Support Group Diaries: Namita gets a haircut

Namita (20 years) and her family lived in serious conflict. She was often beaten, sometimes denied food or entry to the house. Her mother Mahua has always been disturbed by Namita's need to dress and behave in a masculine way. Mahua would speak badly about her daughter, make negative comments about her body, compare her with her niece, and would ask why she could not behave like a 'proper girl'. Namita has always been very tense about this. Last year her parents wanted to send her to Assam, against her will, to work at a beauty parlour. During that time, she received emotional support from the YRC on how to overcome this situation.

Namita fought against that pressure the best she could, and enrolled herself to be trained as a professional driver (through the YRC partnership with Azad 'Women On Wheels' programme). Her parents quickly stopped that, and gave her an ultimatum; if she continued, she could not stay in the house. Namita felt her family had no love for her.

Things started changing from the 8th of March, 2019. That was the first day of the parent-programme at the YRC: the Women’s Day Parent-Child Interconnectedness Workshop.

Namita and her mother both had eye-opening experiences that day. Each started thinking more about  other’s perspectives, and Mahua attended every parent-workshops since. There were noticeable changes in the mother-daughter relationship over the next five months.

Mahua became relaxed and positive about Namita’s identity and personality. During the workshops, Mahua shared that as a mother, she faced enormous pressures from the society. The neighbours would often complain, 'Can’t you tell her to dress properly?' or 'Why does she wear jeans and hang around?'. That tension would convert into anger towards her daughter, and in those moments she felt beating her was the right remedy.
A few sessions into the parent-programme, Mahua declared that she would no longer listen to anybody else’s opinions, and instead focus on knowing and understanding her daughter.
'I used to get affected by what others said, but now I see it as completely unimportant; my daughter, her feelings and our relationship is the only thing that counts' she said.

Mahua started taking pride in the fact that her daughter felt comfortable sharing many things about her personal life. 'If my husband and I don’t behave as her friend, there will be misunderstandings and anger. I realise that my harsh behaviour will have lasting and negative impact on Namita'

Namita arrived at the cluster-meet with short, boyish hair one day. Did she get into trouble at home for the haircut? To everyones surprise and delight, she replied very casually, 'No, I asked Ma if I can cut my hair, and she said, sure, go ahead'. Upon being asked more about her relationship with her mother, she said it was really good, that she shares the smallest of things with her mother and has stopped hiding things from her.

A month later, Namita was beaten up at the neighbourhood park by some neighbours. They had a problem with her boyish dress and manners. Namita’s mother and grandmother both rushed out to support her.

While the YRC has to now work on sensitising the community, it was an important step of solidarity for Mahua to stand by her daughter publicly.
Extracted from YRC report to the Case Management Team, April - September 2019.
Names have been changed where appropriate