Love Can Change A Brute
I remember that Wednesday in early '70 as clearly as if it all happened yesterday. I was at my counseling desk at a women's shelter in Bombay. I volunteered two days a week doing family counseling for people having marital or family problems. I heard a young voice inquiring about our services, which were offered free to all. I saw a young girl around fourteen years of age making the inquiry. I invited her to sit with me and visit.
Young Gita was a little hesitant in the beginning, but after a while words came pouring out from within her. "Mrs. Gandhi, I am one of two sisters. I come from a very loving family. Our father, a police inspector, loves both of us, my sister and me very much. But there is something wrong in his treatment of our mother." Suddenly Gita started sobbing uncontrollably. "How can somebody so loving and concerned also be so brutal?" she said. "Our parents do not get along well. He is always so angry with poor mother. Nothing she ever does pleases him."
Gita continued. "On the other hand I know my mother is doing everything to please him. I am told by my paternal grandparents that he is angry because she cannot have any more children and hence there is no chance of having a male heir. He pours his frustrations and anger on her and continuously abuses her verbally and physically."
One has to understand the male dominated Indian psyche, age-old beliefs and ill-conceived traditions, where only a son is the heir. Unfortunately, even after fifty years of independence and several social reformers and Mahatma Gandhi working diligently to educate and enlighten people about these ill practices, they continue to exist and even thrive in the modern times.
I tried to calm her down as much as it was possible and to also assure her we would help her in every way possible provided she could bring her mother to visit us.
Gita visited us two or three more times without her mother. It was always during her school time and naturally she was worried about her father's reaction when he eventually came to know of her visits to the shelter during her school day. The day came when Gita was accompanied by a shy woman, very uncertain about her daughter's action. Gita introduced me to her mother, Vimala, and, as I had previously instructed her, left us to have our private conversation.
After a while, all that I could get out of Vimala was, "I am a cursed woman. I must have done something very wrong in my last birth [life]; hence I am denied a son in this one. My husband has to suffer societal scorn because of this and also the pressures of his job bring out the worst in him. He is a good provider and a loving father. What can he do if I cannot be a suitable wife?"
Vimala would not utter another word in spite of my coaxing and diverting the conversation to other matters. Coming to a women's shelter and talking about family matters to a stranger was totally unheard of in her understanding. I assured her, "Vimala, please consider me your friend. I know you do not want to talk with me about your husband, but Gita is very much disturbed about the beatings and abuse you go through. She loves you and she also loves her father. Will you not try to help me and her and try to see if there is any way to resolve this problem?"
Suddenly Vimala burst out, "Oh, no! This will anger him even more. He can be very ruthless. You know, he is a police officer and he only knows the language of punishment."
Our interview ended here on that day. I had known that this particular officer had a harsh reputation and the underworld shook even at the mention of his name. I was told that he could do away with undesirable people and the law would not be the wiser.
Several days later, Vimala came back with Gita. We started our counseling sessions regularly. Vimala refused to take shelter, saying that would jeopardize her daughters' future in traditional Indian society. Nor did she want to take legal recourse to resolve the situation. Suddenly I heard a commotion outside the door. The door flew open and Vimala's husband rushed in. He ordered his wife to go back home. Gita was already waiting outside for her mother.
In a very intimidating voice he asked me if I knew who he was. And at the same time he took out his service gun and placed it in front of me. My colleagues wanted to call the guard to remove the police officer from the room. I asked both of my colleagues to leave if they felt threatened. As soon as they left, Mr. Jadhav, brandishing his gun in my face said, "Mrs. Gandhi, I know where your husband works and where he goes for recreation. I also know where your two children go to school." He paused for a second and continued; "I also know all your favorite places for daily visits and shopping. I can be very nasty if I want to be. Don't you ever meddle with my wife." Although he said all this in a very calm voice, I could feel the heat of his anger pouring out at me.
I was naturally afraid when he threatened the safety of my loved ones. But somewhere deep down in me a small voice gave me the courage to answer him equally calmly and without even a tremor in my voice. I said, "Mr. Jadhav, I know what you have done in the past and what you are capable of doing. I believe you feel that is part of your duty. And I allow you to have your interpretation of your duty. In the same way, I hope you will allow me to continue to do what I consider is my duty." All this while I continued looking straight into his eyes without fear or anger.
