Break the silence

Tamil poet Kutti Revathi. Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy   | Photo Credit: V_Sreenivasa_Murthy

We consider ourselves members of a civilised society, yet have not learnt to recognise and respect a section that constitutes half the population. Leave alone matters of equality, a huge section of women still live in fear and agony of discrimination and violence in this largely male-dominated society.

Tackling the types

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) lists various forms of violence against women: rape and sexual harassment, child marriage, wife beating, prostitution, female genital cutting/mutilation, dowry-related violence, trafficking, sexual violence during wars, femicide, ?honour' killings, forced sterilisation, pornography and bride kidnapping. Violence against women also takes many forms of psychological abuse, intimidation and harassment.

The lack of space or reluctance to voice discontentment and grievances have added to the silence that veils these issues even though we see, hear and experience it in our daily lives. A 16-day annual international campaign is conducted to expand public spaces to discuss the issue of violence based on gender, suggest solutions, create awareness and urge administrators to take action. This campaign was started by the Centre for Women's Global Leadership at Rutgers University in the U.S. and is currently conducted in around 156 countries. Beginning on November 25 (International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women, it ends on December 10 (International Human Rights Day) to emphasise that gender violence is a serious violation of human rights.

The central theme of CWGL's activities this year, ?Structures of Violence: Defining the Intersections of Militarism and Violence against Women?, looks beyond specific forms of violence to underlying social structures that allow gender-based violence to exist. But based on cultural context and region, the focus of the local campaigns may differ. In India, Prajnjya, Bell Bajao and Jagori are some of the organisations associated with the campaign. Jagori has been successful in getting Delhi government's help in conducting a safety audit in the city. The state government listened to their suggestions in improving public transport and street lighting, and took their help in training bus conductors, drivers and even police to bring in change in attitude towards women's problems.


Prajnya has been conducting this campaign for two years now. Anupama Srinivasan, Programme Director, Prajnya, says ?It is not that easy to get this message across. We experiment with forms and formats. We try as many different ways as possible to talk about this issue like poetry, theatrics, academics to reach out to maximum number of people.?

Prajnya is a non-profit centre for research, public education and networking. In 2007, the trust launched Prajnya Initiatives for Peace, Justice and Security, a public policy research centre. Its work centres on sustained research and outreach activities. Through their various initiatives, Prajnya documents the contributions of women to public affairs and public sphere, undertakes educational programmes to deal with conflict resolution and spreads the message of peace, and builds networking and initiates dialogues.

?There is a lot of anecdotal evidence on gender violence and discrimination that we share with our friends or family members, but it doesn't reach the public domain. Through documentation we attempt to take these to public forums to further the discussions,?Anupama said.

This year's campaign started with a workshop on concepts of gender violence for social work students. The second day was Aikya, an attempt to bring together people through music.

Poetic expressions

The courage in their expression and the energy in their verse surely have the power to break the silence and overcome barriers that hold back women.

?Women's eyes are compelled to close and are not open to things happening around. I observe whatever is happening around me and write about that,? said Kutti Revathi, who presented the first poem at the poetry reading ?Not silence, but verse'. Poet Kutti Revathi, whose works like like Mulaigal (Breasts) evoked a storm of protests earlier, feels, ?Only a small section of people who value serious literature is ready to accept poets like me and many women writers are forced to compromise in their writing.?

According to Sharanya Manivannan, who presented her poems including How to eat a wolf? and Parampara, with the transition from oral tradition to writing comes individual authorship, which many women grapple with because it entails opening their private selves to the scrutiny of society and family. ?Personally, what moved me most about the poetry reading was how honest we, the poets, were about our own circumstances, about social restriction, censorship and hierarchical problems within the field. That we could speak openly about this, without having to disguise it, in a poem for example, was a testament to the safe space the evening created. I'm convinced that this campaign can and will create safe spaces for many more women; spaces in which discussions can take place, problems can be named and solutions can be created,? she added.

?Criticism from one's own community poses one of the major challenges for women in expressing themselves,? said poet Salma, who has defied social taboos with an outspokenness that shocked conservative society.

Poet, author and translator K. Srilata, who moderated the event and also presented her poems, agreed. ?Change doesn't happen in one day. It is a slow process. Poetry and literature are gentler ways of reaching out to people. I think, nowadays, everything is so loud that we need something like this to listen and take in.?

Asked about the obstructions women face in the literary field, she said, ?We thought the situation was improving. But the experiences of many women writers today show that it is going backwards and showing up in new ways and forms.?

Sunday's programme ?What's in a Game? gave mothers an opportunity to play video games that their sons and daughters play and assess the levels of violence, particularly against women characters. On November 29, Prajnya organised a safety audit walk in Besant Nagar to assess how safe women the area is for women and to evaluate parameters like lighting, number of shops, presence of liquor stores and isolated spots.

