I, Sameer was born into a respectable family in Pratappur, grew up with enough resources at my disposal, and was engaged to Panna, a lovely young woman. Nothing could dampen my spirit, not even my often-overbearing mother. That was until the day when Panna was molested during the wee hours of the morning. First the norms and lack of resources pushed her into defecating in an open field far away from her home. Then the men who had no care for consent violated her and left her to die. Fortunately enough, she survived. When my mother found out that Panna had been wronged, she set her mind on breaking our engagement, saying she would bring dishonor to the family, the villagers would laugh at us, we would become outcasts who did not care for dignity. A woman wronged suddenly became the wrong woman for me. If that wasn’t enough, my mother refused to return the dowry that should not have been taken in the first place.

We grow up upholding certain ideas so high that we safeguard them behind walls where no questions are allowed – a space that remains hidden to the naked eye. Some of these notions are proven truths, and some are just that; notions. Suffering is universal, money cannot buy happiness, those who have lived longer know better, your parents know better than you do; so on and so forth.

But what when you find that one point of flaw? When that one thought strikes and shakes your belief in something you were told to never raise eyebrows over? You are labelled a rebel, an embarrassment.

Call me what you may, but my one true belief is that everyone and everything is subject to questioning. The system, society, traditions; even the woman who brought me into this world. She is human and hence fallible.

I was angry and disgusted. How could the very woman who brought me up with all the love, bring so much hurt into my life and the life of the girl I loved? Why did she care about what people would think, when nothing mattered more than what Panna and I thought? How could she be blind to the fact that Panna was the victim, and the hatred ought to be directed towards the perpetrators?

Panna, with all her strength and courage clawed those monstrous men, her nails painted with their blood from the fight she put up. She showed me how to be brave. If she could show resilience, why couldn’t I? In a moment of epiphany, I decided I would let the world label me a rebel, I would ignore the gossip about how I chose a girl over my mother, but I would not let this girl suffer for no fault of her own. My love was not so timid that a few judgmental glances could scare it away. It would stand tall and honour its commitment. And the last thing it would be is a burden to Panna and her family.

It was this resolve that made me decide I would return the dowry, because a wife should not, rather, cannot buy her place in a husband’s heart. This woman I am to wed rose victorious from her suffering with scars and her naiveté slightly dented, but her courage intact and her mettle stronger than ever.  The world can go on gasping and passing its looks of disapproval, but Panna and I would win each other’s respect. My mother can throw taunts about how I have failed her and the family, and I will continue believing that a woman’s worth does not go down with the assaults she bears.