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Christian group helps women deal with dark side of India’s preference for sons

Women abused by both husbands and in-laws provided with pro-bono legal aid

Renuka Singh, a 35-year-old housewife from India’s northern state of Haryana, vividly remembers the ordeal she experienced when she ran away from her in-laws’ house with one of her daughters.

Married for four years, Renuka said she was subjected to extreme abuse from her in-laws because she couldn’t give birth to a boy.

A year after the marriage, she gave birth to a girl. Two years later she had another girl born again, further displeasing her husband’s parents.

“The tortures inflicted upon me were numerous then. I was made to do all the household work of the extended family; even given little food to eat and my daughters were loved by none except me in the family,” Renuka told LiCAS.news.

She claimed her husband often beat her. Meanwhile her two daughters were treated like slaves and denied a basic education.

“When my elder daughter Pari turned three I wanted her to be admitted in a nearby government-run daycare center so that she could begin to learn. I was abused and beaten by my husband for even thinking to have her admitted into the school,” Renuka said.

In time she decided the only way to get out of such a volatile domestic situation was to run away. Sometime last year, in the middle of the night, she quietly collected a few of her belongings, took her youngest daughter and fled.

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Renuka took a bus to another city where she had a friend who helped her to get a job of a housemaid and find a place to take shelter. But her troubles were not over.

“My husband and in-laws had forcibly and illegally detained my second daughter, in order to force me to come back to the matrimonial home,” Renuka said.

To help her get custody of her other daughter she was introduced to Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) India a Christian legal advocacy organization providing pro-bono legal support to the marginalized, especially for issues related to religious freedom and the sanctity of human life.

“I called them and told them my situation. I told them how ruthlessly I was being treated by my in-laws and that my eldest daughter was been kept as captive by them,” Renuka said.

Lawyers from the faith-based firm later filed Renuka’s petition in the court, seeking custody of the elder daughter, and through the court she was granted interim custody of her daughter. 

“My daughter has been reunited with me. There is no happiness more than this,” Renuka said. On Renuka’s behalf ADF has also filed a domestic violence petition against the in-laws.

A 2012 file image of an Indian woman with her daughter washing clothes. (Photo by Kokhanchikov/shutterstock.com)

‘Son preference’

Tehmina Arora, director, ADF India, said the preference for sons is based on the idea held by many in India that sons are critical to a family’s social survival — for carrying on their lineage and ensuring the family’s financial security.

Arora said that women face extreme societal pressure to produce a son. “Failure to do so would entail bearing the consequences of violence or abandonment in terrifying degrees,” she said.

Kavita Kumari, from the Indian state of Punjab, was in a similar abusive predicament from her in-laws as that of Renuka. She also had two daughters one of whom became seriously ill, but she said her husband and in-laws did not allow her to take the girl to see a doctor. The girl eventually died from her condition, Kavita said.

“She didn’t die due to fever, but she was killed by my in-laws who didn’t allow me to take her to the doctor. Had it been a boy, they would have cared in a much different manner,” Kavita said.

Several days after her daughter’s death she left her husband and sought help from ADF India to address what occurred to her and her daughters through the courts.

Kavita said organizations like ADF India give hope to women caught in a volatile situation by assisting them to seek justice through the country’s courts.

“The women particularly from rural India are unaware of their rights and entitlements,” Kavita said. “They believe experiencing miseries and torments are their fate and that they can do nothing about them.”

Arora said that ADF India is committed to providing legal aid to mothers who suffer because they choose to give birth to daughters. ADF India also aims to eradicate sex-selective abortions; seeking to save the lives of thousands of girls who are killed in the womb every day in the country.

“We are advocating for the strict enforcement of the Pre-Conception Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994,” Arora said.

According to ADF India there are 63 million women missing in India due to gender-selective abortion. For more in this issue, watch this ADF India video below.

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