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(New Delhi) “We, in Shakti Shalini work on gender-based violence. Anyone, a woman, or a man or even a transgender, can bring their complaints to us. Whenever a case of sexual violence is reported, we are called by the police to counsel the victims, assist them in registering an FIR, take them for a medical examination. We also have to be present when the victims are giving their statement to the magistrate. We are required to do a regular follow-up visits. 

Whenever a woman has to report a case, she has a lot of apprehensions and questions. We explain the entire legal process. We face a lot of challenges from the police as well. Quite often they are rude or they misbehave. For example, there are instances where a minor girl who has eloped from home and married a boy, and now the boy doesn’t want to be with her or if she is pregnant, then police officers say that, “Madam, first she went and slept with the boy and now she is here to register an FIR. A 16-year old girl is not a kid.” The victim feels guilty and as well as harassed. 

Further, the police inform the victims that a medical check-up has to be done. But they don’t specify what will be done in the medical check-up. They also scare them by saying that they are going to use a lot of medical instruments or will use the two-finger test. We respond to victims questions and assure them that they shouldn’t fear the medical examination. Another question that goes on in every girl’s mind is how long will the case go on. Often the police officers respond abruptly, “How do I know?” or “It can be a year or 2 years or 4 years or as many years as it takes”. 

In one case, where a doctor had raped a girl, the doctor was sitting in front of me and the police brought tea and snacks for the doctor and did not arrest him. I asked the cops again and again why they were not arresting him. Next day, when I complained to the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), the police responded that they went with the team to arrest the doctor but couldn’t find him. Even if you know the truth, you can’t really do anything about it. The survivor’s faith in the police and the judicial system gets shattered and her morale goes down. They call us and say, “Madam, can you please check why they have not made any arrest?  When the police refuses to answer our queries properly, the victims lose faith in us too that we are also unable to do anything.

I am from a small city (Asansol, West Bengal). I always wanted to do a Masters in Social Work (MSW). I never realised that I would learn so much through this course. My first job was based in a rural area of Rajasthan. The attitude of boys in Rajasthan is completely different; they don’t fear police at all. The attitude is that the police is ours and the ministers are ours. One of my colleague tried to hit me. I was really scared as I was in an area which was just 40 kms away from border, and there was only one bus available every 2-3 hours to go to nearest city. I got in touch with my placement coordinator and she told me to leave immediately. If I had stayed and filed a complaint, I probably would have been killed. Once I got away from the village, I started writing to the secretary and the chairperson of the organisation to take action. First, they didn’t take my complaints seriously but when they saw that I was not ready to give up, then they took action. Women should find their inner strength. There may be a lot of things which can draw you back, but you will have to remain strong through it all.” 

(Shakti Shalini is an NGO in New Delhi working on gender-based violence.)

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(New Delhi) “When I had applied for Masters in Social Work, it was still a new course. The course covered all the areas: women’s rights, child rights, health, education and Psychology. This was a challenging but very enjoyable course. I have been counseling survivors of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence for seven years. My first task is to understand what the victim wants, which is determined through pre-counseling. We, at Shakti Shalini, provide a shelter home for security and counseling.

There has been a change in attitude of the police after the Nirbhaya incident. The situation is slightly better now. But sometimes when the complainant goes to the police directly, they refuse to register a complaint. If they make a complaint through Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) or an NGO then the police take the complaint seriously and are even supportive. In cases of rape of minors, the police is helpful and supportive. But they generally try to avoid registering cases involving live-in relationships. 

Sometimes, victims are not comfortable with the police because of their tone. For instance, they ask “tera naam kya hai” (what is your name) and we ask “aap ka naam kya hai” (what is your name). It is the same question but very different way of asking. These are some of the experiences. In cases of minors, we provide support till the case is over. In other cases, we support for as long as they need us. Some of them may already have a lawyer so they may not need a lot of facilitation.

We handle a lot of domestic violence cases too. We provide simple counseling to inform them about their rights, how we handle cases, and how the legal process works. A lot depends on the complainant. There are some complainants who don’t want us to meet their husbands so we stop after a simple facilitation. But if the complainant wants that we should speak to the husband then we have a simple process. We send a notice to the husband. We send at least three notices for them to appear. Then we try to have a telephonic conversations, and if we don’t get a response even over the telephone, we make home visits to ask him to come for a meeting on a certain date. We don’t end the matter after listening to one party. After talking to both parties, the matter may get resolved amicably. Usually, if there is a dispute between family members they try to avoid sitting together. When they are here and in front of each other, they talk and get an opportunity to fix the relationship.

