There are 2.3 million separated and abandoned women in India, the number is huge, approximately two times the number of divorced women as per the last census. There are close to two million Hindu women who are abandoned and separated; this number is 2.8 lakhs for Muslims, 0.9 lakh for Christians and 0.8 lakh for other religions. However, no concrete steps have been taken to support these destitute women.
The problem of this scale has its roots in cities as well as rural India. One such story is from a fishing village in the southern tip of India where a mother and both her daughters have been a victim of this sort of abandonment. Amudha and Selvi were just 2 and 5 years old respectively when their father left their mother for another woman. Little did they know that history would repeat itself.
The village is a Hindu dominant village and they belong to its most backward caste ‘mutharaiyar’. With limited education opportunity, the girls are married before the legal age of 18, and hence parents don’t register the marriage in the court. Most of the marriages involve dowry from 2 lakhs to 10 lakhs, following the age-old traditions. Later, if there are any issues in the marriage; there are no legal proceedings due to lack of a legal binding, money and awareness; and the village leaders solve these cases on their own outside courtroom.
In this village, there are almost 10% women who are either abandoned or divorced as per the village head. Chellathurai, who has been the leader for the last 35 years, is an example of historical patriarchy and narrow mindedness still prevalent in India’s villages. For instance, he believes that any woman who marries outside her caste should be immediately outcast and not allowed to stay in the village. However, the same rule does not apply to men. Such rules and thoughts particularly affect women who are deserted by their husbands. They experience higher levels of marginalization due to such widely accepted cultural and societal norms. To add insult to injury, the inheritance rights of a female child holds no meaning here. Any rules related to property or lands are not well defined which further heightens their vulnerability.