16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence #OrangeTheWorld

The grasp of domestic violence perpetrators has tightened in times of the pandemic in India. Abuse victims are distanced from their regular support systems making it difficult for them to call out for help. On 24 March 2020, the Prime Minister of India announced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the Novel Coronavirus. Within a fortnight, the National Commission of Women reported a 100% rise in complaints of domestic violence cases. A nationwide WhatsApp number was then launched by the NCW to provide an alternate method for women to report domestic abuse.

Hidden Pockets Collective run a campaign on Gender-based violence during the 16 days of Activism 2020 (25/Nov to 10/Dec) where we feature stories of violence from different regions in India and abroad. We have partnered with YUWA (Nepal), YANSL (Sri Lanka), Vishaka NGO (Rajasthan, India), Global Concerns India (Bangalore, Karnataka), Bembala Foundation (India), Samarthanam Trust for the Disabled (India), and an independent activist from Karnataka, India (Cynthia Stephen).

Stories of Violence

A 44 year old woman, married with three daughters aged 21, 16 and 14. In April, she called us around 1:00 AM. Her husband had been beating her and the children daily. Her husband, having previously worked abroad, now returned and opened two small hotels. Due to lockdown, hotels were closed and the family struggled and were forced to live off their savings. She went to the police who refused to help. She claimed to us that her husband paid them ‘bakshish’ frequently. The police stated that domestic violence does not fall under their purview. They advised her to go to court or the women’s helpline. The GCI team visited the family house. After some discussion, the husband left the house peacefully, promising not to be violent again. We had taken the Hoysala with us and the police ‘warned’ him before leaving. The violence restarted after a couple of days and now, there was no more food at home.

After lockdown ended in August, he opened the hotels and assigned his wife to handle the cash box at one hotel, as he managed the other. At home, the violence continued.

In October, the mother and children decided to act. We assisted them in filing a police case under 498A – cruelty in marriage. As a result, the husband was banned from the house. The woman was out of work. Her brother and mother was helping the family while she looked for a job

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A 31-year-old female migrant worker returning home from India’s tech hub of Bengaluru, was gang raped by three males after she was left alone in one of the quarantine centre of Nepal. As per the victim, the perpetrators were actually two volunteers and a health worker employed at the centre.

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A young Trans woman was harassed while walking on the road with her elder sister. The men recorded a video of them eve teasing the sisters and uploaded it onto social media. She has been often subjected to online bullying, especially on her TikTok profile.

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A 12-year-old girl from Bajhang district in western Nepal went missing on September 23. After a long search, her family members found her semi-naked body at a nearby temple. An autopsy report confirmed that the girl, who belonged to the Dalit community (ethnic minority), was sexually assaulted prior to her death. She was heading to a shed, thirty minutes away from her home. She was raped and murdered by an eighteen year old man. He had a criminal history but family members and the wider community always hide such crimes and don’t take any legal action.

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I was 23 years old when I got pregnant with my boyfriend. I met him at a party and fell in love with him. I discovered that I was pregnant during the Covid-19 lockdown. I was unable to access pharmacies to buy pills. Then, a friend of mine helped me find pills all the way from the Eastern Province. Since traveling from city to city was prohibited, I had to rely on the postal system. The pills took one and a half weeks to reach Colombo. I took the pills and went through the procedure alone, afraid and under no medical supervision.

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I was 18 years old, studying at a popular girl’s school in Colombo, when I realised I was pregnant. It all started while staying at my father’s friend’s home. When the lockdown was imposed, I decided to stay in Colombo without going home because the situation in the country was uncertain. One day, my father’s friend came into my room and forced himself on me. He threatened to murder me if I told anyone about the incident. Three or four weeks passed and I noticed that my period was late and I decided to walk to a nearby pharmacy. The pregnancy test came back positive and I decided to travel to the nearest government hospital amidst the lockdown. The ‘tuk’ I hired through an app was stopped by a police check-point and I explained that I was travelling to the hospital since I am not feeling well. After I reached the hospital I explained the incident to the hospital staff. The hospital staff took good care of me. They took measures to inform the police about my father’s friend and to inform my family about my situation. My parents were devastated after hearing my story but I have no other option but to carry a pregnancy caused because I was sexually abused. I even had to stop my schooling due to the pregnancy.

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Saritha (Name changed to protect identity), an HIV+ve 29 year old women, was 5 months pregnant when forced out of the house by her boyfriend during the first lockdown. She claimed to call the helpline for women in the police commissioner’s office but received no response. She walked around without any water or food and finally rested at a bus stop, hoping somebody would help. She remembered Global Concerns India’s number from a workshop she attended and called GCI. GCI arranged for a friend to give her some water and food to eat.They also instructed her to call 181, which she tried with no luck. I then tried the same and a female police officer answered after 30 seconds of instructions.

