Every time I hear this word, it evokes a strange kind of feeling, almost like a chill that runs down my spine. And immediately I get transported to nearly three decades back when I was just a child of twelve or something.
We were travelling to Haridwar from Kolkata by train. By we I mean my father, my grandparents, and me. The train compartment was brimming with happy faces. It was the beginning of the long summer vacation, and everyone travelling on the train was either going back home or on some planned holiday. There were noises everywhere, sounds of hawkers, chattering of passengers, giggles of young children, and cries of babies. The amalgamation of different sounds was welcoming to my ears, as I settled comfortably in the window seat absorbing the lovely scenery outside. The afternoon sun barged in through the glass windows, playing occasional hide and seek with the clouds. The train made a rhythmic movement that was matched by the intermittent whistling at the distance. Between watching the scenery, reading story books, and chit-chatting with my family the time passed away. And before I knew it, the sun went over the horizon and darkness crept in slowly but surely. The compartment lit up with yellow lights and once again it was bustling with sound as dinner was being served.
I was always a picky eater and was more interested in my books than the food. With occasional threats and cajoling, when I had finally finished the food, many passengers had already called it a night. The time showed past ten, and soon enough I was too lulled to sleep by the rolling motion of the train.
It was not long before I was woken up by some commotion. There were running footsteps and loud cries across the compartment. For a moment anyone would think that dacoits had boarded the train. Before I could even realise I was pulled down from the middle berth and made to sit beside my grandmother. My father and grandfather stood at a distance along with the other men. With a thumping heart, I looked around and noticed that the train had halted in some station. Unable to register anything I asked my grandmother what was happening, but I got no reply. Her face bored a tense look that was enough to make me understand that something was not right. I could hear occasional whispers of co-passengers around.
“She shouldn’t have gone down alone at this time of the night!”, I heard someone say.
“Oh poor soul, I hope they find her soon”, someone else commented.
“She’s just twenty-five, going back to her maternal home for the first time after marriage!”, the comments kept pouring in.
And slowly, bit by bit I could make sense of the happenings that took place that night. I know nothing more than what I had perceived, however, what led to it became breaking news in the newspapers after a few days.
“A young woman gets down into the station in the middle of the night without informing anyone. Soon her husband realizes his wife is not in her berth and wakes up the fellow passengers. After a futile search of more than an hour, she was declared missing. A missing complaint was filed by her husband at a nearby police station. But the very next day, the wife goes to the same police station and files a complaint against her husband, stating domestic violence. It is believed that soon after her marriage, she was made a hostage in her own home by her husband, and was beaten and starved under the pretext of punishment. The husband had only one demand; he wanted a four-wheeler as a dowry. It was not long before the girl’s parents gave in, and the newly married couple were on the way to her home to get the ransom that would supposedly provide freedom and marital bliss to their daughter!”
As I said, I really don’t know what actually happened that night. I cannot fathom what she might have gone through to take such a step. The very fact that she chose to trust the darkness of the night and complete strangers than her husband speaks volumes of her sufferings. I only wish and pray that she wasn’t made a victim of the patriarchal mindset and had got justice.
Any hostage situation can be very scary, and it leaves a permanent fear in the minds of the victims who have experienced such things. However, when a woman is made a hostage in her own marriage by none other than the person who is supposed to be her partner, her better half; there can be nothing that is more frightening than this. She not only finds herself in a helpless situation but she’s also trapped in a loveless relationship for life. The invisible shackles kill her daily, and if at all she manages to escape, the scars remain for a lifetime and seldom does she get herself to trust anyone again.
To my readers, thank you for your time. This is a true story, something that I experienced as a child. At that time, I never understood the depth of the situation. It was only much later did I realise how sick and inhuman some people can be. The Dowry system is still prevalent in many parts of India, and even today young women are tortured by their husbands and in-laws for money and other valuable goods. Such women remain hostages in their marriages sometimes for eternity and sometimes till death frees them from the abuse.