Story by Amreen, translated from Hindustani by Janees
Songs of Freedom bring stories from women — certainly not victims, not even survivors but fighters against the patriarchal status quo with support from the organisation Shaktishalini.
–Sanjay Kumar, founder, pandies
Amreen hails from Khadoli village in Uttar Pradesh. She is 22 and currently pursuing distance education to complete her high school. She courageously braves writing down a peek of her life’s challenges as a survivor/fighter of gender and religion-based abuse with the intention of providing support and solidarity to underprivileged and disadvantaged women around the world.
How am I at fault Ammi? Abbu?
Are you upset that I am alive? (Does my being alive upset you to the core?)
You never tried to reach me, even for once!
You have never asked me how I was doing, never enquired whether Amreen was even alive….
I want to ask who gets to decide my worth?
Why have I been rendered helpless to make my own decisions?
Why is the conflict between humanity and religion forced upon us time and again? Are you telling me they cannot go hand-in-hand in harmony?
There always had been huge sermons on the unity of religions…of how all paths lead to the same God (Ishwar)…then why wasn’t my marriage with Mohit acceptable? Were we not in sync with our God who is the same, just called by different names?
Amreen hails from a small village, ‘Khadoli’ in the Meerut district of India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh (UP). She is currently living in Delhi…but in fear…She has fled home.
Amreen, lovingly called ‘Lalli’, had a pleasant childhood…She would even go on describing it as happy and beautiful. Getting dressed for school early morning, then school, followed by a wave of excitement as the clock struck 3 and she was home. At home, she would have lunch in a rush only to catch up with her friends. Lalli loved her friends, what she loved more was spending time with them. After a long day of play and fun, Lalli would go back home and refuse to help with chores. After all, she had worked so hard at playing.
She loved wandering in the alleys of her village and wouldn’t trade anything in this world for that freedom.
Lalli’s life suddenly took a turn. Her elder sister got married as a virtue of which Lalli dropped out of school. Now her days were mostly marked with helping her Ammi with never-ending household chores. She lost touch with friends. Lalli had to grow up at a tender age.
Amreen would get lost in her desperation and sing to herself: “The darkness has set foot on our path for a long time, come what may the sun must rise now…”
This is the year Mohit took their companionship and love a step ahead and proposed to Amreen.
“Put your hand in mine, with a promise of a love lifelong, I shall stand by your side.”
“I yearn to walk all my life with you. Let’s embark on this journey hand in hand, faith in souls.”
Amreen mustered the courage and disclosed her decision of marrying Mohit. She put in everything to convince her family. But is there a bigger sin in this world than loving/marrying someone from a different faith or caste? It turns out it’s a sin bigger than murdering entire humankind.
The moment Amreen disclosed her yearning to be with Mohit to her family, she understood what she had signed up for. All the mental and physical abuse on one side and now, her marriage was fixed with a man from her community. Yet she braved the decision to keep on trying to convince them, only to be met with pain and despair. Where else does one go with expectations and burdens other than to a family?
There seemed no other way, but the one Amreen dreaded the most. She never wanted to elope. In fact, she was hopeful that as parents, her Ammi and Abbu would understand her, or at least prioritise her happiness over all else. But alas, to fit into a society!
March 16, 2020
Amreen and Mohit left their respective homes. They embarked on a journey to make a home to be called theirs. They reached Delhi where a new hardship was awaiting their arrival. Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, a nation-wide lockdown was announced. As a result, all the courts were suspended indefinitely. Amreen needed a place to stay in the new city. She couldn’t live with Mohit. They feared the reactions of their families. What if the police were after them and Mohit would be framed falsely in the case? What if the patriarchs of both the families were on their way to kill them? What if their village was being torn apart by communal violence because of what they had done?
Amidst this, the lockdown!
During this time, Dhanka Sanstha (an organisation for interfaith couples) and Shakti Shalini (an NGO that supports victims of gender and sexual violence) came to Amreen’s rescue. For the first time in her life, Amreen felt cared for, supported for her decision-making ability, and came to know what solidarity feels like.
July 29, 2020
After all the hardships and agony that Moh-Reen went through, the day they had been desperately seeking finally arrived. Amreen and Mohit tied the knot.
Moh-Reen were blessed with a little angel, whom they named, ‘Tamanna’ — a wish. It was their wish to have a daughter, a wish fulfilled. But it seemed Mohit’s family were upset with the sex of the child. They wanted a son – a son they would call theirs, not Muslim woman’s daughter.
It had only been five days after Tamanna was born and Amreen was brought home, that Mohit’s family started mistreating her. She was denied food. For days Amreen was only able to have tea and biscuits, which was also the time Tamanna was being breast fed by her famished mother. Amreen patched up with her elder sister, the only family member who was considerate enough to stay in contact. Her elder sister couldn’t bear to look at Amreen’s plight and took her home along with Tamanna, where they looked after the mother and child for almost two months.
The mistreatment continued even after Amreen moved back with Mohit’s family. She was verbally abused by her mother-in-law and sister-in-law for giving birth to a girl.
February 10, 2022
The previous year’s series of agonising events finally made Moh-Reen move out and rent a place of their own. Mohit, Amreen, and Tamanna live here peacefully. Amreen hopes her story is not confined within the frame of a short story but goes beyond touching lives of many people…even if it means changing a single woman’s life for good.
Mohit wants to fulfil Amreen’s dreams. Amreen is currently enrolled in tenth standard [grade] to catch up on her studies. She is on her to become someone – somebody known for her own self, where she will be known by her name and not just as someone’s wife, daughter, or mother.
Are we going to end this story with the same questions as asked in the beginning? Or are there questions that need to be asked from your side as well? There’s one definite question for sure – whom will you hold accountable?
Janees is an independent researcher and theatre-practitioner who has been associated with Pandies for the past five years.
 “Establishing itself as a premier women’s organisation in India from 1987, Shaktishalini has spread out and deals with all kinds of gender based violence. A shelter home, a helpline and more than that a stunning activist passion are the hallmarks of this organisation.
“pandies and Shaktishalini – different in terms of the work they do but firmly aligned in terms of ideological beliefs and where they stand and speak from. It goes back to 1996 when members of the theatre group went to the Shaktishalini office to research on (Dayan Hatya) witch burning for a production and got the chance to learn from the iconic leaders of Shaktishalini, Apa Shahjahan and Satya Rani Chadha. And collaborative theatre and theatre therapy goes back there. It is a mutual learning space that has survived over 25 years. Collaborative and interactive, this space creates anti-patriarchal and anti-communal street and proscenium performances and provides engaging workshop theatre with survivors of domestic and societal patriarchal violence. Many times we have sat together till late night, in small or large groups debating what constitutes violence? Or what would be gender equality in practical, real terms? These and many such questions will be raised in the stories that follow.” — Sanjay Kumar
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