By Jyoti Patil:
Damuben walked into the women’s support cell at Rapar police station, exuding positivity. Stating animatedly the philosophy of her life, “lodge main khane ka, hauz main nahane ka aur mauj main rehene ka” (eat in a restaurant, bathe in a pool and have fun), she brought a smile on all the faces present at the support cell. Damuben (35 years) has a unique body language; that of an empowered, successful and independent woman.
She laughs unabashedly and talks assertively. “For years I suffered”, she says, “My husband and in-laws would beat me mercilessly. I was hospitalized. I had two children to support and my parents were poor. They would ask me to forgo the custody of my children and remarry. How could I leave my children? It seemed as if all roads led to darkness. I would think of committing suicide, but for my children I lived on. It was my friend who told me about the Nari Sahayak Kendra (Women’s Support Cell) at Rapar. Here they helped me through the legal processes and I found a direction. When I had first come to this support cell I was thin like a stick, tense and depressed. Now I am economically independent and lead my life on my terms. Both my children study in a good school. I have a property worth Rs. five lakh. My parents are proud of me. I was capable; all I needed was a little support and guidance, and I got it here.”
In Gujarat, more than one in every three married women (34%) has experienced some form of violence. One third of these women sustained injuries on account of the violence. Only 30% of the women who faced violence have sought help to end it, and the rest neither sought help nor told anyone about the violence. This means that prevalence of violence against women in the state is much higher than reported.
Generally an abused woman wants the abuse in her life to end and return to a home free of violence. However, this usually does not happen, as the harassment does not end. When she decides to walk out of the relationship, the concern at the top of her mind is to get custody of her children and maintenance. Rarely does an abused woman consider prosecution of the perpetrator of domestic violence. A woman, at such junctures, is so vulnerable that she lacks self-esteem and loses confidence in herself.
Oxfam India believes in empowering such women and supporting them, while advocating for better implementation of laws to protect them from violence. Our work in Gujarat is based on the premise that given the right kind of support, women not only report violence against them, but also follow through with rebuilding their lives. It is with this aim that Oxfam India along with its partner CSOs has created structures of multi-pronged support, to provide legal services and emotional support to women in distress. We strive to create an environment where the victims of violence can feel confident to seek justice and be supported in their efforts.