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TitleWomen and marital breakdown in south india. Reconstructing homes, bonds and persons.
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Siru Aura



Reconstructing Homes, Bonds and Persons

Academic Dissertation to be publicly discussed, by due permission
of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Helsinki,

in Auditorium XIV on the 6th of June, 2008, at 12.

Page 174


postponing the marriage. Thus, they were more worried about whether
Felix was going to marry or leave her than about his motivations. Ac-
cording to Sheela, the marriage finally took place because Felix desper-
ately wanted money for his plan to emigrate to the Gulf to earn well.
After the wedding he started an endless request for money which he re-
inforced with beatings and loud rows, despite Sheela’s early pregnancy.
One month later Sheela’s father died of a heart attack. Sheela’s brother
came from United States to settle everything and decided to give up the
rented flat where Sheela and Felix had also lived together with Shee-
la’s parents. Sheela’s mother left with the brother to United States where
Sheela’s other brother and sister had also settled down. The father had no
savings nor property to be left to Sheela and so she had only Felix to lean
on. However, Felix fought with Sheela’s brother and Sheela, and then he
left for the Gulf without her. Sheela lived at first with her friend and then
moved to her father’s younger brother’s house in Kerala for the delivery
of the child. She recalled:

My daddy had died. I had no house. I did not know where I was going to
live. I came from different kind of background, now I was going to live in
Kerala. I had never even stayed there before. People are conservative and
orthodox. I could not go out anywhere. I was just in the house.

Later Felix returned to Bombay, and Sheela and her daughter lived with
him in a small flat for a year and a half. All the time they fought over
money. Felix wanted money from Sheela’s relatives and Sheela was upset
about their living conditions – no air conditioning, no car nor many
other things she had got used to at her parents’ house. Felix tried dif-
ferent jobs and businesses but nothing worked out successfully. Thus,
Sheela sold her jewellery, one by one, to provide for her and her daugh-
ter’s livelihood.

Meanwhile Sheela got a telegram from her eldest brother in United
States: he would take Sheela and her daughter there as immigrants, but
only if Sheela divorced Felix. At that point of time, Sheela was not �men-
tally prepared� for divorce because of �the stigma attached to divorce,� but
as the situation did not improve and the husband continued to ignore
both Sheela and her daughter, she began the divorce process a few years
later. �In my case there was no love or affection. There was no binding. He
was doing nothing for my daughter,� Sheela explained. Sheela moved to

Page 175


Bangalore to live with her mother, who had since returned from United
States. Through lawyers Sheela found out that if she wanted to file her
divorce case in Bangalore, she had to have lived there with her husband
at least for one month. Sheela thus, invited Felix to Bangalore and they
lived there together whilst again constantly fighting for one month, which
gave “the jurisdiction to file the case in Bangalore” as Sheela explained.
When Sheela filed her first petition for judicial separation in 1982, Felix
went crazy. “He started telling me that he would murder me even if it means
that he would go to jail, because he did not want a divorce”, Sheela said. As
Felix threatened to capture their then six-year old daughter, Sheela put
her into a boarding school far from Bangalore “until the case was over and
we would move to United States” and visited her once a month. According
to Sheela, her daughter was “not happy there because she was very small
and very attached to me… She was angry at him (ex-husband) and angry
at me because she had to go to boarding school but she could not express the
anger towards me because she was very dependent on me.” For the daughter’s
longer holidays in Bangalore, Sheela provided police protection against
the husband who “used to come and trouble us.”

For more than a year, Sheela did not come to court in person as she
followed her lawyer’s advice and let him take care of the whole process.
However, the case hardly proceeded. Later Sheela found out that her own
lawyer had kept asking for “more time” without Sheela’s knowledge and
permission. Her lawyer was Felix’s lawyer’s friend who had followed the
friend’s wishes. Since then, whenever the case came up, Sheela was also in
court in person. She described the process as follows,

First of all, you are already living through a trauma. � At that time there
were no Family Courts. My case used to come once in a week in Mayo
Hall and we used to sit with criminals in court... �ey [the personnel of
the court] were not dealing with the case as they really ought to have.
�ey showed no real interest. �eir [those who are divorcing] emotions
and feelings; that aspect was totally ignored. It is. You are there, and you are
looked down upon. .... Some of the proceedings are in open court. �ere
will be some other lawyers. �ere everybody stares at you and glares at you.
Even the peon [a messenger/attendant in court] starts nicknaming you.
It is not done in a correct manner. Judges don�t have any sympathy. �ey
look down upon people who are going through a divorce and they always

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