Brinda Adige from GCI quickly raised the issue and requested her to direct a Hoysala to the spot and find some shelter for this pregnant woman. Shockingly, this woman police insisted that Brinda tell her the name, address and phone number stating she would not accept me reporting this matter otherwise. Brinda tried again going into deeper details like colour of Saritha’s clothes and bus stop number. Yet, nobody reached her even when Brinda called her four hours later. She requested her friend to give Saritha more water.

Brinda called 181 again and got no response. Sh called friends at DWCD who promised to attend to the case. However, nobody reached her, even hours later. Brinda was forced to call ACS and coordinate with 7-8 officials from DWDC in addition to the local police. Two hours later, the woman was picked up from the bust stop and taken to a shelter.

She is doing better now, but has not filed against the boyfriend. Additionally, no action has been taken on grounds of negligence against duty bearers/helpline staff/police.

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Three years ago, 29-year-old Vimli from Salumbar block, married a Man named Kailash from the same area. This was both their second marriages. Kailash had a daughter from his first marriage but wanted a son and therefore, remarried Vimli. They were blessed with a baby boy. But, after a few months of their son’s birth, Kailash’s family began abusing her verbally & physically. They rented another house for Vimli some distance away from their house.

Sometimes, Kailash would visit Vimli with their son but over time, stopped bringing the child along. The abuse toward Vimli continued and they ultimately moved her to another village 15 KM away. During the lockdown, Kailash beat Vimli. He also locked her up in her house before leaving. Finally, Vimli’s neighbour supported her by calling Visakha’s helpline. The counsellor reached Vimli’s house and found her locked in. The counsellor also tried convincing Kailash to release Vimli and finally succeeded. After this incident, he stays with her at night but stopped supporting her. The counsellor again intervened, causing him to stop visiting the house altogether.

The counsellor was able to help Vimli by providing her with rations by involving the panchayat. They resumed discussions with Kailash regarding the child. He continued to refuse access. Vimli was then provided information about the DV Act and she decided to file a case.

Vishakha as a service provider processed for filing DIR under DV act. The court refused to take Vimli’s DIR and directed her to file through a Protection Officer. The Vishaka team met the PO and discussed the issue. The PO also refused her DIR pending a visit and evaluation. He, along with the Vishakha team, visited Vimli’s house and asked her questions. It was then agreed to file the DIR with the court. Kailash created an excuse for the case against him and he completely stopped communications with Vimli and relocated to Gujarat without leaving any info. The court has yet to take action on her case.

Vimli is now happy as the physical abuse has now stopped. In her words “I got my dignity back!” She is trying to get custody of her child with the help of the Visakha team. Through this long struggle, her basic documents could be processed and are ready, which will help her with employment in MNREGA. She now has the confidence & courage to take her fight ahead.

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My Name is Jonila A, from Begur, belongs to Bangalore Rural District. Karnataka. I am Speech and Hearing Impaired by birth. We are 4 members in my family: Father Mother and a younger sister who is doing nursing studies. My father is agricultural labour and mother is a tailor.

With the limited income they get they were unable to support education of me and my sister. It was difficult for me to study without the support of others class mates since I was deaf and dumb. Therefore I discontinued my studies and I was at home looking for some job. One fine day a staff from Samarthanam came to my house and talked about the training programs that are going on Samarthanam for the disabled people and urged me to join the program.

I was hesitant and my parents were scared to send me to Bangalore. After discussing in detail my parents were convinced to send me to the program. Samarthanam provided me with a very good learning environment and all my bath mates were very good, supportive.

I Had very good trainers who made my learning easy and comfortable. During the training period I learnt to speak in English, learnt to use computers and gained confidence and courage to face new situations and challenges. After the training I got through an interview and was selected for the post of Analyst in Ganvitha Technologies Pvt Ltd and earning Rs.12000/-. I am very happy about it. My parents and other friends feel proud about me. Thanks to Samarthanam who brought confidence and a ray of smile on my face.

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Meena, 35 y/o, from Hyderabad approached Hidden Pockets saying her husband made her leave her home almost a year ago. She has 1 daughter and they both live with Meena’s mother. Her mother constantly ask her when will she go back as in their culture she is not supposed to stay at her parents house for this long after marriage. Meena’s husband says that he won’t allow her until she show a mentally fit certificate. The certificate should be from the psychologist whom they (Husband and in-laws) have already manipulated. They want to declare Meena as mentally unfit and mad. Hidden Pockets referred her to Bharosha, Hyderabad and she received help through Bharosha.

