Her Ghar: A right to residence for every woman

Her Ghar: A right to residence for every woman

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s wife a few weeks back filed an RTI to know her right as the PM’s wife. In the same RTI she also mentioned that she wants to reside at her husband’s home. Jasodaben’s RTI reminds me of Rani whom I met a few days back at a shelter home who also wanted to live with her husband in the same home.

Rani, a 40 year old woman, has lived in a shelter home in Khurda district of Odisha for the last four years. Rani was sent to the shelter home from the district hospital of Khurda when nobody came to take her back to her home. I asked “why were you in the hospital”? She smiled and told me “I was in the hospital for a year; my husband broke my head in two pieces with a plank of wood”. She tells me that she was 13 when she was married and by the age of 20, she had 4 children. Today two of her children are with her sister and one lives in a nearby children’s home; the youngest died.

As the UN has reported, 70% women face violence at home[i]. It is important to note that women were never a part of this home whether natal or matrimonial as these spaces gave special preference only to the men and the male descendants’. The seeds of violence against women and denial of a residence for a woman starts right at her natal home. Every time a daughter is told that her real home is that of her husband’s; her right to residence is denied. Once she is married and goes to her matrimonial home, she is often reminded by her parents that her in-laws house is her real home and she should do everything to make the people happy in her matrimonial home. But this home never becomes her own as she is more of a caretaker than a custodian. Once married, the doors of the natal home are always closed for the woman.

Neither the state nor the family considered right to residence as a legal provision for women until in 2005, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2005 provided a civil relief of “right to residence” to aggrieved women. Till now when a woman wanted to protest against the violence she was facing at home, she was thrown away from that home. This thought for many women forced her to silence and accept violence.

This has led many married and aggrieved women to take recourse to shelter homes for women. In a recent visit to a shelter home, I met women who had a history of violence, women who were thrown out of their house, women who were burnt, women who had daughters and women with mental ailments. All these women need various kinds of support at these homes; needless to say none of them are met. It is important for the state to ensure that conditions at the shelter homes are improved to meet the varied needs of women.

Most of these short stay homes are run by civil society organisations to support destitute women that are run with meagre financial aid from the state and central governments. At present, these organisations receive Rs. 500 for each women inmate and Rs. 250 for the child. There is no budgetary provision for medical aid that includes measures for maintaining menstrual health. Although a lawyer visits the shelter home once a week, there is no remuneration if legal complaints have to be filed.

Not only is violence within homes a reality, so is the denial of residence for women whether single or married, young or old. Studies have shown that woman’s access and control over economic assets and property has reduced her vulnerability and given her greater power to negotiate against violence. Therefore in order to address the larger issue of domestic violence it is extremely important to ensure women’s right over property and economic assets.

I met Rani again while coming back from the shelter home. When I told her that we might meet again, she replied “I may be back to my husband’s home by then”. I had no words. The present Government’s slogan “Aache Dine Aayenge” (that means ‘Good days are coming’) is a dream for many women and girls who are facing violence and having not even the right to a safe home, be it is her natal, matrimonial or a shelter home.

It is time we began talking about the need to change the mindsets of individuals and communities that only a man can be the custodian of a home. It is important to change the situation related to women’s access to land rights, women’s entitlement over property rights and an equal share of matrimonial property. Till such a change happens, our clarion call for ‘her ghar’ must continue.

Written by Moitrayee Mondal , Program Officer- Gender Justice at Oxfam India, Odisha office

[i] http://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/pdf/UNiTE_TheSituation_EN.pdf

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