Websites that track atrocities against marginalised sections such as women, dalits and children are keeping authorities on their toes
Alternative media via the Internet is having a huge impact by connecting and providing up-to- date information on issues of social concern. In order to create a handy database of human rights violations and challenge repressive social norms such as the caste system and patriarchy, civil society organisations and those born out of progressive social movements have launched web sites collating atrocities against women, children and dalits.
India is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for women, says the recent Trust Law Women Poll. About 213 gender experts from five continents evaluated countries on the parameters of health, sexual violence, discrimination, cultural, trafficking, non-sexual violence and access to resources. The top three countries deemed to be most dangerous by the poll are Afghanistan, Somalia and Pakistan - affected by political and social uncertainties. The poll indicated, quoting former Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, that in India around 100 million people, largely women and girls were victims of trafficking. It also said that up to 50 million girls ‘disappeared’ either due to infanticide or female foeticide. And, about 44.5 per cent of girls below the age of 18 years were married off.
There’s a similar trajectory on the dalits as well: 27 atrocities are committed against dalits every day; 13 dalits murdered every week; five dalits’ homes or possessions burnt every week; sexual assault (rape) on three dalit women every day, according to National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
These mind-boggling statistics are being collated by a few websites and e-groups so that the issues can be addressed with more depth and detail. Peoples Media Advocacy & Research Centre (PMARC) and Violence Against Women Help (VAWH) are two such examples.
Reports concerning dalits that are carried in the media are maintained by PMARC, an initiative supported by journalists, academics and activists concerned with human rights. Started in 2007, it endeavours to create proper and adequate space for a dalit perspective in the mainstream national as well as international media on issues around the community.
“All national commissions (NHRC, NCSC, NCW) closely monitor our news updates and often make interventions,” says Arun Khote, Chief Executive of PMARC. Last year, based on PMARC news updates, NHRC issued 500 notices to different states, resulting in victims being compensated, cases registered and police taking prompt action against the accused. Secretariats of chief ministers from six states directly monitor news update of PMARC and issue directives to concerned officials, claims Mr Khote. They have also uploaded about 25 short films on the net covering various issues on dalits. PRAMC news updates are viewed by about 10,000 regular members and nearly 3 lakh people across 35 countries.
Similarly, VAWH maintains a web page that tracks news related to violence on women and children published by the news agencies. This web page is supported by Ushahidi Platform, a non-profit technical company that specialises in developing free and open source software for information collection, visualisation and interactive software. Ushahidi means ‘testimony’ in Swahili.
The software was first developed in 2008 in Kenya to map “incidents of violence and peace reports submitted via web and mobile phones.” Since then it has become available to many activist groups for free. Maintained by maps4aid.com, VAWH covers about eight categories - crime/murder, rape, dowry, abuse, foeticide/infanticide, sexual harassment at work, street harassment and others, plotted on an interactive map. When one clicks on a particular category, reports related to it appear on the map of India. One can access the reports listed against each category. This database is valuable for various organisations, activists and academics involved in this domain.
Easy availability of information and support linkage to where the problem could be addressed has made the websites a needy tool for the agents of social change.