This story is about the helplessness of women during the partition. How women faced violence not only in the hands of men of other religious group but also within the family. The family was only protective towards its ‘honour’ and not towards its women. I have not named Meekakshi’s mother purposely to show that her case was not a unique one, several women faced these honour killings if not of themselves then of their daughters.
Meenakshi lived with her mother in a small village near Faridpur. She had lost her father when she was three. Since then, she and her mother lived on the mercy of her uncle. Meenakshi never felt the absence of her father; the vacancy was always filled by her uncle. Slowly little Meenu grew up, she was sixteen now and her uncle had fixed her marriage with a man in the next village; to the Krishna Mohan Chaudhury, son of Ram Chandra Chaudhury. Krishna Mohan had three children already; his wife had passed away a month ago. Krishna Mohan was the most eligible bachelor Meenu’s uncle could find as even though he was 40, pot bellied and rude he did not demand a dowry. He only wanted a young and fair bride. Meenu was married to him.
Within a year, Meenu had given birth to a daughter. The year was 1947. The part where her family lived was to belong to West Pakistan. In midst of the chaos and riots Meenu’s uncle’s family decided to move to India. Whereas, Meenu’s in laws had decided not to give up the land of their forefathers. Meenu’s mother did not want to leave her daughter behind but she was helpless. She had to come to India.
Meenu’s uncle’s family had reached India by the end of 1947 and had even managed to find a shelter. Though Meenu’s mother had not suffered rape, flogging or murder she had seen ample on the way. Day and Night she prayed to her family god Dayamadhab for her daughter’s safety and happiness. After a few days Meenu’s mother decided to write to her a letter.
My dear Meenu,
How are you? Not a day passes when I do not think of you. Here, in India, we have managed to find a shelter for ourselves next to your maternal uncle Purushuttam’s house, do not worry about us. The house here reminds me of our house in Faridpur. The tulsi plant, the blue clouds, the golden sun all seem so similar and yet so different. Remember the times when we together used to put the cloths to dry in the sun, water the tulsi plant and offer prayers, your tiny hands made such pretty garlands for our Mother Tulsi. I wonder where the people of this house are; have they found a shelter like we have or are they still living on platforms and pavements? On my way to India, I have seen men and women getting slaughtered, rapped, flogged and paraded. Sometimes I feel glad that your in-laws have not decided to move. They keep you safe within the high walls. The protection I would have failed to offer. I love you and I miss you. May God shower his blessings over you. Give your in laws my Namaskar.
Your Loving Mother.
After writing the letter Meenu’s mother read it with tears in her eyes. Memories of by gone days did not let her tears stop; the bright eyes of Meenu, her tiny rosy lips, her nose ring shaking as she vigorously moved her head while talking excitedly about a new game, patting her to sleep narrating her stories of princes and yakshas. Suddenly Meenu’s mother remembered that she needed a stamp. While she was searching for it the door bell rang. Meenu’s mother received the mail that had been sent to Meenu’s uncle by the Chaudhurys. He wanted her to read it first. She was surprised to see that the letter had the name Chaudhury on it. The name on the letter also gave her respite, that her daughter is doing well and she misses her mother too. The letter opens,
Dear Purushuttam Babu,
I hope you are doing well. I am writing to inform you that Meenakshi has played the role of a dutiful wife. To save the family’s honour she lit up herself before any man of the other religion could touch her. Her death is glorious to you and to us.
Ram Chandra Chaudhury.
The letter fell from the hand of Meenu’s mother as she collapsed on the floor.