Women’s Right to Life – Dedicated to Rai

In a recent conversation with a commenter here, I said that statistics do not necessarily reflect the whole of an issue.

What I meant by this was that if you have a room of 100 people and asked all of them a question, their answers did not necessarily equal that they all felt this way.

Take for example:

Do  you believe it’s ok to not to touch an elders feet upon meeting them for the first time?

This, I know, is a loaded question and it really depends on so many factors.  These factors are called demographics.  Age, race, local, education, all are influencers in the answers that you will be given.  As well will a society’s beliefs or religious backgrounds.  You must also equate whether the subject is answering with what they think is the ‘right’ answer or merely what they believe you want to hear.

So, my feeling on statistics, especially when I read about them in reports or hear about them from others, is that I should take them with a grain of salt.

But something did happen here in the land of Gori Rajkumari that truly brought home to both my husband and I, the problems that women face here in India.  Especially those of the working and lower class.

Our beloved maid Rai is the subject of today’s discussion.

Rai has been with us almost since my first day here in India.  From the moment she walked through the door, she radiated peace and happiness and the feeling of ‘family’ to me.  Rai and I fast became good friends and my husband and I both considered her more family than just a day maid.

Rai speaks three languages fluently, Marathi, Hindi and Kanada.  She was quick-witted, sweet, efficient and caring.  She picked up English quickly and understood my clumsy attempts at Marathi/Hindi mixed with wild hand gestures far better than even my English-speaking SIL did.

Rai also spent time teaching me the ways of life here, how to clean an Indian home properly, how to cook new meals.  She did her best to teach me Marathi while I gave her the English translations.  She was patient with me.  She would visit me when I was ill or stay with me to keep me company when I was lonely.  She would hold me when I cried over missing home.  We would tell each other about our families, our life and childhood or just giggle over CID antics.

Rai was not just my maid….she was my first true friend in India.

The day came when Rai would tell me about the problems that she faced with her husband’s family.  The problems, to me, seemed so severe but to her…it was as if this sort of thing were natural.  Just another part of Indian life.

She was too dark, should not work (even though her husband did not make enough to support them both), her cooking was substandard (HA!  Better than eating out was my husband and my feeling…her cooking was THAT good!), she had not yet had any babies and this was her fault (even though the doctor found nothing wrong with her or her husband….most likely it was that they never saw each other what with their tedious work schedules or his staying out late with drinking buddies).  Everything seemed to be her fault.

But it was HER that they had begged four years previously to please marry their son.  They stayed with that stance for nearly a year before she finally gave in over the pressure of her mother and his family.  He is her second cousin.

Throughout all of this and for the last three years, her husband stood by her.  Defied his parents when they told him they wanted him to divorce Rai and marry another girl who would be ‘better’.

And then almost a year ago….her husband met a newly divorced sister of his best friend.  His family knew about her and approved of her.  Even though she was less educated that Rai, from a family with questionable background and her own work history is spotted with controversy.  They did not seem to care in the face that THIS woman was fairer and may give their son children.

And so with his family supportive of him, he began the terrorizing of our Rai.  Now he stayed out later or was gone for days.  Now he berated Rai at every opportunity.  Now his family would call Rai and demean her or uninvited her to family events.

Rai began coming to work sullen and quiet with bruises on her arms or back.  She was stiff or had to take breaks in her cleaning.  She was going to the hospital frequently.

So I began questioning her harder, trying to make her break her silence.  Until one day she showed up early, crying and begging to talk to Bear and myself about a personal matter.

And talk she did.  She told us everything that had happened to her.  How her husband was trying to kick her out of their home.  How he said he was going to marry this other girl and they would get rid of Rai.  It was horrible and I was shocked.  My husband was as well and asked her why she had suffered in silence…why had she not told us earlier.

And she said for the shame of it.  And that she had once thought her husband had this right to sometimes beat her.  And that she loved him.  But that the time she had spent with us had shown her what true love and respect were between husband and wife and that we had taught her to respect herself as a PERSON.  And she hugged me then.

So, we made some phone calls and found a women’s advocacy group and asked her if she would be willing to go speak with them.

