Punam Rai- Dowry Victim Helps 3000 Girls Learn Self-Defence

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Punam Rai

India has by far the highest rate of dowry deaths in the world. In 2012, 8,233 dowry death cases were reported across India. This directly translates that every 90 minutes 1 bride is killed in the name of dowry.

Women throughout the globe have been suppressed for ages. With time the conditions of women have changed but this fact is only partially true for a country like India. In India women are still considered below men despite challenging them in almost every field, women are still taken down. Practices like honor killing, dowry, genital mutilation, rape, domestic violence, and child marriages are still a symbol of the ill condition of women in the nation.

The fate of rural women is especially ruined when they are married to a family that demands dowry. Every year thousands of brides are killed or die by suicide due to harassment over dowries. Such was the fate of Punam Rai, a woman from Varanasi who was left paralyzed by her in-laws. Yet, her sheer dedication turned the tables and today made her an inspiration for 3000 girls and women.

Punam Rai’s life from heartbreak to inspiration

Punam Rai was born in Vaishali district in Bihar and later moved to Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh in 1983, when her engineer-father Bindeshwar Rai was posted there. She grew up with her two brothers and never in her life experienced discrimination based on gender. She graduated in painting at Banaras Hindu University and a year later was married in 1995.

Punam Rai

It was an arranged marriage and the groom was said to be a budding engineer. However, within a week of her marriage, Punam found that he barely passed the 12th standard. At the time of their marriage, her in-laws have said that the groom studied at Manipal University due to which they demanded dowry. Her father agreed and gave everything including Fridge, washing machine, and television. The dowry included two trucks worth of gifts.

But despite such ravishing dowry, Punam was still mistreated by her husband and in-laws. She was harassed mentally and physically every day and within a month, she left her home. But when the in-laws found that Punam was pregnant, they begged her to come back. Punam came back as they promised not to mistreat her ever again. Though there was a slight improvement in their behavior, things changed when Punam gave birth to a girl child.

For the next two months, she was brutally harassed by her in-laws over giving birth to a baby girl. One day, after putting her baby to sleep, Punam engaged in an argument with her husband due to which her in-laws pushed her from the third floor of the building. When Punam regained her consciousness months later, the tragedy struck- she found out that her entire body was paralyzed. The fall had damaged her spinal cord and the doctors gave up on her declaring that she couldn’t walk again her entire life.

Her husband said that it would be better if she had died already so that he can marry again. She had fractures all over her body and was even put on life support. Punam’s entire life was falling apart in front of her eyes and why not, she was just 22 years old at that time. For the next 17 years, she was bedridden.

A Ray of Hope

Punam Rai

But as it is said, where there is a will, there is a way. With her family’s support and tedious physiotherapy sessions, Punam’s upper body started recovering. She considered this as her second chance at life and did everything to take back control over her life. Her determination to make her father proud finally helped her stand on artificial support in 2014. This reactivation however happened after Punam’s father’s death and she started the BR Foundation in his memory in Varanasi. She stepped back into the world of colors and started teaching for free and participated in various exhibitions as well.

In 2016, Punam started her training in self-defense and also engaged in teaching others through the help of the NGO. After learning self-defense, she also learned taekwondo. With her collaboration with the Varanasi Taekwondo Association, she supports girls and women who could not pay for the training. Her NGO has so far trained over 3,000 students and many of them participated in National and international level tournaments. She helped national players like Satya Vardhan Singh and Saurabh Singh.

Along with Taekwondo, in 2017, Punam started working on her first major painting. She painted regularly for 17 days and created 648 faces depicting the story of a girl child from birth to death. Punam named it ‘Phases of Faces’. The painting was huge and she gifted it to PM Modi in 2019. Prime Minister appreciated her gesture and conveyed his best wishes through a letter.

Her daughter Priya is today 24 years old and is pursuing Bachelors’s in Business Administration. Just like her mother, Priya is also an exceptional painter and taekwondo expert. Punam Rai says that though her spine might be broken, her spirit is very much intact, and that’s the courage that keeps her going.

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