As darkness descends over the country’s compassion capital, hope dims for Madhu Jhawar, 33, Aakanksha Jhawar, 11, and Pragya Jhawar, 9. The young mother and her two daughters have nowhere to go. They have even spent some nights on police station benches, seeking a safe cover under dark.
“I have been thrown out by my husband. I have lost my parents and my brothers in Assam have turned their backs on me. I don’t know where to go with my daughters,” says Madhu. “Harassed by my husband, in-laws and landlord”, she has been spending the days shuttling in vain across the city, from Jadavpur and Posta police stations to the flat on NSC Bose Road that used to be home, to her husband’s office in Burrabazar.
The principal cause behind her present plight, alleges Madhu, is the fact that she gave birth to two daughters, who now scour the city with their mother, seeking shelter and solace. Mahesh Jhawar, a Burrabazar-based jute trader, filed a divorce suit in end-September 2002. Since then, Madhu has been living alone with her two daughters at 226/5/1, NSC Bose Road, where she had moved in the same month. Mahesh kept coming back to the south Calcutta flat, but just to force her not to contest the suit, leave the flat and return to Assam with the daughters.
“Late last month, my brother-in-law Suresh Jhawar, after promising to help me, abused me and forcefully threw me out of the flat at midnight, which he claimed was rented in his name. As I had no place to go, I went to my husband’s office on Cotton Street, where I was refused entry. I then went to Posta police station seeking help. I was ridiculed and an officer even made lewd remarks,” recounts Madhu, during a few moments of respite at the residence of lawyer Tapas Gan Choudhury.
“The next day when I went back to the flat, the landlord assaulted me,” sobs the woman, who was born into a conservative Marwari family in Assam, got married at the age of 22 to Mahesh and says she has suffered “indignity” ever since. “My in-laws started torturing me since my marriage in 1991. And the atrocities increased after I gave birth to a second daughter in 1994,” alleges Madhu, who lodged the first formal complaint against her husband and in-laws, under the Dowry Prohibition Act, with Phoolbagan police station in 2001. She withdrew the complaint, following “life threats” to elder daughter Aakanksha, a student of a reputed school, who, Madhu claims, is also being “harassed” by her father.
Mahesh Jhawar paints a different picture: “I want to get rid of her (Madhu)… She doesn’t have moral integrity and has caused a lot of harm to the family.” The charge is dismissed by Gan Choudhury as “wild and baseless”.
Now, Madhu — assaulted and abandoned — is desperate to fight it to the finish, for her daughters. For this, she is running from police pillar to punitive post. Prasun Mukherjee, additional commissioner of police (I), took note of her plight when she threatened to immolate herself and her daughters in front of Lalbazar.
"She came to me with complaints against her in-laws and some police officials in Posta police station and I forwarded the case to my colleagues," says Mukherjee.
Deputy commissioner (central) Zulfiquar Hasan adds: "It's a civil matter and the law will take its own course. We have told her husband to provide maintenance till the matter is decided in court."
Madhu has been referred to the women's grievance cell in Lalbazar, but precious little has been done about getting the maintenance for the sustenance of the young mother and her daughters or finding them a place to pick up the pieces of their lives.
"My life is ruined, but I will try till my last breath to clear my name of the allegations levelled against me and to secure a future for my daughters, Otherwise…", she trails off.