“Abortion is not expensive. I am sure you can afford it, against the massive cost you will incur by raising three daughters. If you go ahead with this decision, you can maybe even save your marriage,” the doctor proudly said as if giving life-saving advice. Three-month pregnant Jasbeer Kaur’s expressions said it all. She chose not to degrade herself by participating in the conversation any further and left the hospital.
“I felt liberated by facing the most dreaded advice. When I thought about raising girls all by myself, I was not scared. I was happy about shaping three beautiful individuals. I became a single parent during that 15-minute ride from the hospital to my parent’s house in 1996,” Jasbeer, who now lives in Rajasthan’s 36 BB village, tells The Better India.
Six months later, Jasbeer gave birth to triplets and walked out of an abusive marriage.
Jasbeer was merely 26 at the time, in an era when divorce and the birth of a girl-child were severely looked down upon in her community and village.
Braving constant attacks about her failed marriage and unceasing taunts from the community, Jasbeer single-handedly raised all her daughters — Pradeep, Sandeep and Mandeep.
49-year-old Jasbeer has been an auxiliary nurse for the last 21 years in a government hospital to support her daughters. Her triplets have completed their post-graduation and are financially independent.
While Mandeep has followed her mother’s footsteps and became a nurse, Sandeep is a make-up artist and Pradeep is in the hotel management sector.
“All the credit goes to my lion-hearted mother who never imposed any restrictions on us. She aced both the roles of a mother and father. She never for once, let us feel that something was missing. She is our confidant and best friend,” says Sandeep.
“She is the bravest woman I know and every day she inspires us to do better. She has gone out of her way to help her patients, especially pregnant women in the hospital. The joy and satisfaction of serving someone is what inspired me to go to the hotel industry,” says Pradeep, who is the youngest.
From being married to an alcoholic to tolerating humiliation to save her family from shame and finally her identity, Jasbeer’s journey from fear to courage is extraordinary.
“He Tried to Kill Me”
Daughter of a farmer, Jasbeer had a happy childhood. In her district Gurdaspur in Punjab, girls were not allowed to study, let alone take a job. But Jasbeer’s parents encouraged her to pursue a BA from a local college.
When she expressed her desire to become a nurse, her parents enrolled in a nursing course.
“I have two sisters and one brother but I have never experienced any bias or discrimination. All of us were encouraged to think independently, which was very rare back in the day,” says Jasbeer.
In 1995, a 26-year-old Jasbeer was married and within a few days, she learnt the truth about her husband. Mental and physical harassment became an everyday affair. To save her family’s name, she chose to stay and hoped things would improve. A few months into the marriage, she got pregnant.
“There has been not a single day when I did not cry in that house. The last straw was when they illegally found out the gender of my children during an ultrasound. I had two options – abortion or divorce,” she says.
When she refused an abortion, her former husband tried to murder her by pushing her fingers into a live electric socket. That’s when she decided to leave.
Fortunately, her parents and brother extended unconditional support to her.
“My mother said if she could raise daughters, then even I could do it. Even though I was aware that eventually, the burden would fall on me, I was happy to know my family had my back. They gave me the strength to fight and build a new life for my unborn babies.”
Six months later, Jasbeer delivered three girls, “They are the best thing that happened to me. I derived energy and strength just by holding them together. I knew life was going to get better,” she recalls.
Building A New Life for Jasbeer
Jasbeer moved to 36 BB village in Padampur district, Rajasthan when the girls were less than a year old. There, she took up the job of the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife in a government hospital.
Besides getting away from her oppressive community and starting afresh, Jasbeer chose the uniquely-named village because she had lived here during her nurse training, before her marriage.
Life was completely different in 36 BB. No one judged her for her divorce or pitied her for being a single parent. All she got from her hospital staff and neighbours was love and support. On some days when she would be busy catering to the patients, her friends would take care of the babies.
“Everyone knows Jasbeer in our village, not for her past but her affection and friendly nature towards everyone. She is always ready to help and at times she even goes beyond her duty hours to serve the patients,” says Vakil Singh, Sarpanch of the village.
Jasbeer’s day would typically start early in the morning around 5. After doing the household chores, she would pack lunch for all four of them and leave for work. From early on, she had taught the sisters to be there for each other and always stick together. If one refused to go to school, the other two followed the suit.
After working in an 8-hour shift, Jasbeer would return in the evening and help the trio with their school work.
Although it was a fixed routine, Jasbeer broke down often.
“I was doing everything that usually men do, whether it was repairing an electronic item, changing light bulbs, or doing the heavy lifting chores. Even in terms of finances, I struggled in the initial days. I had to compromise on my daughters’ needs. I had to decide what was important – school fees or food. These tough decisions helped me get stronger,” says Jasbeer.
However, she did a decent job at hiding her troubles, says Pradeep, “We complained how other parents came to pick their children. She never dismissed us and would assure us that the next day she would try.”
Being a single parent, she ensured there was an open communication channel with the triplets. She informed them about her divorce, including the abortion episode when they got older. Jasbeer always takes them in confidence and teaches them things in an age-appropriate manner.
Jasbeer’s life has been nothing short of a movie. So what kept her going despite all the adversities?
“Main ek kisan ki beti hoon (I am a farmer’s daughter) so being internally strong comes naturally. We toil hard under the sun to provide food to people. If a farmer’s family can fight storms and droughts, we can do it. We believe in ourselves and stay firm always,” she concludes.
Today, Jasbeer is content with her life and lives happily in 36 BB along with Mandeep. Sandeep and Pradeep have moved to Amritsar and Chandigarh respectively for their jobs.
Although on the cusp of retirement, Jasbeer hopes to serve as a nurse for as long as she can, even if it means working independently.
Edited by Vinayak Hegde