Trigger warning: self-harm, domestic violence
Leaving behind two daughters, one of whom was a newborn, was probably the most difficult decision Runjun Begum from Rangia, Assam, had to take.
On a cold winter night, she weighed her options — she could either continue enduring physical abuse from her husband and in-laws or board a bus to Guwahati and end her life. She was five months pregnant when she chose the latter and ran away leaving behind her kids.
She had come to the city to end her trauma and she did.
Today, she successfully runs her tailoring business, owns a house where she lives with her 8-year-old son and is now empowering 10 other women by training them to stitch for free.
The 31-year-old was recently felicitated by the Assam Social Welfare Minister, Ajanta Neog in a conference held against domestic violence.
“I still can’t believe that I was felicitated, my father was very proud of me,” Runjun tells The Better India.
She adds, “My in-laws tortured me to an extent that I had to either give up my life or protect myself. I was 21 when I left and I had no courage to do so. However, over the years with help from people I have developed the strength to protect myself and my son.”
Leaving Behind A Life of Pain
On the night she left the house, Runjun was glad to realise that it would be the last time she would have to endure pain and suffering. Winter nights, especially, were a nightmare for her.
Runjun’s in-laws started locking her outside the house as a punishment for giving birth to a girl child who was “dark-skinned”.
The torture only worsened after she gave birth to another girl. In 2012, when she was pregnant for the third time, her in-laws forced her to abort the baby as “the family did not want a third girl child”.
“I was only 16 when I got married in 2007. I wanted to study but like every other girl in my community, marriage had to be my first goal,” she says.
Speaking of her traumatic past, she says, “Before I could process it, the taunts turned into beatings. They cursed my daughters that they had no future, blamed my father for not giving dowry and hit me for depriving them of a male heir. This became a daily affair and when I could not take it anymore, I left.”
With just Rs 30 for bus fare, she travelled to Guwahati. Throughout the journey, she was sobbing. A stranger took notice and offered to help her. He took her home and helped file a case of domestic violence against her husband and in-laws in the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
Here, she met advocates Pabitra Hazarika and Alen Mahanta who helped her with the case and also connected her with Nirmal Ashray, an NGO working towards the welfare of women.
Runjun’s suicidal thoughts went away only after she met other rescued women who had gone through similar or worse situations at the Ahsray.
“For the first time, I felt like I was not alone. I stopped cursing my destiny and seeing other women fight for their rights and rebuild their lives gave me the courage to fight my own battle. I stayed here for five months and learnt tailoring while I was nine months pregnant. The Ashray team helped me a lot during and post the delivery,” she adds.
She started working as an assistant in a tailoring shop before starting her own shop. The days were hard because her daily earnings were only Rs 20. From wearing used clothes to eating leftover food, she saved every penny and worked hard till her income increased to Rs 200.
After saving enough, she took a small loan and opened her shop with one sewing machine in the Jalukbari area in 2014.
Amidst all this, she would attend court sessions and three years later she would withdraw the case for her peace of mind. But in 2015, she was granted a divorce.
“I was too busy to deal with this sh*t. I realised my life is sorted and I did not want to do anything with the man who left me to die. I was working day and night to expand my business while taking care of my son. Soon I saved more and purchased my own house,” she says.
Besides stitching clothes, Runjun also stitches masks, cushion covers, curtains, blankets and so on. She has also ventured into selling fabrics. Her monthly revenue ranges anywhere between Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh.
Asked why she did not go to her parents’ house despite having full support from them, she says, “I did not want to be dependent on others anymore or be a burden of any kind. I saw how girls and women were treated. I wanted to make my own identity. Coincidentally, I had told my husband during one of the court meetings that someday someone would tell my story and he laughed. Guess, the joke is on him,” she adds.
Edited by Yoshita Rao