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The Ugly Face Of Domestic Violence In India

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IJMEditor’s Note: This post is a part of #ViolenceNoMore, a campaign by International Justice Mission and Youth Ki Awaaz to fight against daily violence faced by marginalised communities. Speak out against systemic violence by publishing a story here.

It was a Sunday morning, the weather was confusing… cold enough to wear a sweater, but hot enough to sweat. I was boarding the metro to go to church.

As I entered the ladies’ metro coach, I found a seat, much to my surprise. The metro announcement speaker sounded, “Next station is Laxmi Nagar.” A 30-something lady rushed in to the coach, with her little daughter. She sobbed uncontrollably.

I wanted her to stop crying, and asked, “Where do you want to go?” Her tears fell down on her blue t-shirt and she said, “I’ll get down at Moti Nagar and take an auto. I can’t get down at the station near my parents’ place. My husband might follow me there.”  Her daughter was hungry, and she gave her biscuits.

After a lot of prodding, she revealed how her husband beat her up that morning. 2-3 women came forward to comfort her, saying how her daughter would be affected by her. What no one understood was that the lady wanted to speak out about her problems. Seeing her crying, I tried hard to control my emotions. After a little hesitation, I told her she needs to be strong for herself. She nodded, still sobbing. A pause followed and she said, “I am a working woman. But, I never knew that I would face such a situation. I am going back to my parents’ place. I’ll never return to my husband.” Saying this, she wept again. Her daughter looked at her, understanding nothing. She held on to her doll.

For once, she stopped crying, and looked at me, saying, “This has been going on since 8 years. From the day I got married, he has beaten me, kicked me and abused me. I kept quiet all these years. After my daughter was born, I thought he’d change. But, the violence only continued. We didn’t give him the dowry amount as promised. His parents and brother force him to ask me for dowry. My husband is a good guy.”

I was stunned for a minute. Like an ‘adarsh’ wife, she found her abusive husband to be a good guy? I exclaimed, “The man who beats up his wife is never good at heart. He could’ve stood up against his family, when they demanded dowry.” She had nothing to say.

But she continued, “I’ve worked as a journalist with a magazine. I did two stories on women, one in Rae Bareilly and the other in Vrindavan. I thought I stood for women empowerment. But, today, he snatched away my mobile phone, broke the battery in to pieces, and tried to throw my daughter from the balcony. I stopped him; otherwise she would’ve been dead by now. He wasn’t letting us leave. Somehow, I ran away, taking her.” Saying this, she wept! I looked at the little girl. That innocent face made me wonder how any father could do such a thing. Aghast, I murmured, “He’s a monster.” Surprisingly, the little girl looked at me and smiled, as if she understood what I said.

The lady became paranoid and said, “I need police protection. He’ll come after us.” Some of us told her to lodge a complaint with the National Commission for Women (NCW), and that she would get adequate support. She nodded in relief. My station had arrived, I had to leave. She asked, “You’re getting down here?” I said, “Yes. I have to.”

I’ve read and heard many stories on domestic violence. I’ve read data, statistics and solutions on the same. But, for the first time in life, I came across a woman who shared with me her experience. It wasn’t a past incident for her; she was running away to safety.

I’ve always been told that a financially independent woman would never have to face domestic violence. Case studies are proving this wrong. And moreover, I met a woman who was a journalist and later joined a banking firm, and was violently abused. I am not saying that all men abuse their wives. And I also blame the in-laws for creating the entire ruckus! But, it still sends shivers down my spine, when I recount the details of her experience. Today, I am still hoping she’s fine. I am hoping that she’s found respite from her husband. I feel helpless, that I couldn’t do anything to help her out.

But, since that day, my approach towards women’s issues has changed. I am no longer getting into theoretical stuff on feminism. No, I am not saying this is unimportant. But, I’ve realised the need to sit and delve into the grass root problems surrounding discrimination against women.

So many women around us are getting hit and beaten up. What are we doing? It’s time we stop debating feminism with peers and just talk, talk, talk. It’s time we stop the blame-game. It’s time we stop misusing the word ‘feminism’ so much so that men get wary of talking to feminists, thinking they’re anti-men. It has also given rise to a term known as ‘feminazi.’

It’s time we stop debating feminism in air-conditioned rooms. Real action is needed. If one woman gets saved from her abuser by our efforts, women’s rights movements get a thrust forward. Women in urban and rural areas are victims alike.

I know my ‘lecture’ on feminism will be disliked by many. Some will criticise, some will just shrug it off. Some will understand, because they’ve got the same point of view. I don’t consider myself very knowledgeable in women’s issues, men’s issues, feminism, patriarchy, etc. I’m not even saying that I am now a champion of women’s issues. But, I’ve realised one important point – if we don’t identify with the real issues faced by many around us, this movement is not us getting anywhere.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Priyanka Parashar for Mint via Getty.
What policy reforms do you think would help eliminate instances of daily violence and improve access to justice in India? Send us your suggestions and we’ll take a manifesto to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Let’s spark the change together!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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