How this NGO is breaking social stigma, creating new norm for domestic violence survivors

By Arnav Das*

Although women’s status has been improving in India gradually, crime against women is still widely prevalent, with domestic violence having the largest share despite being largely under-reported. As per a Statista report, on average, over 18 women out of 1000 across India still experience domestic abuse. During the lockdown, this number has increased as families spend more time together and indoors combined with increased social and economic tensions due to intermittent lockdowns during the pandemic. Therefore, this is just the right time to applaud and support the NGOs focusing on women’s welfare and empowerment.

An NGO based out in UP, Humsafar, is one of them, which has transformed the lives of more than 7000 women, pulling them out from abusive relationships and empowering them to live life on their terms. It was founded in 2003 to deal with the issue of human rights violations of women. Humsafar started with the belief that as more women associations come together, safer and more confident will the women of the society feel to come out, stand up against the evils and fight for their rights. With this belief, Humsafar was born as a loose network of many associations with representatives from various other social organizations. A casework unit was set up with lawyers and councillors, where victims could come and discuss their cases of domestic abuse with legal experts and Humsafar members. Soon, Humsafar realized that having a casework unit is not enough because, in the first place, women are afraid to come out. The victims are mostly from marginalized communities and are afraid of being rejected by their families and society if they file a case against their in-laws and/or husband. They mostly reach out to Humsafar to simply share their traumatic experience, given that Humsafar provides them with a platform to take off their burden without any price attached. So, Humsafar started outreach programmes to spread awareness among women of their rights and encourage them to stand up against domestic violence. The outreach programs initially started from where most women came from to seek help from Humsafar. This was done to break the social stigma associated with a woman filing a complaint against domestic violence and to build confidence among the women to voice their sufferings and help them reintegrate into the society post-resolution of their conflict. Conducting outreach programmes in these societies also helped create a community feeling among the women. Within the community, the women would feel free to share their sufferings and lend a shoulder to each other by standing against domestic violence cases that any woman is going through in the community.

Humsafar decided to take their outreach program a step forward by extending it to school and college going kids belonging to the lower middle class and middle class. They started sensitizing the young minds about gender issues, domestic violence and educating them about their rights. A comprehensive module was designed to explain gender discrimination, patriarchy, different kinds of domestic violence – emotional, physical, financial etc., applicable laws, procedure, and how can Humsafar help them. They also conducted joint workshops with teachers, parents, and youth together to fade the generation gap between them. The aim was to sensitize all these stakeholders so that the children, instead of fearing social ridicule, feel open to sharing their experiences with their parents and teachers, who form a strong reference group to the children and therefore have a long-lasting impact on the children’s mind.

Thanks to these outreach programs, today, more women have started stepping out and reaching out to Humsafar. When a victim approaches Humsafar, they have members who sit with the victim, listening to their experience, after which the victim is explained about the different possible interventions and the pros and cons attached with each. Interventions are of many kinds, mediation with the husband or in-laws, legal interventions such as filing FIR etc. And finally, they are asked what they want and based on their consent and various idiosyncratic factors, a strategy is chalked out.

Even after a woman files her case, she has to wait for years before the court ruling. This is primarily because of the huge number of pending cases and inefficiencies in our judicial system in providing speedy justice. But this long road to justice itself becomes a hurdle to justice, as with every passing day, it becomes increasingly difficult for the woman to financially support her and her kids. Hence, often amidst the case or even after the resolution, the victims get back to their previous lives, to the same abusive relationship because of the economic uncertainty looming in their lives. Humsafar wanted to turn around this situation, so they started a livelihood program to skill women and to provide them with a source of income, especially through traditionally male-dominated jobs, therefore challenging the patriarchal society. “Lucknow me e-rickshaw bohut popular hai aur uski humne training di”, said Richa, the Program Associate of Humsafar. For example, Pushpa, a resident of Lucknow, was given self-defence training, driving lessons and vehicle repair training, and classes on gender rights and women empowerment, which has helped her end her abusive relationship and gain confidence and skills to live a decent life on her own. This initiative by Humsafar quickly scaled up to become UP’s first all-women public transport system and an essential step towards women safety.

*2nd year PGP student, IIM Ahmedabad

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