“Eightyseven women have been here since the beginning of this year, and every year more and more contact us via the help line or come directly to the shelter”, H. tells me. H. is an Indian woman who fourty years ago started as s social worker in the surroundings of Mangalore and dedicated her life to those in need. Since then she has done so much in this city. The implementation of the shelter for battered women is just one of her activities.
“I’m sorry. We could just get a house here in the outer skirts of the city for these women. We have to pay 30,000 rupees every months for the building (that corresponds to ca. 500 EUR a month). We do not know how long we can stay here. When the landlord comes and wants to rend it to someone else, we have to leave,” she explains. “It is a question of time and I do not know what to do then. I’m getting old … what will happen. This is not good. I’d like to have an own building for them. Closer to the city and with better conditions. We can not offer them a long stay here. There are too many. We do not have the money.”
A visit at the shelter
When we arrive in a rather dark street – it is early evening – one of the two social workers who stay with the women day and night opens the big lock at the iron gate. We enter. The women expect us. Normally, there are no visitors coming here.
In front of the main entrance there are twenty bags of rice, a contribution by the governance. “Finally, that helps,” says H. “There are often delays in delivery. We get some grants, too, from the governance. But it takes too much time. Sometimes a few weeks, sometimes even some months. That’s very critical to us. Sometimes it doesn’t make me sleep. I know they need food, they cannot wait for it. How can we manage that? These are too many women. I give most of my own money, but it is not sufficient to buy rice and some vegetables for all of them. And then: the children need books, some shoes for the wet saison coming now. Inner wear, umbrellas, as well. This would be really a need. But how to do?, ” she asks.
When we enter in one of the dark rooms, a bed room with eight iron beds and a few bed linen some of the women are waiting for us, sitting on the ground. Some very young children stay there, too. These women are all very shy and haggard, some of them with visible signs of violence. Many of them suffer from psychological disorders. Most of them came here during a night, after a long walk – with nothing.
“Our intent is to bring them back to mainstreame as soon as possible. Ideally, they can turn back to the parents or in the best case to the own families. We cannot keep them here for a long period. How should we manage this?”
Some young women look better, they did not live terrible conditions at home. 19+ years old women who earlier lived in the children home. “We cannot keep them in our children home when they get adult. If we don’t find husbands for them they do not know where to go. So, they can stay here. They have nothing.”
When I have joined H. early today at the NGO center which she runs I had met a young girl from the children home, 18 years old. Today it has been her wedding day, the legal one. She is sad because she will leave and live in another place. But she smiles when she looks at her husband. He takes the bag, all her belongings, and together they enter the car. “She is going to leave the children home. Her father-in-law and future husband has come from a village, two hundred km away. A small family. An arranged marriage. The huge, two days celebration in the village will take place next week only. She is very lucky as her husband comes from a good and wealthy family, a Brahman family. He is intelligent, educated and a nice young man. An engineer. She will have much more in her life now than what we could offer her. A marriage with Brahman people is a privilege. Her new family are good people. Very friendly.”
There, in the rural areas the young Brahman women get very high level education and leave the villages for going to universities. Often, these girls do not want to come back after their studies. There are no jobs for them. The young Brahman men own land and run farms or rural entities. They have to stay and want to build families. That’s why also the upper cast is open to marry someone from the lower casts. “It is a win- win. My home girl and her future husband, they like each other. They have met several times before. I allowed her to call him very often during all the past months so that they could chat and see.”
I leave the NGO in the evening with a lot of thoughts and impressions: battered and abandoned women and children. Life stories, life needs, challenges, choices. And arranged marriages. Not everything we in the West may think about it, is true.