At first, she was afraid.  At first, she asked my husband to talk sense to her husband.  At first, she wanted to go to the police.

But my husband and I explained that him talking to her husband would only make it far worse for her and no solution.  That the police might or might not help her.  But that the advocacy group would help her, they would know all her rights, they would stand beside her and fight for her when no one else could or would.

And she agreed.

So my husband and I took her to the advocacy group and I stayed with her and helped her while she told them her life story and all that had been done to her.  We took a break and ate lunch in silence or with her sometimes reaching over to grab my hand and hold it.

And after it was done, they made phone calls and began the process of protecting our Rai.  They were going to mediate with her and her husband.  If he was adamant that he would leave her, then the advocacy was going to be sure that Rai was given what was her right to be given.  They were going to help her go back to school, as her wish was to get a degree and maybe work in a call center.

And so Rai and I went back home.  She could no longer work for us as she had to stay home to try and keep the peace at least with his family who never wanted her working in the first place.

But she promised to come or call me often so that I could be sure that she was safe.

And she did.

Until a few weeks ago.

Our new maid, Mai, is Rai’s friend.  She is good and sweet and tries to help me the same as Rai did.  But she is not Rai.

One morning, she came early to say that Rai and her husband had had a terrible fight and Rai, not able to get in touch with the advocacy and when the police did not come, had fled her home in fear for her life.  She had saved some money and had bought a ticket to go back home to her family’s farm some 8 hours away.

She had sent word with Mai to tell me that she was safe and would contact me when she could and to say thank you, for trying to help her.

And that was that.  I lost my Rai.  My first friend in India.

In the India Times today, there was an article about the percentage of Women in Indian Parliament was only 10% and in comparison to other countries with percentages closer to 40 or 50%, the statistics to the welfare in these country’s with regards to Women’s rights are compared as well.  It said that the higher amount of Women in the justice system equated the more rights of Women in their daily lives.

The report also said that 40% of Indian men think it is OK to beat their wives or other such atrocious acts like marital rape.

And now we are back to statistics.  40% seems awfully high to me.  That’s nearly half the Indian Male population.  40% of how many queried?  Was it even close to the population amount?

And then I realized that it really didn’t matter….because the fact that such a high rate of men, even if it are only 40% of 100 men queried who believed this, was 40% more than any country should have.

Especially when one of those is married to my Rai.

May God’s blessings, love and protection go with you my friend….and wherever you are, please know that I am and forever will be, your sister.

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9 thoughts on “Women’s Right to Life – Dedicated to Rai

  1. Pingback: Saving Our Future | Biology Frontiers

  2. Hi Vahini!
    So sorry to hear of your loss and I hope and pray that you may hear from your friend and sister again and that all will be well, soon. 😦

    I come from a family that (especially Aai and Baba) who believe that women are equal and in some respects superior to men in certain fields and aspects.
    And being raised in such an environment and my childhood inspiration being my tomboyish elder sister, I have been raised to respect (and with respect to my sis – even ‘fear’ :-P) women.

    Therefore, living in India and interacting with other Indians, I am always at a loss to explain to those that I come across why women should recieve an equal share and an equal voice.

    It is not a case of delibrate/planned out cruelty towards women, but in most cases it stems from cultural traditions and taboos.
    And it is curious that many times such treatment is given by other women themselves.

    The women, in a way, are treated as second-class citizens in India and it all begins even before they are born, and grow up with the curious problems that arise from being a girl child in India…. while the Devine Feminity is worshipped as seen in the many forms of Goddesses Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati.

    It is, as in many things Indian, paradoxical, yet quite prevalent.

    What happened with poor Rai is something that I have, unfortunately, seen and heard too many times to my liking….
    The overwhelming belief in India that the inability to have children and the determination of the sex of the child lies solely with the wife leads to such ‘seeking’ of a ‘better’ second wife / mistress….

    And not to mention the obsession to have a ‘fair’ child, a part of the vicious cycle that causes difficulty in securing a spouse for more darker-skinned individuals.

    To me personally, the much more prevalent light-brown skin is the most attractive as compared to any other skin tone and so is true of many of my friends but I know that when it comes to marriage, they had rather search and marry that elusive ‘fair’ girl that most Indian parents seek.