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I was 17 years old when I got pregnant from my boyfriend. My father is a businessman and my mother is a house-wife. I have two older siblings and they both are studying at a state university. My boyfriend stopped talking to me when I told him about my pregnancy. My next and only resort was my parents. They were devastated by the news. First they tried to access a place that pregnancies can be terminated but access was impossible due to the curfew that was imposed island wide. Therefore my parents took me to the nearest government hospital. The staff at the government hospital directed me to a safe house that many other pregnant girls are being rehabilitated. I feel miserable and helpless. My dreams and my future are shattered into pieces.

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Anu was a single mother of two. After the second child was born the father became very violent and tried to take the newborn child away and “give” him away in adoption. He also denied any kind of support to them. We went to the Vanitha sahayavani where the social workers were shocked at the story and promptly took action to get him arrested.

The severe stress took a toll on Anu and she had to be admitted to NIMHANS with the baby for observation and diagnosis. While this process was on, and the doctors were treating them, the infant got seizures, and had to be treated for that as well. Due to lockdown the hospital was closed so they discharged Anu and the baby, giving suitable medicines to continue at home, and also gave contact numbers of the hospital in case there was any emergency.

As the medicines were over they got a fresh batch prescribed after booking appointments but this lot of medication didn’t suit her due to side effects. She would like to go and meet the doctors and get a fresh check-up for herself and the baby but hasn’t been able to go because she doesn’t have the money to go and also the money to buy the medicines – there’s barely enough money to eat and pay the rent.

How do single mothers denied any form of financial support and health services survive in such times? Already under treatment for mental health issues, there is risk to the lives of her children and herself if she decides to do anything drastic.

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A woman who had left her home in January and moved into a PG reached out to Bembala volunteers in the second week of March. Hers was a case of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband, whom she had been married to for over 20 years, and with whom she had three kids.

She was looking for the services of a lawyer, who could help her get a divorce. Bembala Foundation provided her with emotional support as part of our initial “befriending” process. After a few sessions, she agreed to trying a few other options.

In her own words, “Bembala’s care and guidance helped me make better life choices, and suggested ways to achieve my full potential. The mediation and befriending gave me great comfort, hope and courage to deal with my problems. You saved a once broken relationship….”

Often women think that that their only means of coping with abuse is silence. This woman broke the silence, which in turn helped her spouse realize the missing links in their marriage. The woman moved back into her home with her family, willing to try the marriage contract out for 3 months. It has worked out beyond those 3 months, with her ability to manage the ups and downs in her relationship, and being able to have more realistic expectations from her marriage. This woman has come a long way.

At one point she was depressed and had lost any hope for life. She is now back home and working as a teacher, an option for independence that her husband would not have accepted earlier.

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Gendered Violence: Not Your “Circus”? Not Your “Monkeys”?

For many, gendered violence is a shocking story that they read in newspapers, a gut wrenching event that they watched in a documentary, a disturbing clip that is widely shared on platforms like Facebook. Many get affected by what they read and what they see, there is anger, sadness that how can this continue to happen even in these times when there is police, law, court whom all work to ensure that justice is delivered and help is rendered. And there are of course a few who just are not affected by any of these, choose to deal with these realities as “not my business”, “who cares”, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” Unless and until the lived realities of gendered violence are theirs, then alone perhaps can they grasp what is it like to feel powerless, what is it like to feel violated, what is it like to feel helpless. But what if the very same systems established by democracy to ensure protection and justice to all, are the ones who are doing this “not my circus, not my monkeys” act, especially when they are called upon to discharge their duties and responsibilities?

Brinda Adige, Volunteer Mentor at Global Concerns India (GCI), shared a harrowing experience with us. Mind you, this is not one isolated story but a recurrent event that merely changes form in various crises which Brinda has intervened to help.

Brinda got a call from a distressed woman Saritha*. Saritha, 5 months pregnant and HIV+, was thrown out of a house cohabited by her partner. This incident happened during the peak of the nationwide lockdown when nobody dared to step out of the house except to buy essentials. Saritha in shock had no clue what to do. She had no money, no place and no friends to call for help. Feeling utterly helpless and in shock, she walked aimlessly until she was worn out. She rested at a bus stop. Many hours had passed since she had last had any food for water and her pregnant state only made her feel all the more exhausted after the walk in the scorching heat of summer. As the last resort, she called the helpline for women set up at the Police Commissioner’s Office but received no response.