Sometimes we get harassed by the accused but it is part of the job. It has happened to me a couple of times. Once an accused was constantly asking me to stay away from his matter. I told him that if he tried talking to me after 5 pm or tried to attack me, I would lodge a formal complaint against him. After that he backed off. I talk in a respectful manner and the same is expected from others as well. My family is very supportive and understands my work and commitments. 

The job occasionally affect your personal life. When we are alone and evaluate the current situation then sometimes we feel there are only problems in our society. The positive outcomes of our cases help us to restore our faith. As a counselor and as an individual, I have a simple message: whenever we are working with a case, we should not be judgmental. I really like the concept of Shakti Shalini where we work on gender-based violence. We need to work with the problem no matter the gender. We need to keep our approach simple.”  

(Shakti Shalini is an NGO in New Delhi working on gender-based violence.)

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(Agra) “I was attacked in 2002, at the age of 15 years by my sister’s brother-in-law. He had been harassing me for a long time. He said that he wanted to marry me. But when my family and I refused his proposal, he poured acid on my face. I was taken to a local hospital but I couldn’t stay there for long because everyone was scared that he might attack me again. 

The police came to the hospital and took statements from my mother, sister and me. But we never checked if an FIR was filed. Later, when I went to the police station to give my pictures  and check the progress on the case, the police officials were rude and said that they were not “hanuman” to be able to catch the culprit immediately. The culprit lived close to me and roamed around freely. My sister was under a lot of pressure from her in-laws to withdraw the case. They finally managed to get the complaint withdrawn. The police officials did not speak to me or anyone else in my family before closing the case.

I did not get any monetary help from the government because no FIR was registered. But my family, especially my brother supported me through the entire ordeal. My brother sent me to a private hospital at his own expense. Apart from my face, one side of my chest was also burnt in the attack. At the government hospital, doctors would treat my wounds without any kindness. I used to scream in pain but it did not make any difference to them. I couldn’t see the difference between my attacker and the doctors. 

Now, I am married with a four-year old son. My husband does not work and does not support me in any way. I feel I got married to such a person because of my disfigured appearance. I work hard to sustain my child and myself. I like working here; I serve food at Sheroes.”

(Stories of survivors of acid attack: These stories are of women working at Sheroes Hangout, Agra. Sheroes Hangout is a cafe that employs survivors of acid attack and uses the profit to further rehabilitate and educate the survivors. To know more click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMixPBSlxLw)

 

 

 
(Agra) “I was only three years old when I was attacked by my father. We were three sisters and had no brother. My uncle suggested to my father that if we three sisters died then he can marry for the second time. My one and a half year old sister died instantly in the attack. Now I am 24 years old. I still have to undergo eye treatment as my vision is weak. I am not able to see properly and I recognise people only by their voice.” 
(Stories of survivors of acid attack: These stories are of women working at Sheroes Hangout, Agra. Sheroes Hangout is a cafe that employs survivors of acid attack and uses the profit to further rehabilitate and educate the survivors. To know more click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMixPBSlxLw)
 
(Agra) “I was attacked in 2012. My parents had a quarrel at their workplace and as a result someone working there attacked me. I took treatment at a government hospital. There is no physical pain anymore.”
(Stories of survivors of acid attack: These stories are of women working at Sheroes Hangout, Agra. Sheroes Hangout is a cafe that employs survivors of acid attack and uses the profit to further rehabilitate and educate the survivors. To know more click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMixPBSlxLw)

(Agra) “I was attacked in 2008 by my stepmother. She always wanted to kill me since my childhood. 
I have been associated with this campaign against acid attacks from the time it was first initiated in 2013. Since then I have been working for the campaign and at this cafe. I am the assistant manager here. I also used to run a boutique that I planned to restart soon.” 

(Stories of survivors of acid attack: These stories are of women working at Sheroes Hangout, Agra. Sheroes Hangout is a cafe that employs survivors of acid attack and uses the profit to further rehabilitate and educate the survivors. To know more click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMixPBSlxLw)

(Agra) “There was a boy who liked me. But it was one sided. I never liked him back and so he threw acid at me. This happened over 20 years ago. My family members including the man I was engaged to then were very supportive. Eventually, my fiancé and I got married. Presently, everything is fine at home. I enjoy working here so much that if I skip a single day here, I miss it a lot.”
(Stories of survivors of acid attack: These stories are of women working at Sheroes Hangout, Agra. Sheroes Hangout is a cafe that employs survivors of acid attack and uses the profit to further rehabilitate and educate the survivors. To know more click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zMixPBSlxLw)
(New Delhi) “I have come from Madhubani for few days. I have visited Delhi twice before. Our stuff is all around here for people to see and buy. I work as a part of a Self-Help Group.”

(Women in Self-Help Groups: These are stories of women living across Bihar who are affiliated with various self-help groups. Women in small towns and villages gather together to initiate small-scale businesses to improve their socio-economic status.)