Dowry death tyranny

Gagan—The tyranny of perceived option lessness

Gagan is facing cases filed under Indian Penal Code sections 304-B (dowry death), 306 (abetment to suicide) and 498-A (marital cruelty). He protests his innocence of each of the charges.

We came into contact with Gagan through an NGO [We are withholding the NGO’s name to help preserve the anonymity of the person we are calling ‘Gagan.’] focused on assisting those who feel themselves to be victims of the misuse of such provisions in the law. He found some solace after reaching out to this organisation, which he had first learnt about following a simple internet search. It offered him legal advice, membership of a support group of fellow defendants and counselling about his options. Even more importantly, the NGO also helped him work through the emotional fallout of his situation.

In the process of our fieldwork, one thing became very clear: counselling is still an alien concept to many in India. It tends to be seen as something for ‘people with something wrong with them.’ Furthermore, willingness to open up about very personal matters, particularly to strangers, is rare. This NGO, however, actively encourages counselling.

The following is a transcript from Gagan’s (G) first meeting with a counsellor (C) from the organisation. It is adapted from the transcripts of our interviews with him, and we have transferred what we learned from our discussions with him to the setting offered by the NGO’s Mumbai coordinator who under­takes counselling sessions in his flat in a Mumbai suburb, where he lives with his parents.

Throughout our interviewing period, we found that respondents were frequently reluctant to open up at first, but once they realised they were in a safe space they began to share more. To many—as they told us afterwards—the experience of talking about their feelings and emotions was akin to undergoing counselling. Here, although Gagan takes some time to loosen up, he soon re­laxes and begins to share his emotions at a deeper level. In the process, he finds hope and reassurance.

 

C:   Welcome, Gagan. Come, have a seat. You’ll have some chai?

G:   Yes, chai is always good.

C:    [Calls for his mother to bring chai.] Why don’t you start by telling me a

little about yourself? Of course I’d like to hear about what happened with

your wife, but it would help to have some context.

G:   How far back do you want me to go? I did my schooling in Mumbai and did quite well, at least initially. After my 8th, maybe 9th Standard, my family shifted to Pune and I completed my schooling there. After that, I went on to do undergraduate studies in Petrochemical Engineering.

C:   Were there any particular reasons for following that path?

G:   I think I just followed what people would say. You do your 10th Standard, you do your 12th Standard, and then you aim for engineering, something like that.

C:   Who were your friends as you were growing up?

G:   Well, in Mumbai I went to a co-ed school, and at college it was co-ed, too. But in Pune, I went to an all-boys school. So my friends were of both genders, although the majority were boys, especially in Pune.

C:   Did you have any romantic relationships as you were growing up?

G:   I didn’t have any relationships with women, no. And that was the same

for my wife. I think that’s pretty normal.

C:   True. How was your family life?

G:   It was quite healthy. There were no problems in my family. C:   So did you go on from there to work?

Yes, I started on a job. And I felt that I was doing quite well. After getting to a reasonable position in the company, I decided that I could think about taking further responsibility in life. Are you saying that that’s when you decided to get married?

G:   Yes, correct. It was entirely my own decision. But I found my bride through an arranged marriage process.

C:   Can you tell me a little about the first time you met this woman?

G: All right. We had a small discussion with their family. Then they left us alone for 10 to 15 minutes. When I saw her, I felt she was quite beautiful. There was no doubt about it. But it was a very small meeting, that too in the presence of our family members, in the house. You can’t really gauge a person like that. Looks? Ok, fine. Everybody knows looks. After a few days, few months, years, it doesn’t even matter. What matters always is the nature of a person. And anyway, since both parties put on their best performances at such meetings, they really can’t be a guide to what might happen in the future. So after we reached a mutual decision, we got engaged. The engagement period lasted six or seven months.

C:   During that time, how did you communicate with each other?

G: We spoke on the phone and we saw each other almost every alternate weekend, if not every weekend. Initially it was easy, very easygoing. We spoke about what life was about. And earlier, how we did our schooling, what things we did. We shared our experiences about picnics, friends we have, all that. Now, looking back, I feel it was just about the very shallow things in life. You know, nothing too deep about philosophy and all that. Just sharing our experiences, good or bad.

C: In your e-mail, you said you’re facing a dowry case. Do you want to tell me a bit about that?

