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Research Shows How Testimony Therapy Helped These 24 Survivors Of Domestic Violence

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By Lenin Raghuvanshi and Shirin Shabana Khan:

Domestic violence is a pervasive social issue characterized by the perpetration of physical, sexual, and/or psychological harm by a current or former intimate partner. The NCRB report reveals that in 2015, cruelty by husbands and relatives accounted for 34% of cases. This figure has risen 6% over the last four years, from 1,06,527 cases, in 2012, to 1,13,403, in 2015. As per the state and union territory-wise data, Uttar Pradesh has seen the highest number of women rights violation cases so far, in this financial year at 6,110

These cases are not only related to the dowry or physical and mental violence, but many cases are of sexual abuse, branding the daughter-in-law as a witch and violence for giving birth to a female child. We found that one of the main causes of why domestic violence prevails and continues, is the lack of alternatives among the victims due to patriarchy.

Due to this, women and children are economically dependent on their abusers. In almost all cases, they generally feel that it is better to suffer in silence than to be separated from their loved ones. They keep hoping for improvement, but it is usually observed that, without help, violence gets worse.

The effect of domestic violence is not only physical, psychological or emotional but also impacts upon physical, social, interpersonal and financial domains. The survivors are compelled to live a poor quality of life, and they have to become dependent on their mayeke (parental home) financially.

They also have less social interaction due to the social shame of their poor relationship, due to which, they develop many psychological symptoms such as anxiety, the fear of going out, lack of self-esteem, confidence, isolation, lack of confidence and self-blame. “I feel so bad that I do not want to go to any place. I never feel like attending a marriage or any other function. I feel like repenting in the corner of the house, as I fear what will happen to my four-year-old daughter and me,” says 23-year-old Jyoti.

The survivors don’t disclose the abuse or seek social support, because they may feel stigmatised if others find out about it. They may see violence in the home, as a private matter or they may fear retaliation from their partners if they disclosed them. Even if abused women seek social support, they may not receive the support they need, because potential support providers may indulge in victim-blaming, or feel uncomfortable in discussing this sensitive topic.

This pilot study included 24 Indian survivors of domestic violence. The participants were selected for testimonial therapy by community workers or human rights activists during their work in the villages, or among those who had actively sought legal advice from the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR).

To be selected, the participants indicated symptoms of trauma, such as the inability to provide a coherent story. The study includes only those survivors who also participated in the follow-up sessions. PVCHR had provided psychosocial support to 236 survivors of domestic violence. They received two to three cases of the domestic violence in their office everyday.

Testimonial therapy is a short psychological approach to trauma that utilises the testimony method. The testimony involves truth-telling and sharing the emotional pain of the survivors, as the truth is an important aspect of the process of justice. The testimony is viewed within the broad framework of social construction and provides valid information of human rights violations, without humiliating the witness. More often than not, it resulted in the survivors overcoming of depressive symptoms and cope with a difficult situation. Survivors rediscover self-worth and dignity. They regain self-esteem through the recording of their stories in a human rights context, as such, private pain is reframed with a political meaning.

In the Indian context, it has acquired the psycho-legal form that emphasizes denunciation of human rights violation and initiates advocacy for justice. It has three elements:

1. Private: Psychological rehabilitation of the survivor leads to a certain degree of restoration of the physical and mental state. This opens the possibility of their participation in a community movement and ultimately becoming a human rights defender.

2. Legal: The testimonies provide a lot of subjective information about the plight of the survivors, which help the court to take the information into account when the bail application of the accused is considered. Human sufferings are never recorded in the court proceedings. However, these references of human sufferings often go in favour of the survivors in front of the well-prepared defendants.

3. Political: Within testimonial therapy, public ceremonies are organised to honour the survivors of torture. These ceremonies provide an opportunity to bring back the survivor to the same community/society that has isolated them. The testimonies are read out in the presence of the villagers, guests, local politicians, elected representatives, and the local media, creating debate and discussion at the local level because it contains human sufferings, institutional malpractices, and failure of constitutional guarantees. Testimonies can be used as urgent appeals and for advocacy work.

