Like all the women of her village in Uttar Pradesh, India, Leela, a mother of four children between the ages of 7 and 17 years, tolerated her husband’s anger for a long time. Until one night, he tried to strangle her.
Leela spent the night with her sister-in-law and the next morning, reached out to a local NGO, supported by Oxfam. Ram Chowk, Leela’s husband appeared at the NGO’s office that evening, drunk and angry. He threatened to attack Leela if she did not return with him at once.
The counsellors informed the local police and he was taken to the police station for the night. The next day, a sober Ram Chowk returned to apologize to his wife, but she refused to return with him till her terms were met. A day later he came back, repentant and with the promise that he would not abuse Leela. Leela returned home and the neighbours were asked to keep an eye on Ram Chowk and to report any abusive behaviour.
Gradually, Ram Chowk, a mason, also gave up drinking. “His transformation was unbelievable,” laughs Leela.
This terrible experience had convinced Leela that other women in her situation could also be helped. A week later, she was back at the centre, with another woman survivor. Since then, she has helped many women approach the centre.
“Often it is my husband who asks me to help the women,” she says proudly.
Leela has also had a makeover—from an unsure woman who once believed that it was her fate to suffer, she has become a confident person who knows she can help others. She is aware that her actions are not always well received in this traditional community: “Even women talk behind my back, but I tell them that if they don’t come forward, they will continue to suffer.”
The people closest to Leela are full of praise for her. Among them is her son Pravin, 14. “I am proud that my mother can help so many people. She makes them happy.”
Photo: Oxfam India
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