30-year-old Kajal was married for 18 years and had three teenaged children. For the past 15 years she was working as an ASHA and did not need to depend on her husband for financial support. Her husband worked with the local newspaper and as a family they were well-off. However, that did not stop Kajal from facing violence on a regular basis.

Counselling session in progress in Sajha rooms.
Counselling session in progress in Sajha rooms

In November 2020, she came to a primary healthcare centre (PHC) where CARE’s project on gender-based violence, Sajha, was functional. Kajal presented with assault injuries and burns. The counsellor at Sajha intervened after medical treatment was given and spoke with Kajal. She shared that the beatings and abuse had begun three years after marriage and had gradually escalated in intensity. Initially the arguments took place over the money she was earning; her husband wanted to control her income and she tried to resist that. Fortunately, her in-laws were supportive of her and tried their best to reign in their wayward son. Gradually the violence spilled over to other things such as her work hours, her ‘lack of responsibility’ over household chores, and the way she cooked food. Kajal shared – ‘I tolerated it when he was abusive with me; but when he started becoming abusive with the children and then with his own parents, I realised it was time to take some action. A few days ago, he beat up the children very badly; now, I do not think I can live with him anymore,” she cried.

The Sajha counsellor validated her feelings of hurt and pain, and shared details of the support available. Kajal responded that she was not hopeful about police support since her husband was well connected with the police and would easily slip away. So, Sajha referred Kajal to the District Protection Officer (under the Department of Social Welfare) for counselling, and legal advice.

Bihar was still battling the lockdown at that time, and access to services was difficult. The Sajha counsellor stayed in close touch with the Protection Officer’s (PO) office and ensured that Kajal got a timely hearing. Kajal and her husband were called for a joint counselling by the PO, and they signed a bond where the husband committed to zero physical violence and verbal abuse in writing. If the bond would be broken, the PO would intervene, and he would be penalised. Upon this assurance Kajal agreed to return to him.

Unfortunately, he broke the commitment in a few months’ – violence resumed. But Kajal was in regular touch with the Sajha counsellor and had become visibly mentally stronger. She decided this was the last chance and now there would be no looking back. With help from Sajha, this time she approached the police station and got her husband arrested for attempted homicide. It emerged that he had prior criminal charges on him from other people. Sajha contacted the village head in Kajal’s village and appraised him of the issue, requesting his support in keeping Kajal safe. With her husband in jail, Sajha was concerned that his friends might try to harm Kajal in order to take revenge for their friend’s jail. With repeated intervention of Sajha and with support from the station head of the police station, Kajal’s husband has been in jail for the past 1.5 years now. Kajal continues her work as an ASHA, takes care of her in-laws, sends her children to school and is a strong advocate of Sajha. She has referred other survivors of violence to Sajha for counselling and support and stays in close touch with the Sajha counsellor.

About the Programme: SAJHA is conceptualised as a learning pilot intended to assess the sustainability and feasibility of scaling up of health systems’ response to women who report injuries caused by physical abuse from their intimate partners/spouses. While during the covid lockdown in 2020, when most of the social support services were closed or partially functioning, SAJHA continued to be completely functional and strategised pathways to spread its reach into the community.

Posted by: Ms. Jyoti Prakash

Location: Chehrakalan block, Vaishali district

*To protect the beneficiary’s identity, all names in the narrative have been changed, and no images have been taken.