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The leather belt, folded in the middle, rose above the shoulders. On its violent downward swing, it encountered bare, live skin. The contact produced a sharp whiplash sound followed by a heart-rending, high-pitched scream, ‘Aaahhh…’ A millimetre-thick red welt appeared almost instantly on the skin. At several places on the welt, the skin broke and tiny droplets of blood oozed to the surface.
The pallu of the sari lay on the floor. The pleats came loose and entwined around the knees. She fell to the floor, cowered and crawled to a corner, and covered her face with welt-and-burn-marked arms. The blouse rode up the back and the elastic straps of the brassiere came unhooked and protruded from behind. From sari to blouse, the back was a picture of welts, scars and burns, old and new.
Her screams and pleas echoed against the heartless walls.
The belt rose again…
Sita was sitting on a wooden bench in an all-women police station. The night air was nippy. Sita shivered from time to time and adjusted the threadbare cotton sheet around her slender shoulders. Even that minuscule movement made her wince in pain.
“Here, drink this tea,” the Inspector offered a glass tumbler.
Sita gratefully accepted it and quickly brought it to her lips, spilling a little tea on the way. The hot tea refreshed her a little.
“Now, tell me what happened,” the Inspector coaxed her.
Sita stared at the Inspector for several moments before speaking … …
THE ROLLER COASTER
Sita stumbled out of the roller coaster car. She would have collapsed but for the young man behind who held her and made her sit on a wooden bench.
“Madam, are you alright?”
A minute later Sita was as near normal as made no difference. She nodded demurely and looked at him for the first time.
‘Hmmm…He is handsome; the voice is deep and manly, too.’ she thought.
The roller coaster ride of their frenetic romance began.
Sita was in the seventh heaven of bliss. Rajiv had just spoken the most important words of her life.
“Sita, will you marry me?”
Rajiv was on his knee, a single-white-diamond ring in one hand and a bouquet of beautiful red roses in the other. Sita vigorously nodded her acquiescence. The ring adorned her slender ring finger. They sealed the occasion with a passionate kiss.
Both families having rejected it, the marriage was solemnised in a Registrar’s Office in the presence of a few friends. It was followed by a big bash in a posh hotel.
The warm rays of the early morning sun caressed Sita into a half-awake state. Rajiv was asleep beside her, with an arm and a leg across her body. Reminiscing about their previous night’s amorous escapades, she gently ran her long, slender fingers through his dishevelled hair. Rajiv softly moaned and pulled her towards him.
Rajiv was having his bed tea when Sita came out of the bathroom drying her hair. She found him staring at her.
“What?” She asked coyly.
“My God! You are so beautiful!”
She blushed and bent her head.
Arms around each other’s waist, they walked the crowded streets. The cold, nippy atmosphere only added to their romantic mood. Flitting in and out of shops and kiosks buying nothing, sharing a cup of sweet tea and samosa, scurrying down the slopes, or climbing up steep stairs, they spent an amorous week in Shimla.
“You were quite friendly with the guy in the next room,” Rajiv spoke without lifting his face from the teacup.
Not suspecting anything amiss Sita replied, “Oh! We just said ‘good morning’ to each other; seems to be a well-mannered guy.”
“Don’t do that again. I don’t like it.”
Sita shuddered at the cold, menacing finality in Rajiv’s voice.
“Rajiv, can I visit my parents?”
“They didn’t accept me or our marriage.”
“Still, they are my parents and I am their daughter.”
“Forget that as soon as possible. It’ll be in your interest.”
“Again sambar and rasam for lunch! Can’t I get non-veg. even on Sundays?”
“You know I don’t eat non-veg.”
“Your vegetarian cooking is also like sh*t.”
“I never had to cook earlier; my mother used to do all the cooking.”
“You can learn.”
“Where is the time, Rajiv? I go to work, too.”
“That’s the point, darling. Quit the job. Tend our home.”
“But, Rajiv, I was working when we got married! You never objected to it then!”
“Well, things are different now. You’re married; have a husband, a family.”
“Does it mean I have to give up my career, my life?”
The resounding slap sounded like the crash of a pair of giant cymbals.
“Don’t ever talk back to me.” Rajiv glowered at a tearful Sita who was rubbing the four red welts on her cheek.
It took Sita all of an hour to convince her boss at the IT Company and the rest of the month to complete pending tasks and quit. She received a sentimental farewell party and a gift – a large picture frame with a photograph of Rajiv and Sita on the streets of Shimla.
“I quit as you wished, Rajiv. There was a party and they gave me this gift.”
“Huh…” He brushed aside the gift. “Have they paid your last salary?”
“Rajiv, you are drunk again?”
Rajiv faltered towards the dining table.
“How about my dinner, woman?”
Rajiv was mumbling something while Sita was silently serving dinner.
Suddenly, the dinner plate flew in the air and hit the opposite wall.
Sita cried, “Aaahhh…”
“How can I eat the same sh*t every day; no chicken or even a vegetable?”
Sita murmured, “Where will money come from for all those things? My income has stopped. Cost of vegetables and meat is so high.”
“I told you, don’t talk back to me. You don’t listen.” He undid his belt.
What followed was an orchestrated mauling. Sita screamed and darted from dining table to sofa, from corner to corner, from room to room. The belt followed her everywhere in the house, landing everywhere on her body. Welts appeared instantly on her arms, back, stomach, and even the face. After a half-hour pogrom of violence against his wife, Rajiv collapsed tiredly on his bed and was instantly asleep.
Sita lay whimpering in a corner in the kitchen.
Years went by and Sita’s plight deteriorated.
“I…I…I need some groceries…”
“You want me to go?”