G: See, the thing is, only very conventional customary gifts were exchanged. A washing machine was demanded by my wife herself, so that was a part of it. Otherwise, it was small, normal things. You give a cupboard. You give a bed with mattresses. And a few utensils. These are the things you nor­mally give in a marriage. The basic logic behind it is that you’re carrying them to a new house. So you provide her with her basic needs. So when they are parting with their daughter, they give some gifts to her.

C:   And what about the marriage expenses?

G: Each side bore their own expenses. But let me tell you this: I really don’t know why I’m facing a dowry case. Dowry and wedding gifts and all that financial stuff was never an issue in our marriage.

C: Ok, ok. Let’s come back to that. Why don’t you first tell me what you expected for your marriage?

G: I had some criteria for a wife. I wanted a caring and understanding person, a responsible person. I didn’t want someone who was very poor, nor someone very rich. The third thing was that she should be at least a graduate, an educated girl able to converse well in English, so that when our first child would come of age, it wouldn’t just be me who was expected to teach him.

C:   How do you feel your wife suited you on those three or four things?

G: Quite well. At least, I thought so at the time. But now I look back on it, I see that initial hopes and expectations are all very well, but they are no guide to how things are going to transpire.

C:   Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about that?

G: Well, although I could see differences between us, I wouldn’t say there was enmity. It’s not like we ever felt, ‘you are not to be trusted.’ But, yes, our expectations for each other were different. We realised that somehow they were very contradictory. Things did seem to evolve well over time, though. Except for the factor of taking responsibility, I think my expectations were generally met. Still, that one thing was quite an important disappointment for me. She should take some responsibilities that I might not be able to take due to the course of my job. Something like raising our child to a good level. This, I found lacking in her. She was more comfortable running away from her responsibilities than facing them up front.

C: Why don’t you tell me a bit more about the problem you had with her about taking these responsibilities?

G: Yes. She was 26 to 27 at that time. She told me, ‘After I hit my 30s then maybe, yes, those responsibilities are for me. But till then, no, this is the time when you enjoy life. It’s not for getting bogged down with childcare, looking after the house, worrying about finances, where to invest and what not.’

She basically felt that even within a marriage, one ought to be able to live on one’s own terms. I could only agree with this to a limited extent.

I felt, ‘Fine, own terms is great. But having responsibilities is going to be a part of it. Somewhere, you will have to make some sacrifices.’ But she didn’t agree.

C:   Did you discuss these sorts of expectations beforehand?

G: Not very much. The assumption was that you have to adjust. Either of us has to adjust, something. Somebody has to fall back.

C:   How compatible would you say the two of you were?

G: It was as good as a normal husband—wife relationship. I think it’s natural that a couple should quarrel from time to time. So we had arguments about how much and when to spend and what sort of movie we might like to go and see. There was nothing out of this world, or any big problem. But perhaps I didn’t really know how to make out whether we were compatible. I found her a regular type of person. She was not too shy, not too bold. So fine.

C:   What about in terms of your backgrounds?

G: Yes, there were some basic differences in upbringing. She had a much easier life. If I had to bracket them, I would bracket them as people from the upper-middle class and us from the lower-middle class. I wouldn’t say she was spoiled as a child, even though she didn’t have to strive to achieve things the way I had to. She was certainly pampered, though. She was not exposed to the difficulties of life.

C:   So was it like she had married down?

G: Well, I at least never saw it like that. You see, in terms of money you can say she was doing even better when she came to live with me, which is what makes this dowry case even more ludicrous. She had much more money in her hand after marriage than she had at her parents’ house. Whatever my salary was, I used to pay with that. There was much more freedom in my house about where she could buy.

C: You were saying there was an expectation that you should both adjust. How did that work out?

G: Yes, I did expect this. But relatively speaking, you can say my wife had to make a lot more adjustments than I did. I should tell you that she found it harder to do than I did. The new place, new environment, new people. You see, I still feel it is quite difficult for a girl when she gets married. Much worse than as compared to a guy. I don’t personally see staying away from one’s parents as a big deal. I myself have always managed it fine. The basic thing was being answerable to someone. After marriage, yes, you have to talk, you have to discuss, you have to know each other’s likings and then come to a consensus. For us, reaching a conclusion wasn’t that easy. Tastes were different. Ideas were different. I felt I was making more sacrifices, she felt she was.

