April 30, 2011

INDIA: The Extraordinary Story of Jyotsna Bewa

CAMBRIDGE, Maryland / TwoCircles.net / Indian Muslim / Women / April 30, 2011

Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Women

Meet Jyotsna Bewa of West Garo Hills, Meghalaya

By Anjuman Ara Begum, TwoCircles.net

Jyotsna Bewa, 48 years old, was the principal care-taker of the Dargah Sharif of Hazrat Shah Kamal Baba, popularly known as Pirsthan situated in Mahendraganj, West Garo Hills, Meghalaya.

She became the only female de-facto care-taker of the Pirsthan in 1998 and continued in the post till 2005, when the management of the Pirsthan was handed over to the Waqf Board of Meghalaya.

She challenged this and as a result a civil suit is pending for disposal in the Supreme Court of India [Appeal No. Review Petition No 13 (SH) of 2008 in writ appeal no. 34(SH) of 2008].
Please tell us about your family.I was born in Mahendraganj. My father was late Babar Ali Sheikh and mother late Azifan Begum. I have two children. My son Ali Khandakar is 17 years old and my daughter TahminaKhandakar is 18 years old. My husband Lutfar Rehman Khandakar expired 13 years ago.

At what age did you get married?
My first marriage was at the age of 11. At that time I didn’t understand what marriage was. I used to spend most of my time playing with toys and then one day I got married. I was shocked as I had to migrate to another house, the house of my husband. I wore saree for the first time on the day of marriage. My husband was tall and healthy and I screamed of fear when I saw him for the first time. It was also very shocking for me to see a man in close proximity. I used to cry all the day. So my parents brought me back and kept me for a few days riding in a cart. I hardly knew my responsibilities in my in-laws’ house. Finally my in-laws realized that they made a mistake and after six months they rushed me back to my parents’ house. I liked coming back home.

When was your second marriage?
I got married again after 5 years at the age of 17 and this time the man I married was 75 years old. And after three years I gave birth to a son, Murad Ali Khandakar. The marriage was fixed by a match maker. My brother extracted information about him and found that he already had three wives. Both my mother and brother objected to this proposal but the match maker could persuade my father somehow and he promised to give my hand to him. Due to objections from my brothers, my father arranged the marriage in a neighbour’s house. I didn’t give my consent on the marriage ceremony. Then a relative put a big knife on my neck, and I gave my consent and married him.

Why did a man of 75 years want to marry you?He wanted a son as none of his three wives could give birth to a son.

How was your new life after getting married to a man as old as that?I was the youngest of the four wives of my husband. My step-daughters were older to me. Somehow I managed to be a member of the family with sweetness and bitterness. I accepted everything as a woman belongs to one who holds her. Everyone was happy when I gave birth to a son after three years. My son was the first male child in the family. But happiness didn’t last long. My son died at the age of 7 due to a sudden fever. I was very sad. But then I gave birth to a daughter and a son in the next two consecutive years. When my son was two and half years old, I became a widow at the age of about 34 years. My husband died of old age as he was 103 years. It was in 1998.

Jyotsna Bewa

How did you become the care-taker of the Pirsthan?My husband was the principal care-taker of the Pirsthan and the main income source for the family. When he died, myself, on behalf of my young son, became the care-taker of the Pirsthan. People criticized and opposed me as care-taker as I was a woman. I argued that I was just representing my son. I was not the real care-taker. By that time the Pirsthan was also declared to be under the Waqf Board. I filed a case in the lower court and then appealed to the High Court. The suit lasted for 5 years. Then the case went to the Supreme Court. The verdict in the High Court was in my favour. As a widow and being completely illiterate, I was totally at a loss. My advocate Debasish Nandi from Tura encouraged and helped me a lot. It was a big fight for me to go out of the house and deal with a court case like this. I sold my ornaments and got some money as compensation for border fencing and transfer of Jatadari lands.

How do you sustain yourself in the absence of the main earning member of the family?I am a widow and I face lots of problems. I have two bighas of agricultural land that gives me rice for the year. I work as a local healer and provide tabeez to the people and earn a meagre amount that can be called livelihood. All my savings have been spent on the litigation and I have some loan as well. Both my children are in school and I have to bear the expenses for their education. Life is very hard.

What keeps your life going?Hope. I am hopeful that I will overcome the struggles in life and good days will knock my door soon. I feel that girls should not get married so early like me. They should get education first, then a secured livelihood and only then should come marriage.

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