Mr. Jadhav laughed loudly and said, "Well, if you like it that way...!" He turned round and left the place.
That evening my children knew that mother was much troubled and they were on their best behavior. When Arun, my husband and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, came home from work, he also sensed the tension in me. In his loving way he inquired if he could help me in any way. I poured out my problem with this case, of course without mentioning the names. The few words that he uttered that evening were enough to give me not only the courage to pursue the case but the conviction that: 'Fear turns into anger and anger into violence.' He said, "I am proud of you for handling the situation as you did. Continue listening to that small voice within and do everything with full understanding and conviction of your heart."
The counseling sessions with Vimala continued. I feel that Mr. Jadhav was amused by my tenacity and therefore, he allowed his wife to come and see me periodically.
One day, it was a Thursday and it was not my day at the shelter but I had gone there to take delivery of some snacks that I had ordered from the catering department of the shelter. We had created this as a teaching and therapeutic measure for the residents of the shelter while they stayed with us. Vimala came in from out of the blue. Her whole face, the front of her sari and another sari that she was holding against her forehead were soaked in blood. I was horrified. When I removed the sari she held on the wound, I was shocked to see a deep gash on her forehead, going upwards from middle of the eyebrows. I immediately knew that it was a bullet wound caused by her husband. My training in nursing also made me aware that she needed immediate medical attention. We had first-aid provisions at the shelter but I could not have sutured her wound there. I wanted to rush her to the nearest ER, but she refused to go with me.
She said, "That will amount to making a police case and therefore the whole world will come to know about our private life. My husband will be shamed; my whole family will be shamed. I cannot do that. I thought you will help me and hence I have come here." I applied some antibiotic and tied a bandage, but when I insisted on taking her to the ER, she suddenly turned round and left. I am sure she found some unscrupulous doctor who did treat her and whose fee included keeping his silence.
Mr. Jadhav came to the Shelter on the following Saturday, the day of my visit, but left without saying anything to anybody around. Meanwhile I had called Gita to inquire about her mother and was assured by her that her mother was recovering fast. Gita came to the shelter on my next visit. She naturally looked worried and also exhausted. She told me then that she had stopped speaking with her father and had threatened him that she would not eat till he changed the brutal abuse of her mother. According to Gita, her father had not abused her mother since but she was not sure if that was going to help the situation permanently.
It was painful to see this young woman going through such turmoil in her tender young life. I asked Gita if she could try something different from what she was doing and she agreed. I told her, "You may continue not to speak with your father, but your actions and behavior towards him should still be respectful and loving. "After all, Gita," I said, "he is your father, and he loves you. He has come to the shelter since he attacked your mother so brutally but lost courage to approach me. I feel he is hurting somewhere within himself. Let us give him some more time." Gita agreed.
Mr. Jadhav's next visit proved to be something that Arun had assured me would happen. He still was not a changed man but he was ready to listen and try and make changes in his behavior. The time came when Vimala again started coming to visit us and was pleased to inform us that her husband had not abused her in any way since that incident. She was full of gratitude for us for not making any complaint against her husband and for the courage her two daughters had shown going through that terrible period. She also expressed her desire to continue with the counseling.
More than a month after that incident, Mr. Jadhav once again walked into our office, took out his gun and placed it on our table. In the traditional Indian manner, he then bowed down and touched my feet saying, "Mrs. Gandhi, you made me realize what I was missing in life by your courage of conviction. I always thought brutal force to be the best policy in life. How could you not be angry with me? How could you tell my little Gita to love me in spite of what I had done to her mother? Please forgive me. I promise you that I will not use any brute force hence forth in my life."
I followed his career thereafter and was able to see the change in him and also the respectful relationship he had developed with the underworld because of that. He even started lecturing the fresh Police Academy graduates about his new awareness and code of behavior.
Born in Baroda, India, in 1932, Sunanda spent the first part of her youth in nursing education. She married Arun Gandhi in 1958 and spent the next forty years working among the poor and the destitutes in India through the Center for Social Change. She died of a massive cardiac arrest on February 21, 2007.