The ceremonies honouring the survivors after the process of testimonial therapy was such an empowering and endearing moment and a milestone in the lives of the survivors. It was a real recognition of the integrity of the survivors as human beings, and reaffirmed to them, that they possess value in every community and society, and they have right to be honoured in their community.

The society provides acknowledgement and understanding of the survivors’ suffering and the necessity for healing and reparation. Events such as “The Kajari Mahotsav” were a celebration of their breaking the silence, and moving towards achieving empowerment. It was able to facilitate the elimination of the casteism, as both the upper and lower caste can participate together in said festival. With the Right to Information also being discussed in their school, the leaders are utilising it well for their purposes. During the festival of Kajari Mahotsav, Dalit women have provided solidarity to the upper caste women, who were facing domestic violence.


The following measures were used for the pre- to post-intervention outcome comparisons:

1. The World Health Organization’s Five Well-Being Index (WHO-5): WHO-5 consists of five self-report items, which measure emotional well-being, including mood and general interest in daily life activities.

2. The Participation Scale: The P-scale measures restrictions on social participation due to social stigma and physical disability.

3. Pain And Anger Analogues: The Pain Analogue measures persistent physical pain in the body or head caused by the traumatic event. Similarly, the Anger Analogue measures the intensity of emotional anger about the torture experience. Survivors are asked to rate the level of their pain and anger respectively on a 6 point Likert Scale from 0 to 5, where 5 is the highest intensity of pain/ anger.

The Pain and Anger analogues were developed by PVCHR to indicate the emotional state of mind of the survivor. They are iterations of the “Numeric Rating Scale for Pain”, which has commonly been used in various iterations for people with chronic pain.

At the end of the second session, an assessment of the trauma was undertaken, registering type of injuries, violations, psychological symptoms and the identity of the perpetrators, as well as other interventions that had been received in addition to TT, e.g. medical treatment or legal redress. The psychological symptoms that were registered during the trauma assessment were: Nightmares, flashback memories, fear of going out, self-isolation, panic attacks, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts and sleeping problems.

Furthermore, survivors were asked whether they were members of, or worked for a political party, or a human rights organization and if they believed in human rights. These questions were posed to investigate whether the intervention had helped the survivor gain a sense of justice and personal dignity and confidence, acknowledging the principle of human rights, and feeling empowered to help others.

Qualitative And Quantitative Results


The survivors faced apathy from various concerned authorities and the police due to their patriarchal understanding. Their attitudes towards such crimes are that they are a ‘private matter’. This is appalling as the police are empowered to make an arrest, without a warrant for criminal offences involving domestic violence. PVCHR provided legal remedies under The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005 and psychosocial support through testimonial therapy. Due to being in a continuously violent relationship, the survivors faced many psychological effects such as isolation, anxiety and low self-esteem. Due to these, survivors seek for a faster remedy or look for immediate settlement in the matter and punishment for the accused.

The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act of 2005 was enacted to augment women’s immediate protection from violence through emergency relief, including access to temporary protection orders and domestic violence shelters. But due to the poor implementation of the law, women facing imminent and life-threatening violence remain almost solely reliant on police aid.

In most cases, the lengthy justice process and no economic and social protection to survivors, result in extra-legal compromises involving a few people from both sides as witness. Poor and hapless women who don’t have money to travel to the district office to file a complaint or follow up on the case, often suffer. Even in the District Probation office, they have to pay to ₹10 each time, to get the new dates, even during the time of mediation of both parties. Survivors are again sent to their husband house to test that the relationship in the cooling off period.

It is a model of psychosocial support that covers the three significant pillars of work, that of healing and rPVCHRehabilitation, achieving and having access to justice and prevention, so that the practice and phenomenon of domestic violence are eliminated.

Shabnam, a participant, with tears of happiness said, “After the wedding, my world changed. I didn’t know that I had to see this day, but now I am self – reliant. I have my own dreams, and I will give proper upbringing to both my sons.” Her dream is to become a nurse and serve the people. PVCHR is making the survivors of domestic violence economically empowered and self-reliant through helping them to get jobs and higher education.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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