The sheer desperate state that she was in, prompted her to think of any possible way that she can get help. She remembered about the Global Concern India’s workshop she had attended and promptly dialed the saved number.

Brinda on receiving the call and grasping what Saritha’s situation is, sprung into action. She connected with a friend who took food and water to Saritha. Saritha was also instructed to keep trying 181 meanwhile. However, there was no response from 181.

Brinda also kept at 181 and finally had a breakthrough. But she was in for a rude shock as the staff who handled the call was not keen to help but give some cursory and dismissive instructions. Brinda requested them to send the rescue vehicle to Saritha and rehabilitate her to a shelter. The policewoman insisted that Brinda tell her every detail like name, address, telephone number and then alone can the police accept this reporting and do the needful. 

Many hours had passed and still no help had come to Saritha from the police. Brinda tried 181 over and over but no response was there from their end. Brinda reached out to DWCD and they promised to attend to Saritha. Time running out and night setting in and still no sight of police or DWCD reaching Saritha, Brinda was forced to call ACS. Two hours later, Saritha was picked up from the bus stop and taken to a shelter. 

Saritha is recuperating now. But she has not filed any case against her partner. As for the police staff/ helpline, no action has been taken against them for the negligence of duty. 

You might want to think this is an isolated incident, and that there are numerous cases of affirmative action from the law and order system. As part of the #16DaysOfActivism #orangetheworld campaign Hidden Pockets Collective, has been curating stories of gendered violence. And the lived realities of those who shared their stories with us show it was not the law nor the police who helped them but the alternatives set up by civil society organizations and communities. A Tweetathon  was held recently, in partnership with Youth Advocacy Network- Sri Lanka, YUWA- Nepal, Aahung- Pakistan, Global Concerns India, Rural Women’s Right Structure-Liberia, One Future Collective-India, DUKINGIRE ISI YACU- Burundi and Lend A Voice Africa, to address the gendered violence and have knowledge exchange on alternative solutions. The Tweetathon also saw active participation from activists who have been working to end gendered violence

At Hidden Pockets Collective, we never turned away anyone who reached out to us for help. If the case fell under domestic violence, we connected them to the organizations working exclusively on the matter. Many women had also reached out to us when they had no access to get medical termination of pregnancy. A consequence of intimate partner violence is unintended pregnancies. Amidst all the agonies of surviving through the violence, they also face the challenge of accessing safe and legal termination of pregnancies. We, as well as many organizations in our network, stepped up to provide alternate solutions for gendered violence during this pandemic. 

Gendered violence has emerged as the shadow pandemic during this COVID-19 pandemic. When there was vagueness or breakdown of health services, essential services, support systems, carelines, shelters, and more importantly the certainties about financial and social security of a person, all hell broke loose and gendered violence was at its peak in 2020. What we have realized through our work with the youth and partner organizations is that alternatives are the way forward. It is pointless to bank upon the mainstream, established systems for solutions. For them, you-me- all of us, are “not their circus, not their monkeys.”

Writer: 

Dr. Nishitha Aysha Ashraf is Programme Associate for SAAF Project at Hidden Pockets Collective. She completed her B.A. Journalism & Communication (2010) and Bachelor of Dental Surgery (2015) from Manipal, Karnataka. She has covered the Nipah outbreak in Kerala during her stint as Health Reporter with The News Minute (2018). The reportage furthered her interest to be a key player in public health/ community health. Her internship and work at SOCHARA – Society for Community Health Awareness, Research and Action (2019) was instrumental to learn more about the People’s Health Movement. She is keen on exploring the SRHR issues of Kerala, especially those amongst the Muslim and Christian communities.

#PutARingOnIt : 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence

 

The 16 Days of ActivismAgainst Gender-Based Violence, a global campaign spanning from 25 November through 10 December happens every year and this year the theme of the campaign is “Leave no one behind: end violence against women and girls.

Millions have shared the hashtag #MeToo and other campaigns, exposing the sheer magnitude of sexual harassment and other forms of violence that women everywhere suffer, every day.

At Hidden Pockets Collective, we decided to seek for right to healthy life this 16 days of Activism. No women and No girl should be denied the right to health: sexual and reproductive health. We want young women and girls, married and unmarried women to start having conversations around health and talk about issues around contraception and know their choices.

We are using Beyonce’s song : #PutARingOnItas a symbol to talk about options and choices that young women and girls have in India to keep themselves healthy and happy.

Not providing young women and girls with options and choices is also gender based violence which can systematically further make the position of women and girls worse in the communities.

 

 

 

Picture of Beyonce