It has been 41 days since Saida Begum (50) began her vigil in front of Kalahandi collector’s office, seeking help to get a share of her dead husband’s property that has been denied by her in-laws for years. On Saturday, her case was taken up for hearing at Odisha State Legal Services Authority (OSLSA) — constituted by the state government in 1996 to provide free legal aid to the weaker sections of the society.
Born Kumudini Nayak to a Dalit family, the woman says her in-laws never accepted her as she had converted to Islam at the time of marriage with Abdul Habib. Saida’s parents too had disowned her as she had eloped with a Muslim man against their wishes. But this was just the beginning of her troubles. After Habib died of some illness in 1999, Saida was allegedly beaten and thrown out of her his house by her in-laws. All these years, Saida made a living selling golgappas and firewood, but five years ago when she approached her in-laws seeking a share in her husband’s ancestral property, she was allegedly abused and threatened.
“I approached them (brothers of her husband) hoping that I could use the money for my two daughters’ marriage and for opening a shop for my son. But my brothers-in-law were enraged and my nephews threatened me,” she says.
According to Ruksana, Saida’s daughter, many in the local community still saw her family as an outsider. “…More so because my cousins are powerful in Bhawanipatna Masjid Committee.
The 21-year-old, who is in the final year of a bachelors course in home science, adds: “I have to stay beside Maa because our cousins have said they will slit her throat.” Saida’s eldest daughter Ruby is 23, while her son Salman is 19.
The masjid committee, however, refused to take sides in the family feud. “What are we to do in this matter?”, says Muna Khan, president of the committee, adding that he is not aware of any threats to Saida and her children.
Recently, a local BJP leader Pradip Nayak also visited the family. Nayak, however, did not respond to interview requests.
A local member of National Alliance of Women’s Organisations Sujata told The Indian Express that it took them considerable time to convince the family to approach OSLSA’s district branch. The first hearing in the matter was held Saturday, but Saida’s in-laws did not turn up citing health problems.
“They have approached us…As per our rules, proceedings cannot be disclosed,” said Indira Priyadarshini, secretary of Kalahandi District Legal Service Authority, under OSLSA. Saida’s in-laws were not available for comment.