Safety survey

?One basic idea behind this is not to assume whether an area is safe or not, but to find out what the real situation is. After analysing the collected data we will share our findings, suggest solutions and bring it to the administrators' notice. There are a lot of factors like urban planning, governance, administration, architecture, public transport, public toilets that have to be taken into consideration when we look into safety issues in public spaces.?

The other activities in the first week included an introduction to Gender Violence Resource Guide For Television Creative Teams (GRIT), and a Laddies' Night at Zara Tapas Bar that gave men an opportunity to join the cause. On December 5, a public forum on the topic ?Is Chennai safe for women?' will be conducted at 4:30 p.m. at: Spaces, 1, Elliotts Beach Road, Besant Nagar. For more details on the events, check out the event calendar at http://www.prajnya.in/16d10calen dar.htm#16d1008

?We can't categorically say that Chennai is safe or not. Only reported cases make it to the statistics, many cases go unreported,? said Anupama.

Strengthening the efforts to empower women and to curb gender-based violence, a free legal aid clinic for victims of domestic violence, the first of its kind in the country established under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, was inaugurated in Chennai last week.

Let more women have the courage to stop being silent victims and react and speak out when they are abused or subjected to violence, and claim their deserving position in society.

For incidence of crime against women cases from 2007 to 2009 in Tamil Nadu look up Tamil Nadu Police's link: http://www. tnpolice.gov.in/CAWChart.html


Speak up

I think that Chennai city is one of the safest. Two things to be considered when you look at the safety issue in a region are: general structure of the society and the functioning of the police. The public here is very vigilant. A number of measures like introducing more buses in crowded areas, police patrolling vehicles and helplines for women are there to deal with safety problems that women face. Many come forward to complain; then we are able to help. But it is still considered taboo to go to the police station for help. This attitude should change.

SHAKEEL AKTHER, Additional Commisioner, Law and Order


A big part of our reaction towards such issues lies in conditioning. So, despite sustained campaigns educating people, it will only go so far. An important step is to help women voice their discomfort; to give them an opportunity or platform to get together and to make them believe that their voices will make a difference. But, more importantly, the process of awareness has to start from families. It has to start at the level where conditioning starts. Look at the privilege that a man has in our country by virtue of his gender and/or the beliefs held by society that enables him to be much more vocal about his suffering and seek corrective action. When people misguidedly cry hoarse about women being privileged because of unwarranted reservation/positive legislation, they forget that they speak from the top of a soapbox of centuries of privilege.

MAHITHI PILLAY, Journalist, Mumbai


Gender-based violence is the most pervasive yet least recognised human rights abuse. But I will say that the most ignored area is domestic violence inflicted by a partner or close relatives and suffered in silence. The sad part is that in many such cases, children are severely effected. We must create awareness among women so that they will speak out and get help when in need of it.

PRIYA A., IT professional, Banglore


I don't feel unsafe being alone when there are people on the streets. I know that I can shout or scream and mobilise the crowd when I am attacked. I feel more safe when I am in a group; then I don't mind being out even late in the night. There are certain places that make you feel uncomfortable when you are alone. I wouldn't feel confident even with a pepper spray or something like that. But, sometimes you have no option but to stay away from those places. Calling a cab alone late in the night is also scary. Again sometimes that too is not a matter of choice.

HRITHIKA B., student, Chennai


Women Emergency Helpline, Tamil Nadu Police: 1091

Aashraya (Andhra Mahila Sabha): 044-24642566

PCVC (International Foundation for crime Prevention and Victim Care): 044-43111143.

Sneha: 044-24640050

Aruve: 044-246454615

Laws to protect women

Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005

The Dowry Prohibition Act, 1961 (28 of 1961)

The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987(3 of 1988)

The Immoral Traffic (Prevention) Act, 1956

Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

Indian Penal Code, 1860

The Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 (28 of 1989)

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Test, 1971 (34 of 1971)

The Indian Succession Act, 1925 (39 of 1925)

The Minimum Wages Act

The Guardians and Wards Act, 1860 (8 of 1890)

The Hindu Adoptions and Maintenance Act, 1956

The Pre-Natal Diagnostic Technique(Regulation and prevention of Misuse) Act, 1994

The Hindu Succession Act, 1956

The Christian Marriage Act, 1872 (15 of 1872)

National Commission for Women Act, 1990 (20 of 1990)

The Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976

The Equal Remuneration Act, 1976

The Family Courts Act, 1984

The Foreign Marriage Act, 1969 (33 of 1969)

The Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1979

The Indian Divorce Act, 1969 (4 of 1969)

For the complete list, look up: http://ncw.nic.in/frmReportLegal01.aspx

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Printable version | May 9, 2021 12:21:49 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/nxg/Break-the-silence/article15579062.ece

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