Updated: Oct 17, 2022
By SHEWANGEE SINGH
“Hello! And welcome to Emotional Support group. I am your chairperson for this support group tonight.” The support group functioned in a small village surrounded by lush forests where every morning was filled with cacophony of birds as if talking to each other excitedly about what the new day holds. But contrary to established notion of support groups functioning in a small enclosed space with chairs in a circle, Mrs. Singh liked to place small mats and a traditional Indian sette with pillows in the adjoining garden of a complex. To lie on the mats while basking in the freedom given by nature-the fresh misty air running through hair, the vastness of open sky, the music of birds, the softness of grass all in her personal experience had proven to relax her previous participants. Of course logically humans have been programmed to feel in a natural state of calmness when connected to earth but nature had always symbolized freedom to the chairperson. Freedom to see and be oneself.
The Chairperson considered her support group special. It was a place where people listened to each other without any judgments. It was an environment where people not only shared but introspected on their and others action. And they could do so while being supported and not feeling alone on their path. It was a place where dialogue could take place between participants and the chairperson herself. Sometimes, they all felt like philosophers musing away the philosophies of life.
That particular day five ladies had joined the chairpersons support group. They all had unique mannerisms but all showed signs of exhaustion. From what, the chairperson could not decipher. However she started the session. “How many of us wish we were children again playing in the laps of our parents. A time where the world made so sense, a time when life was simple and a time when our day was filled with doing activities that we liked.” Four ladies held up their hands. The Chairperson was intrigued at one hand missing as a large number of people tend to miss their responsibility free days but thought it best not to prod further. “But do we ask ourselves what changed from those years to the current day that we feel a longing to escape to a time which now does not exist?” The ladies though did not speak but a hint of confusion ran down their faces as they thought of events in their life which made them, as the chairperson stated, escape. “Have we not accepted our current self with all the stress and misery? Are we looking for a fictional self in past where we always got what we wanted and remained happy?” These questions put the ladies in doubt. The Chairperson felt successful in her goal. Her goal was to create a doubt in these ladies, doubt against the story created by them in their minds.
The Chairperson then invited one of the ladies to speak about what troubles her without any inhibition of being put in a trial for her actions.
A lady raised up her hand. She was dressed in a simple sari with a soft peach tone. She seemed middle aged but her eyes related a unique sense of tranquility. The lady proceeded to narrate her ordeal. “I was born in a modest household where spirituality rather than today’s notion of religion was our way of life. I was welcomed in the heart and house made by my Aai and Baba. In our days girls were hardly given education and so I passed my days in leisure while being guided by my mother in maintaining the affairs of household. During my time at my father’s household I adored our creator and had absolute faith him. Then soon a time came where I was to be married. Baba found a suitable groom from nearby village whose family values resembled ours. His name was Gautama. We were living a happy married life, you all must know. He used to go out for work while I used to take care of our home. Pretty soon we had beautiful children and life seemed to be going well. Then one day that illusion snapped. One day a stranger came into our home forcibly and molested me. My husband left me and blamed me for the incident. But how was I to be blamed? Did I Invite the man into my home? Did I have any intention of creating relations with other men? Just because my husband blamed me, the whole society had a moral right to shun me? After being shunned by the society I was in solitude which felt like more than an eternity. I grieved, I cried, I demanded justice from every great man present. I even demanded justice from the universe. I was labeled as a witch, seductress and what not. All the while my children were taken away by my husband and grew without a mother’s affection. I aged without a society to enjoy. What about justice to me against my molester? What about how I felt about this incident? What about the solace and care that I deserve? The lady had started sobbing but collecting herself continued to speak. After a while a man came in the village. He was a gentle soul and liberated me from being a social outcast. He spent excessive energy in having a dialogue with my husband and villagers and brought them to the terms that I was being wronged. Since a woman’s word does not carry much weight as a man’s consequently my family came back to me. I was being revered as a goddess. My molester was brought to justice. I was invited back into the society. But even today I do not feel happy or content. Seems to me like I am in the grip of the same sadness and worry like before.
