more than half of society believes it is okay for a man to beat his wife. I was beginning to understand the unspoken words.
In August of the same year, my lawyer filed a writ of habeas corpus in the Panaji High Court. My son was no longer in the jurisdiction of Goa. The beauty of the Portuguese architecture outside the courtroom was deceiving. Inside, the courtroom was like an auction block of bodies for sale. I was already bought but did not know it. The judges hearing my case pointed out that under the Hindu Minority and Guardian Act, custody of an infant should be given to the mother.
They went on to reiterate that the mother is the natural guardian of a child under the age of five. Despite these observations, they failed to take serious note of the fact that my husband, without notifying or taking permission of the civil judge, took my son out of its jurisdiction and undermined the authority of the court, which can be tantamount to contempt of court. Instead the judges egregiously closed my case saying that my son is safe in Mumbai. To appease my fears, the Honorable Court granted me visitation in Mumbai with my son for four hours!
In January 2014, relief finally came in the form of a trial court which granted me interim custody. But because my son was not in the court’s jurisdiction, I had to enlist the aid of the police to get physical custody of my son. I approached them with the court order but had to plea with them to help me. After much negotiation, they finally agreed to look for my son at the house where my husband was residing in Mumbai.
Upon arrival, we found the house locked. According to neighbors, it had been locked for about a week. My son was now officially a missing person. The next day, I came back to the police station with my lawyers to file a FIR. This is a written report filed by the police when they are made aware of an offense. Although the Supreme Court has ruled that the police must register a FIR when approached, the police officer flat out refused. My lawyers and I asked to speak with the superior. When we narrated the previous night’s episode, he looked at me and said, “You are a liar.”
In India you are a man’s daughter or a man’s wife but never an individual. Consequently, you will have to fight to retain ownership of yourself.
In November 2014, a doctor my husband and I had visited for marital counseling prior to the start of our litigation produced a letter in court declaring me to be bipolar. In the letter, he substantiates his diagnosis based upon the dilemma I found myself in at that time: stay home and care for my son full-time or return to work. It seems that by simply having a confusing choice to make is evidence of having a mental disorder.
Finally a year later on February 2015, the Supreme Court upheld the January 2014 order granting me interim custody and ordered my husband to hand over my son to me!
My case is a landmark one as it offers some medicine to a society diseased with misogyny. But understand that before taking a leap to live in India, many in this country will try to silence your voice. In India you are a man’s daughter or a man’s wife but never an individual. Consequently, you will have to fight to retain ownership of yourself.
Misogyny in India: My Voice was Silenced and My Son Stolen