That could have been a poster for advertising their wedding, and though that did not happen, here’s what true love means
My wife Sheelu and our children are the best dowry I could get,” says Sunil from Kanpur. And he says the with conviction.
Coming from a man from the highly male chauvinistic northern India, this is a surprise. What will surprise you even more is how he brought that dowry home.
Sunil has a two-bed room house and Sheelu and her daughters
are happily living with him. “I am proud of my mother. Now I have a father too who is very nice to my mother, me and my sister,” proudly says Vanshika. So obviously, Sunil is not Vanshika’s biological father. But then he is the true father, who rose above all social issues and risked ridicule to marry Sheelu, who was repeatedly raped and gotten pregnant twice, and had been living in a crematorium.
This is a story of a woman who was repeatedly raped at the age of 13-year till pregnant; forced to bear the pain and trauma of forcible abortion; was socially ostracised and was then forced to marry her rapist. Her ordeal did not stop there.
Sheelu originally belongs to Bilgram in Uttar Pradesh. Her parents passed away when she was only two. Her cousin brother Ramu was taking care of her since then. When she was 13, Ramu shifted to Kanpur to work in a factory along with her. She never went to school, as they had no money to pay the fees.
Her job was to look after chores at home and maintain a small dingy room her cousin had taken on rent.
Ramu had a few friends who kept visiting her room and she would happily offer tea and snacks and sometimes dinner to them. One of them, Naresh was Ramu’s closest friend and would visit her room during her cousin’s absence.
One day, he raped Sheelu and threatened her not to tell Ramu, or he would kill her. It continued for some time untill she got pregnant. When Ramu threatened to lodge an FIR, Naresh married Sheelu at a temple. But his family members never accepted her. A forced abortion followed. Instead of lunch and dinner she was served physical assault. She gave birth to her first daughter Palak, only to infuriate her in-laws and husband. Another daughter followed next they kept Palak and threw pregnant Sheelu and her youngest daughter out of the house. The third daughter took birth in a cremation ground.
Sheelu took her daughters to a place known as Hanspuram Awas Vikas Colony in Naubasta in Kanpur. She erected a make-shift home at empty roadside corner with a polythene sheet. She did odd labour jobs and worked in a factory for two years. Then she requested a rickshaw puller to take her to the person giving out rickshaws on rent. Seeing a woman, the owner first refused to offer her one on rent, without a security deposit, but then Sheelu begged of him to keep her two daughters till evening when she earns enough to pay rent and their livelihood.
With two small daughters and the trauma of her own sexually abused body, Sheelu Kashyap (now 26) was suddenly exposed to the exploitative world again. Almost daily, she was approached by pimps at the cremation ground, her shelter home, to earn easy money for offering her bruised body and soul to sex-starved males. But she drove them away with a kitchen knife she always carried.
“I was aghast. No one would offer a job or help. For every woman, the only job is to satiate men’s lust for money. And free of cost, if married,” Sheelu says with clear ridicule.
One day, a drunken middle-aged man saw her in the cremation ground. She doesn’t remember his name but he gave her a piece of advice that the only way to fight the world is to stand on your feet by securing your financial independence.
First I flashed the knife to shoo him away, but he laughed and said that it will not shape the future of my daughters. “Duniya se jeetna hain to mehnat se kaam karo aur duniya tumhe izzat dega (work with honesty if you want to be respected by the world)”, Sheelu recalls his words; they reverberated in her mind the whole of that night. She got the cue how to take on the world. “I never saw that man again,” she mutters, but admits that his advice changed her life.
Seeing her steely courage and persuasion, the rickshaw owner finally agreed. “I pedalled for life that day. Each pedal was for survival. I targeted women clients, mainly because men would give a lusty look and ignore me when I refuse to take them to their destinations, which were secluded places,” she recalls. She earned Rs 135 by evening.
Soon she earned sympathy of the co-dwellers in the mohalla and made her home on the street.
“We offered her jobs at our home, but Sheelu would always politely refuse, saying that she wants to enter the male bastion to prove that she can come out of kitchen chores to make a living for her own children. It was a different kind revenge from what she suffered in life at the hands of this male-dominated world,” claims Urmila, her regular client.
Soon, the story of a woman rickshaw-puller spread in other areas also as she would move around to the farthest areas in Kanpur to drop her clients. “She would always give a smiling look and talk in courteous manner, and most of her customers ended paying her more than what she would charge as fare,” says Shivkumari, another regular client.
For six months she worked hard to pay rickshaw rent, feed two little daughters, buy home utensils and keep saving money to send her daughters Vanshika (8) and Pari (5) to an English medium school.
A friendly lady helped her get an e-rickshaw on loan. That changed her economic condition and saved her from physical labour besides finding more time for her daughters.
Initially she faced problems in getting some doughters admitted to a school, but after hearing her story, the principal of MSRD English Medium School at Khadepur gave Vanshika and Pari admission. She pays Rs 2000 as fees and 700 for school van.
“Both her daughters are very studious and are learning English very fast,” says their teacher Puja Tiwari.
But life suddenly changed for Sheelu and her daughters six month ago when Sunil Kumar met her. He convinced Sheelu to marry him and said, he will take good care of her daughters. Sunil is a factory worker in Kanpur and earns just enough for their comfortable living. “I sold my e-rickshaw, paid back bank loans and opened fixed deposits in the names of my daughters with the remaining money,” chuckled Sheelu. “When Sheelu told me her story I decided to marry her to get her a secure place in society, so that no one dares to point a finger at her. I got the best of dowry in the form of two sweet daughters. We are a happy family now,” claims Sunil.
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