    As for Rai’s husband, I am sorry to see that he has succumbed to the pressures and destructive demands of his family and turned from a caring and loving husband to an abusive, self-destructive monster….

    I sincerely hope and pray that Rai gets her due and she emerges from it stronger and successful and happier and that you once again renew, strengthen and maintain your wonderful relationship again.

  3. This is sad. GR you are an amazing woman and I truly appreciate the concern and care you have. I am not even sure whether this illstate of women would every improve in India. I would beg to differ that this isnt case only with lower class but will almost all the families in India. And harassment and pressure women especially married woman face in India is unspeakable and beyond comprehension.
    And people do get away with it.
    I dont understand the need to spawn, the already populated nation with more kids when you yourself are struggling so much to meet your ends. And basing that as sole reason for divorce is absolute bullshit.
    Government instead of concentrating on movies and stuff could comeup with some law to scrap arranged marriage and punish severly the wifebeaters and monsters-in-law.

    • Law to scrap arranged marriage ??? Why because the western marriage after dating is such a success ??? Hahaha….tht’s hilarious…

      Do all wife beaters and monsters in law live in India alone ??? Does abolishing arranged marriages ensure that there will be no wife beatings or DIL abuse ???
      You are severely mixing up 2 different issues i.e arranged marriage and spousal abuse, these 2 aren’t necessarily interlinked, there are several women in India who have had arranged marriages, who don’t face any abuse, and likewise many women who live in western nations, who btw didn’t have an arrange marriage, and yet somehow face physical or verbal abuse from their spouse.
      About the laws to punish wife beaters etc, I hope you’re aware that India already has all of those laws in place, and infact they are draconian and severely skewed in favor of the women, so much that many an innocent people have fallen prey to blackmail tactics and such by women, threatening to use these laws against them. So every issue has a flipside, even though the law is passed in good faith and hope to help real victims, it can be misused by people for personal gain.

      • “Law to scrap arranged marriage ??? Why because the western marriage after dating is such a success ??? Hahaha….tht’s hilarious…”
        If we start on this I bet it would go on forever 🙂 Reminds me of Twilight dialogue “Divorce rates are low in vampire-human marriages” so you cant compare longevity of marriage in India with longevity in marriage in US, neither can you measure it with divorce.

        About laws in place , India has law for everything , even bribery and personally I have seen couple of innocent people being framed and punished by his own colleagues for being different and for doing right thing “not getting bribe for the duty he is paid to perform”.
        Again, I would feel that increased survelliance in every office and every seat would help . But everything is a long shot.

        Abolishing arranged marriage would definitely clear up many messes in India like caste system, dowry, less-divorce, women-suppression, monsters-in-law problem and reduce number of wifebeaters 🙂 People would concentrate on their health, looks and move out of home and not be under parents control forever. More business for bars, movies and clothes industry and healthy diet 🙂 More women will come out of home and achieve more. It may open many doors. People will wait to populate the already populated country with more kids and concentrate on nnursing and burturing their kids than nurturing the elders who demand hot chappati and hot rice and daily hourly pooja and rituals.

        China is a good example how abolishment of arranged marriage will help the nation as a whole 🙂

      • Thanks you guys for these comments….

        I would like to say this about arranged marriage. There is good in bad in all things….but it is not a thing that is bad or good….it is the person who utilizes it. Love marriage can go bad just as quickly as an arranged marriage can. Love marriage has it’s own issues with adultery, abuse and nepotism. To blame these issues on a title is wrong…it is people who make things what they are.

        Take for instance Christianity. I was raised in a spiritual home rather than a religious one. However we did attend a Brethren Church. Brethren is an offshoot of the Protestant Church. We were considered the more liberal of the churches and mine the more so. Going to another Brethren church in a different state I found the beliefs to be similar but the tolerance of others less.