C:   How was the early period of your marriage?

G:   Initially, things were easy. I’m not sure at what point love came into things. It was nothing of what you see in movies. But now that she’s not with me, I realise that it was about love. We always had a feeling for each other. And I feel that it was love.

C:   If you don’t mind me asking, how were things sexually between both of

you?

G: I think we were compatible as a couple. Whether it was good or bad, I couldn’t tell you. ‘Good’ or ‘bad’ is relative to something. When I have nothing to compare with, I’m not in a position to say that. But there were no problems with it.

C:   So when did other kinds of marital problems start coming up?

G:   Things were going well between us for the first year to a year and a half,

but they began to change after our son was born.

C:   Was it a planned pregnancy?

G:   I wouldn’t say that. But it was not something which we didn’t ever want

either.

C:   So why did problems start after the birth?

G:   When you have a child, the responsibilities increase. My wife found it a

bit too much.

C:   Would you fight?

G:   Now and then we would, yes. It was never physical, only verbal. As I said, it was a normal marriage. In fact, we had many, many fights. About all sorts of trivial matters. She didn’t like the clothes I wore. She changed my style of dressing. And it happens. She would want to buy a pair of earrings and I’d suggest something else. Then we’d have a quarrel over that. We’d fight over which shop we’d buy things from. Or her way of bargaining. All these things. We’d raise voices against each other. We might not talk for an hour, maybe even a day. At the most, we wouldn’t talk to each other for almost two days. But this wasn’t something that would happen very often. Nothing very extraordinary or very dramatic ever happened. Money was also a topic we’d argue about relatively frequently.

C: I thought you said money didn’t really cause problems for you in your marriage?

G: Not in the sense of dowry, it didn’t. Certainly not in the sense that I ex­pected her to provide for me. I was an engineer doing a government job. It doesn’t pay that well. She felt I should change my job, or I should go into some business. But for me, to get into business, about which I knew h ! :, didn’t seem sensible at that time. I said, ‘Fine, we’re going to have to first build something up because I should have something to fall back upon.’ The problem was basically that my wife’s financial expectations of me were quite high. We did have enough money. It wasn’t that. The only thing was we couldn’t splurge. My wife was very contradictory on this money thing. For example, she’d never been to a fancy coffee shop like Cafe Coffee Day. She said, ‘No, I can’t relate to a place where you have to pay 40 bucks for a cup of coffee.’ But at the same time, she’d often tell me that I ought to spend a lot more on certain things like clothes, accessories, movies… this was something that /couldn’t relate to. Even when decorating the house, she’d go for something lavish. Again, I couldn’t relate to this. This is where the differences were. We’d fight a lot on that. But again, it’s normal for a man to think differently from his wife.

C: Did your wife work?

G: She worked at a computing centre for a while before our marriage, counselling people about the options that were open to them there. But she eventually left that job because she found it too stressful. After we got married, .she found that she was becoming too much of a housewife. So she started thinking about working again. That was after she’d given birth to our son. My response to this was, ‘fine, but what about the kid?’ I looked at this with a very practical mind. I knew we’d have to enrol him in a day-care centre or a creche. That would cost about ? 1,000-2,000 per month. On top of that, I felt we’d need to hire a full-time maid to do the housework because we wouldn’t have the time to do it if we were both working. So 1 told her, ‘If you have to get a job, it should at least cover the basic expenses.’ She agreed to that, but between the two of us we couldn’t settle on something that would fit the bill. Basically, all we could find was telephone-operating jobs and that sort of work. Nothing very good. Then she started thinking no, she was not going to find work here in Mumbai. She would get something in Pune. So she suggested we move there. I told her my work was here in Mumbai, so that wouldn’t be possible. As far as she was concerned, if I couldn’t give her the choice of being in Pune, it would be better for us to separate. I told her that if her parents agreed to this, I wouldn’t object. To me, it was very simple. She didn’t want the responsibility. In fact, she wanted to run away from responsibility. There was nothing/could do about it. I also feel that my wife wasn’t a very career-oriented person, or someone who would put a lot of very hard work into a task. She wanted an easygoing life. To some extent, she was lazy. She’d prefer to have time of her own. Which was not possible in a job. Even before marriage, whenever she had a job, she just chucked it. Resigned and left it.

