Determined activism in districts of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand has helped reduce cases of violence against women there
At a time when incidents of violence against women make headlines almost every other day, parallel efforts to reduce such violence and rehabilitate the victims are yielding positive results at several places.
In Ajmer and Jaipur districts of Rajasthan (with a heavy concentration in the Kishangarh block), about 68 women's groups have been active for many years on many-sided issues relating to women's welfare and justice. These have a membership of about 5,000. These groups are closely related to the Barefoot College, but function independently without any financial support. Apart from regular monthly meetings, the women meet at several training programmes and workshops.
The groups started opposing cases of atrocities against women, including rapes, whenever such cases came to their notice. As a result of the opposition and follow-up action initiated, the incidence of such cases has been significantly reduced in this region. Cases of domestic violence, too, have come down.
Some of the members of these groups have shown exceptional courage in dealing with cases of violence against women. Rukma Maa, a Dalit woman aged around 65 years from Pingun village located in Dudu block of Jaipur district, has been involved in mobilising women for social change. When Rukma received information about a rape which took place in Dhaulpuriya village, she prevailed upon a villager to take her there on a motorcycle and was able to reach the village, breaking the cordon thrown around the village paths by the culprits to stop outsiders. When the culprits or those allied to them wanted to know her identity, she said, “I am your mother.”
Bhanwari, 60, has been involved in mobilisation of rural women for nearly 30 years. Her biggest challenge came when she stood up to challenge those powerful persons in a village who had raped a minor girl or were shielding the guilty person. Bhanwari fought a very difficult battle in the face of threat to her life. In another incident of kidnapping of a girl, Bhanwari and other women broke open the doors of the room where the culprit was suspected to be hiding. As a result, the girl could be recovered in time.
In Manikpur block of Uttar Pradesh’s Chitrakut district, till about three decades back, a system of bonded labour flourished. One of the less obvious manifestations of this system was that many powerful persons of the area forced several women from the weakest sections to become their mistresses.
An organisation called the ABSSS encouraged and helped the women to lodge complaints against their exploitation. The efforts culminated in a public hearing involving the National Commission for Women in which many of the women gave their testimonies. Subsequently, the local administration came under pressure to take action against the accused.
In Saharanpur (Uttar Pradesh) and Dehra Dun (Uttarakhand) districts, the efforts of Disha — a voluntary organisation — have brought relief to many victims of violence. Overcoming several difficulties in its initial days, Disha's women activists established good contacts in colleges and high schools and several male students started extending their support and cooperation.
Women's and teenagers' (kishori) groups were formed in 39 villages and several ‘change-makers’ were identified. Within three years, Disha's campaign against gender-based violence had gathered so much support that when they organised a meeting, about 5,000 women spent their own money to travel from their villages to attend it. Disha's mahila adalats also proved successful in settling several difficult cases.