        Why is this? Is there a problem with the church itself or it’s teachings? No, I found that it was the people who attended who were different. To this day, I feel that if I were to take my Hindu Indian husband with me into my old church, he would be welcomed and accepted for who he is and his beliefs. My old Pastor used to tell us that there is one God but that he has many names for the many peoples of the earth and we must accept all to become one with God. The church in the other state I would feel less comfortable as they would be “witnessing” to my husband, trying to show him that Christianity is the only way for him to be saved. They would be less accepting of him and therefor of me.

        Is this the fault of the church? No, I say it is the fault of the people. People make things what they are. Not the other way around. Arranged marriage is good when it is used properly. If the child truly chooses it and wishes for it, it becomes an excellent tool. If not, then it comes with the consequences we all know about.

        Perhaps if we as a people formed the right rules and laws that govern man and then obeyed them and observed them….then we would see a change in peoples perception. Education, equality, tolerance…. these are the things that will bring about change. Not banning things because some people misuse them. 😉

  4. I really appreciate your genuine concern for the girl in the matter. But I have a friendly word of caution. Maids in India have a tendency to over dramatize and sensationalize the goings on in their life, yes most of them have a tough life, usually people from lower economic strata do, and women even moreso, since they are at the bottom of the social hierarchy.
    But due to a few instances around me growing up, I have learnt to keep a safe distance from the personal lives of these maids and have a completely professional approach with them, just like I do with my maid here in US, even though Indian maids come everyday to your home, and stay for longer duration, so it’s easier to get more comfortable with them, but prior experience in the matter tells me that many a times there is an element of exaggeration involved in the stories that these women tell….
    I don’t know your maid, and by whatever you;ve posted it does seem like a genuinely difficult situation, and it’s very good of you to have acted in a timely manner in the situation, so my advice may not apply specifically to this case, but I just see the possibility of a well-meaning foreigner, getting swayed by sob stories, and being duped out of money or such other ulterior motives.
    It happens more often than you’d think, so please keep my suggestion at the back of your mind while interacting with future maids, I know that unknown countries and cultures can be overwhelming, and the first helpful hand can mean a lot, but just wanted you to know that there are crooks out there who are looking for exactly such good intentioned, trusting people to dupe.
    I hope things turn out well for your maid, and her problems are straightened out, you have done all you could do, so there’s nothing left but to send good wishes her way.

    • Anjali,

      Thanks so much for your comment and pointing out another serious topic. What you said does (and has) happened here in India. It was one of the first things I was taught by everyone when I moved here. Rai was one of my teachers in this as whenever we had to have a replacement (she going on vacation) she would tell us what to put away and how to stay in the room with the new maid. She would help us pick the new person and would make them come with her for at least two days to see how things were supposed to be done to her satisfaction.

      Fortunately for us, Rai was just not the sort of person who took advantage of others. She was trustworthy and insightful and everyone in our family loved her. She was (is) the most well respected maid in our complex and had people offering far more then any other maid just to steal her away from her other households. But she was loyal and fair and good in her work. She never asked us for more than what she earned in all the time she was with us.

      She would make extra time in her day just to stop by and chat so I wouldn’t feel so alone. She would walk with me outside and introduce me to the Aunty’s who had shunned me before. She once told my husband that she wanted everyone in the complex who didn’t like me only because I was a foreigner to see me for the good person she knew. She worked hard at that and because of her, I met new people who accepted me more than they would have on their own.

      Rai wasn’t one to make up stories. She honestly did love her husband and she had many great stories about the fun they would have or the treats they would give to one another. I just think that over time, his family pressure became too great for him and he just wasn’t strong enough. Rai remained strong…but also realized when it just wasn’t enough any more.

      When she came to us, she honestly wanted our help and advice. She just didn’t know what to do and with her own family so far away…she was lost. She didn’t ask us for any money at that time…only whatever advice or help we could give. We did the best we could with the resources available to us.

      I did not give my trust to Rai…she earned it. And my love and respect. I wish there were more Rai’s in the world and in India. 😉

  5. This is not an unfamiliar incident. Most of the poor families in india have a tragic lifestyle.

    Some of these arrange marriages are contracts that come with obligations. Failing which incurs various levels of harassment.

    The problem is that these women do not have the capacity to say “no”. They are raised and cultivated to live a life as a “dependent” to their husbands.

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