C: Perhaps this was related to her upbringing? Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about your respective family lives before marriage?

G:   Well, on my side, when we all used to live together, we knew each other’s problems very well and discussed almost everything. Whatever happened to us, we used to tell our parents. So we were a very close-knit family. It’s a very sharp difference to what happened in my wife’s family. I wouldn’t say it was wrong, but it was different from what I was used to. In her family, if you asked someone about the other members of their family, they wouldn’t know. How can you have a family when you don’t know about each other? So I always felt it was not a family, it was only a group staying together just because they’re related. It didn’t matter to me because it wasn’t my own family. I had nothing to do with it. At the most, I had to stay there for a day or two because maybe we’d attend some family functions. Then I had to interact with them. But the problem for me came when my wife found it difficult to integrate into my own family.

C:   And after marriage, how were the in-laws?

G:   Generally, neither set of in-laws interfered in our married life. We had an unwritten agreement between ourselves that ‘you take care of your family; I’ll take care of my side. Basically, our in-laws will not be a part of our relationship.’ You can say there was one exception to that rule, though, which came towards the end of my wife’s life. I think it was a critical moment. Her parents interfered and forced her to take some decision which she didn’t want to take. Because they probably felt, ‘she’s going too far with her freedom. She has to take responsibility.’ I’ll get round to telling you more about that.

C:    Ok, fine. So when was the high point in your marriage, and when did things start sliding from there?

G:   I’d say the first few months were the high point. Maybe six, seven months after my son was born, things started moving downwards. When my wife got pregnant, it wasn’t planned. It’s not like it was something we never wanted, though. After his birth, our son kept us quite busy. We didn’t even have much time to fight amongst ourselves [chuckles]. Having to get our heads around how we’d do the best thing for him all the time definitely brought us closer together—it didn’t cause friction between us. We were both on the same side. We always wanted the best for our child. But I do feel our relationship changed after the birth, particularly in terms of the time we had for ourselves. Earlier, when we talked, things used to be about the two of us. Now there was a third person who was taking centre stage. Of course, with an eight to nine hour-a-day job, I wasn’t able to take responsibility for our son during that time each day. No doubt, she had a bigger share in that. Whatever time was available in the house, I shared it with her. It wasn’t that when I’d come back to the house, I went ofT somewhere else and had my own private time. Still, my wife felt that I ought to be taking on more responsibility for our son. She’d complain that she was taking the major share of it. It’s not that I wasn’t willing to share. It was that I wasn’t able to. At least when she went to her parents’ house, they were able to share the burden of this. Our child-related problems were made so much worse by the fact that our son had a medical condition that meant he was a slow-learner. Almost a year after he was born, he still couldn’t walk or crawl. Each and every month, he was a litde bit late. For example, by the age of 12 to 14 months he had only reached where most children are at around eight months. When he started going to school at almost five years of age, we received a complaint from there that he wasn’t properly attentive. After this, we found out that he had a learning condition known as ‘hyperactivity.’ It meant he couldn’t concentrate on one single thing. I feel that with this situation, my wife got a bit bogged down. But she had already been thinking a long time before this, ‘What is this life? There are so many responsibilities.’ At one point, around two years after we got married, I remember suggesting that she take some time out to relax by going to her parents’ place for a few days and then coming back. She did that for a month or so and then returned. But again, all these things started. There was a lot of homework being given, so she had to ensure that our son studied at home. You have to do that. So she was finding it very difficult to be with the child. Another thing I should tell you was that about two to two and a half years after our son was born, she got pregnant for a second time. But because of the trouble she was going through, she told me she wasn’t ready to take on further responsibilities at that time. Although I was a bit disheartened, I felt I had to give into her idea of going for an abortion. I didn’t want things to go further downhill. She too wasn’t keen on the idea, as she felt it was like killing her child. But she couldn’t see any better option. I don’t think this abortion further accelerated her downhill path, though. It helped that both sets of our par­ents were supportive of our decision.

C: You mentioned earlier that at some point you talked of separating. Do you want to tell me a bit more about that?

