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.”
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.