“No, Rajiv, I can go…but I don’t have any money…”
“What happened to the two hundred rupees I gave you last week?”
“Made payments…laundry, vegetables, and other things…”
“I don’t know what you do with all the money? Always pester me…here…take this…”
Rajiv threw two hundred-rupee notes on the coffee table and went back to his TV serial and whiskey glass.
“I heard the sound of a scooter. How did you come back?” Sita sensed an undercurrent of anger in her husband’s tone.
“I…I…I…Our neighbour gave me lift.”
“Who, Raghav, that student?”
“You went in an autorickshaw. You should have returned in an autorickshaw.”
“Yyyes, Rajiv. After shopping, I was waiting outside the Departmental Store for an autorickshaw. Raghav saw me and offered me a lift. I said ‘no, I’ll take an autorickshaw’, but he insisted. It was embarrassing. I had no choice.” Her voice trailed away.
“You had no choice!” He advanced towards her ominously. “You know that I don’t like your talking to men. Still you disobeyed me. Now, you are forcing me to correct you. I have no choice, you see.”
The sounds of slaps, kicks, punches, lashes and screams filled the house.
Sita was in an extremely happy mood. She was anxiously waiting to give the news to Rajiv.
“Rajiv, I have good news for you,” Sita said with a smile.
“What is it, woman? I have no time for your nonsense.”
She took a minute to gather courage.
“You are going to become a father.” She blushed and bent her head.
“What? You are pregnant?” Sita did not see the expression on his face.
“Yes, Rajiv, six weeks. We are becoming parents. Isn’t it great?” She said enthusiastically.
“Great? What’s great about it? It’ll only add to our expenditure.” He stretched his feet on the coffee table and was lost in thought for several minutes. When he finally spoke, Sita could have been knocked down by a feather.
“Who?” Rajiv asked.
“Who is the father?”
“What the hell, Rajiv?”
“Is it that Raghav, with whom you cosy up so much?”
“What the hell are you saying, Rajiv? It is your baby.”
“Can you prove it?”
“Rajiiiiv…” Sita cried.
“I don’t know what you do after I go to the office; where you go or who comes home.”
Sita started sobbing. “What kind of a husband are you? You are suspecting me, your wife?” She shouted.
“You’re talking back to me again?”
“Yes, I am. Tell me.”
“I won’t, this will tell.” He undid his belt.
Sita darted from corner to corner to avoid the lashes. It proved to be an exercise in futility. Rajiv hit her repeatedly and mercilessly. She tried to lock herself in a bathroom. He forced his way in and continued the merciless beating, punching, and kicking. Sita fell down crying. Rajiv kicked one final time, viciously, in the stomach.
“Aaahhh…” Sita screamed and lost unconsciousness.
Initially, she could not see anything. The eyes were swollen shut. She forcibly opened her eyes and saw that she was lying on the bathroom floor. She tried to stand up, but the minuscule movement virtually set her body on fire, especially the abdomen. She tried to call out for help. Her bleeding and puffed up lips would not allow. She groped for support. Her hands encountered viscous wetness all around her. She brought her hands close to her eyes. They were covered by thick blood. In a state of absolute panic, she tried to rub away the blood but only succeeded in smearing it further. She opened a tap and washed the blood off her hands. Finding support in the sink, Sita stood up unsteadily. Immediately a wave of unbearable pain passed from head to toe and she threw up in the sink. Wincing in pain, she washed her mouth, hands and face. The cold water on the face gave her a fleeting relief.
With her breathing returning to a semblance of normalcy, Sita examined her condition. She found that her body, waist downwards, was soaked in blood. Her salwar and kameez were soaked in blood. She was standing in a pool of her own blood. She knew where the blood came from. She understood what the blood meant.
Sita wailed uncontrollably…
It took her all of ten minutes to shuffle one agonising step after another to reach the kitchen, leaving a trail of bloody footprints behind.
Rajiv felt some movement behind him. He kept the half-empty whiskey glass on the coffee table, turned and looked behind. He saw his wife, Sita standing behind the sofa. The sight scared him.
With blood-soaked body, puffed up lips and cheeks, swollen eyes, dishevelled hair and, above all, an expression of implacable determination, Sita presented a frightening picture.
“Sita…” Rajiv began speaking.
Sita cut him short. “I lost my baby, Rajiv,” she spoke slowly.
“Sita, listen, I didn’t mean to…”
“You killed my baby, you ba**ard…” She screamed.
“Sita…” He could not finish his sentence.
In a roundhouse swing, the aluminium rolling pin landed on the side of his head with a dull thud sounding like a punctured drum. The bone cracked and bleeding started immediately. He was swaying on his wobbly feet. His hands reached for the head.
The rolling pin landed a second time on the head. The sickening cracking of the skull could be heard several feet away. The blow opened up the skull, splattering blood and brain matter everywhere.
The third and subsequent blows were redundant, for he was dead even before he collapsed on the floor.
“I killed my husband, Inspector,” Sita simply said.
The Minister for Women and Child Development was thundering away at a press conference.
“…The Act gives protection to women from domestic violence of all forms…”
Somewhere, once again, a belt rose…
… Shyam Sundar Bulusu
Violence against women, euphemistically termed ‘domestic violence’ – mental, physical, and verbal – is “orchestrated” like a symphony, every day, everywhere, irrespective of nationality, religion, caste, colour or creed.
It is a fact everyone is aware of but does nothing about. The men who perpetrate this atrocious crime are living amongst us, as our acquaintances, as our friends, and as our relatives.
Will mere passing of laws help, while the chauvinistic male mindset and the silent, subservient female mindset are intact?
Is the story fact or fiction? Are Sita and Rajiv real-life characters?
What do you think?