By Safia Begum
I know Asiya (name changed) for last three years. Though we met occasionally, we became very good friends. In all these meetings, I found her very funny and lively. Until my last meeting I never knew anything about her personal life, except that she is a working woman and has two daughters. When I was listening to her, I did not ask her any question as I was completely engrossed in her narrative. I just wanted to listen to the bits and pieces of her life.
Asiya’s story, as told to Safia:
“My parents were divorced, when I was nine. My paternal grandfather was a school teacher in a government school. He passed away following a heart attack. My grandmother could not bear this loss and suffered a paralytic attack. The pension she received wasn’t enough as she had to take care of us, three sisters. My father was their only child. But my father used to drink and every week he used to be with a new woman, irrespective of faith and caste. Due to this behavior, my grandmother disowned him. She was worried as she was not able to take care of us properly and give us any proper education.
My mother got married again. When I went to live with her, her husband and in-laws started quarreling with her. My mother narrated this to her younger sister and she advised her to leave me at their brother’s home. That’s how I came to live with my maternal uncle. Once a week or fortnightly, my mother would come to see me. Even for this, her husband would scold her and say, “Aha! You went to meet your daughter and bought her things. But you cannot give me a child.” My mother got sterilized after my third sister was born. My mother asked me to call her second husband ‘father’ but I refused.
I said, “I have only one mother and one father. I cannot call father whomever you marry.”
“I didn’t marry many times like your father. I am married only to this man,” she said.
My step-father was unhappy with my mother when she came to meet me because I didn’t consider him my father. Unknown to him, she continued to meet me. But whenever he came to know about it, he used to beat her.
Things were different during festivals and other important functions. While I lived at my uncle’s home, whenever Eid came, my father would take me back to his house. I would spend Ramzan with my uncle and Eid with my father or vice versa. I could never learn anything properly about Muslim culture. Three years passed this way and I was thirteen.
Once I went to attend my cousin sister’s marriage and I stayed with her. During the time I spent with them, I attended the local mosque for Arabic education. Here I met my husband. He used to come there to meet his Muslim friends. I liked talking to him because he would listen to all my problems. Occasionally we would go to the playground for sports. Since I was shuttling between my father’s house and cousin’s, I wondered about settling down with this man. I asked him whether he would like to marry me.
“Yes, I will but I am an orphan,” said he.
I thought it better as we could live together on our own. One fine day, I went away with him and started living with him. We never married but lived together. I suspected that I might have been pregnant. I was not sure about it. He took me to a hospital for a check-up. There some of his relatives saw him and they informed me that he was not Muslim. When I confronted him, he said, “No. They are saying all this because they are jealous of us.”
I was discharged from the hospital and we moved to a Muslim locality. There we got into a trouble. In the absence of my husband, some people, who came to know about us, caught hold of me and started abusing me. At night, they locked me into a room and started cursing me. They said, “You are living not only with a Hindu but a lower-caste one. You are from respectable Syed family. You should marry a Muslim man.” They showed me prospective grooms and started pestering me to marry one of them. In some cases, they proposed that I become a second wife to another man. They threatened me that they would burn me alive if I didn’t agree.
My husband came to know about this from his Muslim friend. The friend consoled him and asked him not to worry, as he would get me out. In the middle of the night, the friend’s wife took me to the toilet. They opened the door and I fled from the back door. My husband was waiting in an auto. We then came to a police station and narrated the whole incident to the inspector. He was a Muslim officer and started scolding me using filthy language. He beat my husband, too. My husband and I somehow managed to run away from there.
My husband took me to his house. He locked me in a room and spoke to his mother the whole night. Next day they arranged our marriage. However, there was another girl, who was an orphan and used to visit their house regularly. She was already in love with him. She said to him, “I want to marry you.” He told her that he was already in love with me. But she insisted and others asked him to marry her as well. He asked me about my opinion. I said, “I don’t have a problem. But if you like, you can just leave me at my mother’s place.” Since I was very young, I didn’t understand things that well. He insisted that we stay together. He would think of sending me to my parents’ house only in case we quarreled. We lived together for a while. Eventually, my co-wife set herself on fire, owing to psychological problems, and died.
Since the beginning of my marriage, my mother-in-law kept on complaining that I was a Muslim, a beef eater, who has spoiled their house. She taunts my children, too. My husband beats me often, which makes me bed-ridden. I thought of going back to my mother’s place. However, I shrugged off the idea, as there was a possibility of my father selling me off. Whenever I go to meet my mother or my maternal grandmother, they claim that I’m not clean anymore and I smell like ‘them’. They refrain from sharing with me even their comb. After I return from their home, they clean whatever I touch. My mother scolds me for wearing tight clothes. I stopped visiting them gradually.
My father died. I don’t know how and where. I don’t know where my sisters are now. Once one of my sisters burned her face accidentally and we hospitalized her. I was all alone with her in the scary hospital ward. I ran away from there. From that day on, I don’t know where my sisters live. I heard that one of them got married. When I think of them, I cannot eat or sleep.”
Asiya’s eyes brimmed with tears.
Safia Begum is a PhD research scholar at the Centre for Folk Culture Studies, School of Social Sciences, University of Hyderabad. She works on the Folklore of Muslim Communities. She is from Hyderabad.
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