G:   My view was that some sacrifices have to be made in life. I couldn’t make my wife see this point of view, though, and ultimately I realised that there was no point bargaining on it. When my wife eventually suggested separating, my reaction was ‘fine, let’s part mutually, it’s her decision.’ But her parents totally disagreed. One of the reasons was that they had another daughter. And that girl was younger to her and not yet married. For myself, one of the reasons I didn’t directly file for a divorce was that I thought things would die down with time. Probably her parents would guide her. They’d stress the importance of taking responsibility and making sacrifices in marriage. I didn’t want us to separate. But I wouldn’t force her to stay. I believe that when you get married, you get married for life. It’s a one-time affair. Just because you have some differences, doesn’t mean you just move on to another partner. The same thing can happen with the next partner as well. It’s a part of life.

C:   Was there a particular point in time when the possibility of divorce first raised its head?

G: It was not really one single day or even one single month. It was very gradual. But what my wife was asking for was very heavy. We didn’t know if we should end our relationship or if there was another way. I felt that there were other options to be tried. It seemed to me that the basic problem was my wife’s dissatisfaction with being stuck at home with responsibility for our son. She had suggested doing something on her own, and 1 agreed that she could start something from home. She had done some small computer course. I said, ‘We could buy you a computer, try doing some designing work or whatever you feel like.’ I also suggested she could start a sort of creche. We discussed a number of options, but she didn’t like any of them. She couldn’t seem to lay her finger on exactly what the problem was, though. As far as I could see, unless and until she knew exactly what the problem was and precisely what she wanted, there could be no solution to it.

C: When the question of divorce finally came up directly as an option, to what extent were financial matters an important concern?

G: To be very frank, we didn’t have any such problem. I said, ‘Whatever money you require monthly, you can have from me.’ She said, ‘I can have a job, I can earn for myself.’ We never even talked about maintenance, and I’m happy to say that my wife wasn’t greedy. She understood what I could give her. Neither was she too dependent on me for her things. Still, I assumed that I would be responsible for supporting my son, even though I didn’t think I had a chance of being granted the custody of such a small boy. I thought the courts would naturally assume that the place for him was with his mother.

C:    Did you feel any kind of stigma about the possibility of divorce?

G:   I don’t think so. In fact, it wasn’t there for either me or my wife. I don’t even think there is a stigma about marrying again. Our parents did feel stigma, but I felt I could convince them. I said, ‘It’s a question of either living together for the sake of society, or we separate and live life on our own terms. At least we’ll not quarrel.’ But with our son’s interests in mind, I thought it would have been much better for us to stay together. Twice or maybe thrice, my in-laws told my wife that a divorce wouldn’t be proper. And they’d assure her that things could calm down. When she started feeling that her parents were not helping her and that I wasn’t prepared to go directly for a divorce, she didn’t know what to do. If we’d filed for a divorce, I feel she would most probably not have committed suicide. To me, that’s a more important issue, rather than whether I’m being blamed for it or not. I told my wife that I could see one more option. I said, ‘What we can do is, for the time being—say for a six-month period—you stay with your parents, without going for any official divorce.. .we’ll try that road, see whether you feel ok.’ I was sure she’d realise that making it on her own would actually be more difficult. She’d probably come back. I was so confident about it. In fact, she agreed with me. So I told my parents very frankly that ‘it’s my life. First, let me and my wife decide how we’re going to go about this. Staying together forcibly is not going to help.’ When I told them this, they agreed not to interfere. So my wife went to her parents’ house and soon started job hunting. But in doing that, she’d spend her whole day outside the house and that scared her parents. They felt it would be too hard on her. They thought it looked very odd. They started thinking that ‘she’s just come here and is having a good time and we have to take care of the child.’

C:   So did your in-laws start putting extra pressure on the two of you?

G:   Yes, because they knew it would be very difficult for her to get a job. Their pressure fell more on my wife than on me, as they seemed to realise that I wouldn’t help. I did miss her. But I started feeling that probably she didn’t understand my love for her. She didn’t understand how much I longed for her. At the end of the day, I felt that the decision to return to me had to come from her. I only called her once or twice during that period, and even then we’d only talk very briefly. My main motivation for calling was to talk with my son, actually. Then her parents started operating, saying that ‘you’d better take her home, she’s very depressed. She has somehow developed a very short temper.’ She was already a very short-tempered person. But over this period, it got a lot worse. So her parents started feel­ing the heat and called up some of their relatives to put pressure on us to get back together. I felt that she was not that angry with me as such, but she was angry with the situation, with the things that were happening to her. I felt she was upset with the way people were trying to goad her to go back to me, the way that people were trying to tell her that she was wrong in what she believed. as a
C:   Do you think your wife was on top of her emotions at this time?

