We often hear and talk about the bravery of soldiers, salute them for their unconditional devotion towards the nation. The sacrifices made by their families, relocating with them every other year to unknown places or those staying away from their loved ones, touch hearts. Whenever we meet the “Fauji” or their families, our eyes glitter with pride.
This is the story of one such family. But unfortunately, instead of pride, they witnessed suspicion and doubts from onlookers. In her eyes I saw the pain, the dejection of the world. Her voice still echoes somewhere inside me.
“Among hues of saffron, white and green I stood with head held high, saluting our national flag. It was yet another peaceful year of Independence and along with other sisters - whose husbands serve the armed forces - I recited the national anthem with pride. I tried conversing with them over tea, but like every year, my attempt was unsuccessful. I was sure that draping a tricolor saree will help but I was wrong. My burqa had become my shadow.”
Sunita was in tears as she narrated this incident to me.
As a psychologist I have dealt with many cases of discrimination. This was first of its kind. With her husband serving the nation, it was hard to accept that she was - as they labeled - “anti-national”! I had interacted with these women who avoided her at social gatherings or didn’t extend a helping hand or shoulder to support in hours of need - they all seemed caring and humble. Was I wrong, or was it some brainwashed perception that changed their attitude…? I don’t know!
When I inquired about it, one of these women said, “If I leave my child with her when I go out and he learns about Jihad, who will be responsible?” Another lady quipped, “What if he hits his father tomorrow, or shouts anti-national slogans?” Like all other prejudices, this one also arose from lack of knowledge.
I felt aghast at the words they uttered with such casualty. “Her husband is in the Indian Defense Force serving the nation since the last 25 years. Don’t a man’s deeds speak volumes?” I asked, feeling miserable. The lady said, “In Ramayana, Ram, despite having good values, abandoned Sita. We are influenced by unexpected things around us. I won’t take that chance.”
This wasn’t about a religion, nor a community. It was more about fear and distrust, arising from narrow minded prejudice and lack of education. It was the tendency to find an easy route, to forcefully identify a villain and thrust all your frustrations. Instead of strengthening themselves with collective efforts and uniting to fight over a cause they were scared about, they embraced a false life, a false dignity and a false security. Truth of a religion can still be taught, but not if some discriminatory or derogatory comments were all they needed to feel safe and protected. How deep was this hatred rooted in a neural system, that they could easily justify it at every step? I didn’t have an answer to this.
“I would have stayed at my village but our economic condition doesn’t allow the expenditure of two people there.” Cried Sunita.
I taught her some communication skills so she could engage better with others outside the defense colony. But the problem wasn’t with her; she didn’t need any skill enhancement. When the people she believed to be her sisters didn’t respect her, how could I say that those outside will? Only comfort I could provide was, she believed I could cure a non-existent disorder and I let her believe that we were progressing towards perfection.
Eventually I got transferred. And so did Sunita’s husband. We lost touch.
On some isolated evenings I still think of her. Not sure where is she now; or how she is keeping. Did she find friends at some other location? Is she happy? Strange thoughts hover in my mind. I am tempted to hope that Sunita is living a healthy life.
In my long career as a counselor and clinical psychologist, I have met many Sunita’s. Some are called Jihadi’s. Some are called Terrorists. Some are called Witches. Some are called “inauspicious” – Evil born in disguise of a woman. And some are simply “unlucky”. All of them live their lives in a lonely corner, fighting for their rights or succumbing under pressures. A miniscule of this population are fortunate enough to sit inside my chamber and speak their heart out, seeking help. And each time I have to counsel them, when it is the society around that really needs “help”.
Will there ever be an Independence, which will liberate human beings from mental blocks and social barriers? Will there be a day when our hearts and souls would be free from man-made distinctions?
Once again, I don’t have an answer to this.
Author : Dr. Nilakshi Vaidya
Nilakshi Vaidya is a Mental Health Professional with expertise on the identification and management of mental illnesses. She is a Clinical Psychologist, with experience as a counsellor for the armed forces. She is a certified practitioner of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, skilled at motivating, communicating and advocating for clients suffering from mental health and emotional disorders. With an M.Sc. in Clinical Psychology, Nilakshi has worked in various organizations including Abhaya Hospital, Indian Air Force, Indira Gandhi Medical Hospital, KIDWAI, Institute of Personality Assessment and Child line. She has created and implemented workshops on various topics of mental health like negotiation skills, self-awareness, self-grooming, stress management, body language and parental management of special children. She has also prepared and presented multiple research papers in various National and International conferences.