New Delhi: It’s 2019, and violence against women is as serious a problem in India as it has ever been. The National Family Health Survey (NFHS-4) suggests that 30% women in India in the age group of 15-49 have experienced physical violence since the age of 15. About 31% of married women have experienced physical, sexual or emotional violence by their spouses.
Thanks to a deep-rooted patriarchal structure, it’s an uphill battle for women who are abused and what’s worse, many are unaware of the law when it comes to such cases and the steps that can be taken – from reporting the abuse to the police to getting appropriate medical/mental health care.
Towards the end of educating women about such laws, Urja, an NGO that works in the field gender-based violence, held a legal aid workshop at Auro Kitchen and Bar in New Delhi on Sunday, November 10.
At the workshop, titled ‘In Conversation: Know your Rights’, founder Anjali Pathak began by juxtaposing constitutional law against societal norms with regard to women. After giving listeners an idea of the work she has done in the area, she spoke about how patriarchal prejudice has cast a long shadow on the progress and independence of women – particularly those from low income families.
According to Pathak, since these families are at the highest risk of domestic abuse and violence, it is important to reach out to such victims directly in order to make an impact at the grassroots level.
“We would like women from various backgrounds to understand what their legal rights are, how to approach the police, how to feel safe about registering a complaint and what steps they can take after registering their complaint,” Pathak told LiveWire.
Pathak was accompanied by Vikram Zutshi, a Los Angeles-based writer, director and producer who is also a consultant with Urja. Among those present included Coven Code, India’s first all-female collective promoting music and art – several members of collective performed at the end of the workshop.
“There are villages around Delhi where family members force their own daughters and wives into prostitution along the Jaipur highway while the men laze around and earn no income. We’ve conducted vocational training programmes and contacted them personally. This has emboldened many victims and potential victims to reject such abuse,” Anjali Pathak said.
“This is only on an individual basis. To make a change on a larger scale, we need women’s movements and collectives to fight for the cause in unison. After the 2012 Delhi gangrape, considerable changes were made to the law after a women’s movement lobbied extensively. We need that same kind of energy now,” she said.
Zutshi spoke about how artists can do their bit to raise awareness about sensitive issues. “Art is a powerful medium of communication, be it on canvas or on stage. If one worked in collaboration with theatre groups, musicians or filmmakers, their message would resonate and find more listeners,” he said.
Over the course of the evening, Pathak explained the various laws that protect women including the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 and The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act 2013. She also addressed the steps a victim can take in case of police inaction and explained what a ‘Zero FIR’ is.
“A Zero FIR can be filed anywhere regardless of the place of the crime. For example, if a crime takes place in Hauz Khas and instead of going to the Hauz Khas police station directly, you decide to confide in a friend who lives in Dwarka. If you then decide to lodge a complaint, the FIR can be filed at the Dwarka police station directly regardless of where the crime has taken place,” Pathak said.
Urja has been actively working to combat domestic abuse since 2011. As to why Urja is based in Najafgarh, a town in southwest Delhi, Pathak said she chose the spot because of the area’s prevalent “patriarchy and social class divide”.
“There is a sharp gender divide where gender stereotypes (boys should be aggressive and wage earners; girls should be submissive, caring and docile) has been internalised by both men and women. This makes women vulnerable to violence,” she said, adding that “rape, trafficking, abduction, dowry, molestation, high level of female illiteracy, acid attacks, prostitution, and cruelty by husbands exacerbate the social and economic exploitation of women”.
Plans to repeat similar workshops are already underway – the next editions will be in Bangalore and Mumbai. The NGO, which is collecting funds to establish a legal aid cum counselling centre and a training centre to teach women skills, is also in the process of tying up with various artists to organise more such events and spread awareness.
Some members of Coven Code LiveWire spoke to spoke about how it has been a challenge for the collective to carve out a space for themselves in an industry which is so male-dominated and why it’s so important to know your rights.
“We need to inform ourselves and inform our community about our basic rights. The goals of Urja and what they have been doing in Najafgarh and for women as a whole – when you hear about it, you want to give back. The right way to go about this is educating yourself as much as you can. You learn only as much as you ask.”
Featured image credit: Facebook/Auro Kitchen and Bar