G:   I actually think that she herself wasn’t sure of what she wanted. But if I had to sum up in one single word what the problem with our marriage was, I’d say it was her disillusionment. She thought she would be coming to Mumbai, a place where there are a lot of Bollywood stars. It’s thought of very fun city. She felt that Mumbai life would be something different.

The reality of Mumbai turned out to be very dissimilar from her image of Mumbai. It’s a dirty, crowded city. So crowded, you can’t even get into a train properly. I’m just a middle class person. I don’t own a car. I’ve got a motorbike, that’s all. So whenever she had to go shopping or somewhere else, she had to take a bus or a local train. Life is hard in Mumbai. This is so unlike what she was used to in Pune, where life is a lot easier. But what about things other than these environmental factors? I’d say that my wife was immature. You have to take a step when you’re into a relationship. Like I told you, there are responsibilities to be taken. She wouldn’t take those. Also, I remember she knew a couple of women friends who’d been divorced. She had this impression that these women fere having a good time because they were free to do their chosen jobs md to take their own decisions without facing obligations to others. At the same time, some of our distant relatives were trying to bring us together to talk. She was confused. Whenever we had a dialogue, I realised there was nothing I could do about this. I’m a middle-class person. If she suddenly wants me change my job and start a business and earn more money, I can’t do that.

How did you eventually come to a decision on what to do? Eventually, we decided to stay together for our son, who was by now nearly four and a half or so. We wanted him to have a normal life. But now my wife was in a fix. This was not a good option for her. Soon, she was finding the situation very difficult to manage. It wasn’t long until the breaking point came. One day, she and her father had a huge quarrel, something I didn’t know about at the time. In a fit of anger, she sliced her wrists, trying to kill herself. When her parents discovered her in that state, she was admitted to a hospital and her wounds were stitched up. It took her some time to recuperate, and then her fathter told her, ‘Either you go to your own house, that is, with your husband, or I’ll leave you. We cannot stay together. I also handle a lot of tension over here. And we’re worried about what you’re going to do with your life. Since you’re also not very sure, we can’t help. And if something happens to you in this house, we’re going to be blamed.’

How did her father’s statement affect her?

She always banked on her father to support her. When she heard this, her response was that Tm not going to see your faces again if you people don’t want me’. Then she called me and said she wanted to come back. I said that would be fine, but I wanted to know what had made her change her mind. I had no idea what had happened. When she returned, I found that she was behaving very differently. She was totally withdrawn. She wasn’t talking. That’s when I realised there was some depression setting in. She just didn’t say anything. I tried various means to lighten up her mood. It didn’t happen for almost a week. At this time, I was still unaware that there were marks on her wrists. If I’d seen these, I might have realised earlier what had happened. When I finally noticed, she told me she didn’t want to talk about it. I felt that somehow, there was something worrying her. Neither did she want to stay with me, nor did she want to go back to her parents. And she was clearly unhappy.

There was no other option. I started feeling a sense of apprehension about what might happen. At thatpoint, I phoned my relatives and told them, ‘We have to do something about this.’ Although I was afraid she might do something drastic, I feared that if I betrayed this to her it might actually encourage her to do it. So I always tried to behave like things were normal. We went out regularly in the evenings. She didn’t interact with me much, though. She would often go to her room and cry. So I called up her parents, telling them that things hadn’t improved. I suggested that they take her back home and let her cool down. I told them that I understood that they’d forced her to be with me, but that it wasn’t helping. Her father’s reaction was that he’d told his daughter everything he possibly could, so I shouldn’t worry and I shouldn’t send her back to them. In time, he assured me, she’d realise. I wasn’t totally reassured by that. Yet I never thought she could take the extreme step. I just thought she might do something silly. She might hurt herself. In the end, I took the advice of an Additional Commissioner of Police who was a good friend of a relative of mine. He suggested that I lodge a complaint saying that I feared my wife might do something to herself, and that if something were to happen then I shouldn’t be held responsible. After that, he said a couple of lady constables would be sent to guide or counsel her. But I refused this. I always felt it might cloud up the issue. I think the biggest factor was that my wife felt badly let down by her parents when they sent her back to me after she tried to commit suicide. Twice or thrice they had sent her back in the past. I always felt that whenever she came back, she was more upset and violent for the initial couple of days. It took time for her to get back into the groove. She felt that she had no one else, nowhere to go. Much more than that, she felt she had been deceived. Her own parents were siding with me, rather than with her. She always felt it’s her right: they are her parents, they should support her whether it’s right or wrong.