The chairperson saw the lady shrink in her seat in sadness. “You have shown exceptional courage in face of exceptional circumstances. It is natural that you would feel the feelings plaguing your heart right now. But tell me, why is it that you feel sad or stressed today? The lady replied “because I fear that history could repeat itself. My all notions of security were shattered-emotional, physical, social. What’s to say it does not happen again? I have already seen that my word was not sufficient for the society to believe. The society believed what it found convenient to believe. The Chairperson asked the lady, “Supposedly the incident was to happen again, would you react the same?” The lady replied “Of course not! My molester would be screeching in agony because I practiced some self defense exercises, I would question my husband’s version of my character which I did not previously and I would probably be okay because I have evidence that despite all my emotional turbulence I was okay!” the Chairperson then again questioned, “If that is how you would react then why are you in fear of it happening again? Maybe because we stop thinking in times of fear and play along with fictional fantasies?” The Lady was now too stunned to speak. She now saw through her fear. She now did not see fear as big monster with its claw out to get her but rather an individual looking out for her safety and her comfort. The Chairperson lastly left the lady and all the participants with a question, “Why would one need society’s understanding when what matters is ours only?” “Thank you for listening to me, the lady replied. By the way people call me Devi Ahalya.”
In meantime a second lady volunteered to speak her story, on getting acknowledgement she continued. “I have had five husbands, in my village, Polygamy is still practiced. I spend each year with a different husband. I bear all the insult of being solicitous women. I bore five sons to all my husbands. I could have survived all. But when I was insulted my husband’s cousin as a sexual worker my husband did not speak a word against my honour! When the cousin tried to molest me and abuse me physically they did not raise a fist to fight for my safety. Is that why women in this country treat husbands as gods? I took on insults; I lived like an ascetic despite being from a rich family and shared myself with five men and what for?” The second lady began to cry.
In meantime, a third lady interjected. “Even my chastity was questioned by my husband not once but twice. He got me tested in the hospital. 14 years of marriage and two children was not enough for him to prove my faith and devotion towards our family! I decided to leave with my children and live separately. But then again he came like on a high horse and tried to forgive me for a crime I did not commit. He had a condition on which he would accept us back in his home, If I gave another test at hospital. I refused. I felt all the rage that this mother nature could bear. What gives the man and society right to control bodies of women and play with their autonomy? I came to know afterwards that a washer man in his stupor had created doubts about my character in my ex-husband’s mind. Is a relationship between a wife and husband that weak?”
The Chairperson was deep in contemplation but she asked both of their names. The former replied Draupadi and the latter Janaki. The Chairperson continued “Draupadi you ask for your husbands’ support, support of society but may I ask if you stood up to your cousin? Draupadi replied that she indeed had. The Chairperson then told her, “I have read from my favourite author’s book that if a woman waits for justice to be taken by a man for her, she might have to wait without getting a justice. If you stood up for yourself that only matters. Because in your eyes you are worth it.” Draupadi smiled. She never had seen herself depicted as strong.
“Janaki, you showed extra ordinary courage by refusing to give these derogatory tests. Although it is unfortunate that you should go through these circumstances and we appreciate you sharing your story. You told us today about drawing boundaries which every person should know”.
The sun was almost setting. The atmosphere was cool and breezy. It was time to wrap up. The two participants now would speak the next day and were informed of the same. But each face showed a question. A struggle between their existing notions and brewing confidence in each of them. The Chairperson then asked the remaining two participants name. They were Kunti and Mandodari. “Ah’, The chairperson thought, “Just like the Panchkanya in Hindu mythology. The heavenly virgins who cannot be brought under the influence of any sin committed against them. They lived in the midst of extreme filth of lust, corruption and defilement but could never get corrupted. The epitome of Confidence, Courage, Empathy, Resilience, Love. These women were never aware of their special qualities. They were never appreciated when they lived on earth but instead were revered after death. How ironic. Just like these women here”.
Suddenly, Janaki asked The Chairperson’s name. The Chairperson smiled and replied. “Kali Ma”.
By SHEWANGEE SINGH