- Farheen Tabassum
Though India may have taken certain steps towards advancement, culturally the progress is slow and halting, especially in the rural areas when it comes to empowering women. In many villages, patriarchy is still the ultimate ruler suffocating the dreams of all the promising young women. Combined with the covid-19 crisis, this has become a major handicap for women who have lost the breadwinner of the family and now have the family responsibility draped on their inexperienced shoulders.
One such story is of Aarti Maskhara. Aarti, like all the women in her village, wasn’t allowed to work after her marriage. With the Covid-19 pandemic, many people lost their loved ones and where the deceased was the sole earner of the family, the loss doubled. Two months ago this happened to Aarti too when she lost her husband due to the pandemic.
It has now fallen to Aarti to look after herself and her children, in the best way she can.
Before her marriage, Aarti worked as a supervisor in a government hospital but she was made to quit after her marriage by her mother-in-law, who had the orthodox belief that a woman shouldn’t try to be better off than her husband. Aarti felt the injustice but resigned to it accepting it as fate. When her husband was alive, Aarti only had to care for her children and look after her home.
But all that changed the day her husband got COVID-19. According to Aarti, her husband Gopal Maskhara didn’t go anywhere unsafe during the quarantine period except to work in the fields once or twice, where he caught the virus. He didn’t showcase any symptoms except, loss of taste. In the beginning, they home quarantined him for 8 days but his condition worsened and they had to admit him to the hospital. He stayed in the Hospital care for about 20 days after which, he passed away.
His death marked both tragic and financial losses for Aarti. Not only did she become a widow but also she became hard-up for money as all their savings, some $10,000 vanished in his treatment; his funeral costs an additional $3000. These expenses have now pushed her into a debt-like situation.
The loss of the breadwinner of the family meant Aarti had to start working to make the ends meet. To be suddenly responsible for each and everything has been overwhelming for her, but Aarti has decided to fight on. From April, she has started sewing and stitching work, in her village, though it doesn’t pay enough. She gets 3 cents for a shirt and 5 cents for a pair of pants. She also provides manual labor in other people’s fields as she doesn’t want her children to lack for anything even with their father gone. Her primary concern has been to provide education for them.
The only positive thing to come out of this ordeal is that Aarti has started to come out of her shell. She has big dreams and wants to pursue them in a city. The only thing that’s holding her back is the inability to pay back her debts. Aarti says that “One shouldn’t get married until one is financially independent”. She also feels that after becoming a housewife, a woman’s life reaches a standstill. She is determined now to change her situation for the better.
We salute such courage and determination! Not only is she fighting against the pandemic but also she is going head-on against the age-old evil of existing sexism and misogyny of the patriarchal society. Her story is most inspiring and we at RajaforChange will help her pay back her debts so that her dreams can reach a happy ending.