C:   Did it ever occur to you that someone outside might be able to help better?

G: Yes, I could see that she felt so terribly alone, so I had it in mind that she needed some sort of psychological help. But I knew the moment I said that, she’d feel that I was trying to bracket her as someone who was either mad or mentally disabled or something. And I didn’t want that kind of trouble. Anyway, she was the sort of person who kept her issues to herself, or at the most shared them with her father or mother. Anyway, let me come round to the final incident. One day, my wife finally told me she wanted to talk. She said, ‘I have to go. Please take care of our son. Nobody will look after him. I’m not going to my parents’ place. They’ve already turned me down. They don’t want me to go.’ I asked her, ‘Tell me something, where are you wanting to go?’ But she told me that I need not bother about this. I was worried; I felt that I must have done something wrong. At this point, she went into the bedroom to get ready. Or so I thought. I too went to the bedroom after a while. But I found it locked from inside. That wasn’t normal. I knocked on the door. After 10 minutes or so of knocking, I didn’t know what to do. So I went to my neighbour’s. The neighbour’s wife was my wife’s friend. She said, ‘Fine, I’ll knock on the door.’ So while she was knocking and calling out to her, I again called up her parents and told them, ‘There is something serious that involves her. She is still angry. You’d better come down.’ They agreed. Then I called up the police. Then the neighbour told me, ‘She’s not answering the door, we’ll have to break it open.’ When we did that, we found her hanging from the ceiling fan by her dupatta. I took her to the hospital. But when we reached there, she was declared dead. I couldn’t understand what had happened. I couldn’t see why she would feel that she had to put an end to her life. She was an educated girl. It was not like she was afraid of anything. It wasn’t like she was alone. Nor was it like I wasn’t supporting her or that she lacked money. I can only guess that in some weak moment, she’d fallen into that space where she couldn’t think of a way out of this.

C:   How did all this turn into a case against you?

G:   When something bad happens, we have to blame somebody. So my father-in-law concluded that I had killed his daughter. He filed a complaint against me with the police. I’d probably have done the same thing. I’m not sure, because I didn’t get any time to think of it that way. But I certainly feel that he’s responsible for her dowry death. Even I might have gone for a complaint, saying that ‘he’s responsible for the dowry death of my wife and the loss that I am facing now, and he should be punished.’ This is why I’ve not resented my father-in-law for the suffering I’ve gone through in this case. I could also see that my father-in-law had felt that somehow I’d taken his daughter away from him. She had told him, ‘Compared to you, my husband is much better. Although he disagrees with me, at least he has the heart to give me the freedom to make my own choices.’ Being a father, I can relate to this. You feel that you must always be a hero in your child’s eyes. But in the last moment, my decision to give her freedom meant that he lost that heroic position in her life. Now, my father-in-law insists that the responsibility for her dowry death was not his. He is adamant that it was my doing. You know, during the last couple of times I’ve met my son, he even asked me, ‘Did you kill my mother?’ He says that ‘Grandfather told me you did.’

C:   Do you think your father-in-law realises that he was in some way responsible for what happened?

G:   Yes, I think so. He directly went to the house, taking the police. He pushed for them to file a section 302 case: that she’d been murdered. The police saw the situation, they knew what had happened, so they told him that ‘This is not the case, you can very well see that the door has been broken open.’ So they said, ‘You can’t register a murder case against him, but yes, we could register a case of cruelty.’ My father-in-law’s FIR mentioned that I’d been troubling my wife a great deal and that I’d doubted her character. He’d wanted to file under sections 306, abetment of suicide, and 304-B, dowry death. So that’s what happened. But I can’t see how the incidents mentioned in his complaint add up to the charges against me. They’ve cited some imaginary incidents. One was that while watching a movie, I’d used some foul language. There was another incident where they said I’d threatened her that I might hit her. Dowry harassment wasn’t even mentioned, so I honestly don’t understand how the criteria are met for a 304-B case.

C: Were you aware of your rights at the time?

G: No, I wasn’t. I had pretty much no legal awareness. I didn’t even know about 498-A. All I knew was that there are some laws that include dowry. I was never exposed to it. I still don’t really know much about what 304-B implies. I gave myself up to the police. I wasn’t arrested for a long time. Still, I decided I’d stay in the police station. After some time, a big vehicle came to my house to take all the belongings, as per the clause. You can take stndhan. They took all the jewellery, all the furniture, even the household items. All the crockery, even the utensils that were given in marriage. They also took all the jewellery that was not a part of the marriage as well. I didn’t object. I agreed to whatever they asked for. They even took my son’s bicycle. At the time of the marriage, my son wasn’t even born!

C:   So what you’re saying is that this clearly wasn’t about stridhan?

G:   Yes, that’s right. C:   But tell me honestly: what gifts were given in consideration for the

marriage?

G: Of course I’ll tell you honestly, I have nothing to hide. Jewellery was an im­portant part of it. We saw that as part of the marriage customs. Although a ring had been given to me, almost 90 per cent of these articles were in my wife’s possession. A washing machine was all that was included, apart from these ornaments. I didn’t consider any of this as ‘dowry’ at all. We didn’t even have discussions, not even about what or how much they were going to give. She simply realised that I didn’t have a washing machine and said she wanted one. Nothing was demanded. My wife’s side later gave a half-page statement where they said they’d forgotten to mention that I had also asked for dowry in the form of a house and a car. So then, around four to five days after the dowry death, a 498-A charge was also posted against me. I was under so much shock. But still, I laughed off what they’d said. Because, come on. Dowry? What’s he talking about? There was no question about it. I didn’t think the charge would even matter. But it did matter a lot. I realised the grim situation that this 498-A clause had put me in quite some time later. The realisation hit me when I applied for anticipatory bail, as it was turned down in the Sessions Court and then in the High Court, too. I had to go back to the local court, surrender myself and be in police custody. Then I was granted regular bail. My father-in-law took my son away from me on the day of the dowry death itself. For two or three months, I tried through various intermediaries to persuade him to at least give back my son. A few of my relatives suggested I ask him to take back th. charges he’d filed and think of some other means of reconcihatu I was confident about fighting the case because I’d done nothing wr. I was sure the outcome would be in my favour. He insisted, ‘No, I m going to drag him to court. We’ll see to it that he’s finished.’

C:   What kind of statements did your wife’s side give to the court:

G:   Almost everybody said that I’d been troubling them badly. But in their statements, even after the additional dowry-related accusations we made, did anyone specifically say that ‘he asked us for dowry.’ said when these demands were made, what sort of arrangement seen, what date I had asked for it, how long this had been going on for.

C:   How do you feel about your chances at this stage?

G: Although I was confident at first, I now feel extremely worried. I now see that even though there is no evidence for it, if someone writes a couple of statements about dowry then their accusations can be presumed to be true. This caused me a lot of harm. One: I didn’t get anticipatory bail. So I had to be in police custody for more than 48 hours. Two: being a government servant, I had to be suspended from my job. At least I was treated well in custody because the police knew the background, as I had told them the situation a couple of days before. But even if they realised that this case didn’t hold much weight and the accusations may not have been true, they still passed it on to the court. I’m simply unable to understand my father-in-law’s mind. He knew somewhere along the line that whatever action he’d taken had led to this incident. After he’d literally told my wife to leave his house, there was no flare-up between the two of us. The only incident immediately before this relates to what he had done.

C:   The law wouldn’t have anything to say about him in that sense, though.

G: Yes. That would just be on his own conscience. You know, one thing I can see from all this is that when something’s going wrong in a marriage, it doesn’t necessarily always mean that the husband is the culprit. Now that my wife is dead, I feel terribly stigmatised. And those who know, those who can help mc, they don’t want to help me. The chances of getting justice are very slim now. Ok, so my close family are different and want to help me, but in a court situation their words can’t be considered hard evidence. But after coming to you today, having finally been able to talk about it with someone sympathetic, I’m beginning to feel a bit more at ease. I think that’s what’s required in the first person you turn to. So thank you.

C: You’re welcome. I wish more people understood the value of counselling. Do make sure you keep in touch with us. We’re here to support you. Not only legally, but also emotionally.

Gagan—The tyranny of perceived option lessness
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