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(New Delhi) “I am an Assistant Professor at Delhi University. I am from the Rewari District in Haryana. We are four siblings, three sisters and a brother and my father has always supported my sisters and me more than he has supported his son. 

Initially, we used to live in a joint family. My grandparents, my two uncles and their families and my family all lived under the same roof. After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother became the head of the family. My father was in the Air Force. When he wanted to take us to the place of his posting, my grandmother and other relatives allowed only my brother to go along with my parents so that he could have a good education. But my father wanted to take his daughters as well. Everyone objected and said he will not be able to afford it because my father was giving half of his salary to the joint household. Finally, they agreed to let us go with our parents on the condition that my father will continue to send half of his salary. He agreed and kept his promise. Whenever my family and all the relatives meet during weddings or other social gatherings, they still talk about it. It was a big step that he took for us three sisters. 

All of us had a good education and pursued our own areas of interest. My father never objected to anything. I went alone for all my job interviews including those that were out of town. There was a time when some people told my father, “How could you allow a girl to go to other cities on her own?” When my younger sister got a promotion, she had to move to Hyderabad. Everyone in the family again questioned my father, “How could you allow an unmarried daughter to live alone in another city?”. But my father never objected; on the contrary he told my sister, “Of course, you should go”. 

My eldest sister was the first girl from our village to study B.Sc. I completed my M.A., M.Phil. and Ph.D. and soon, cleared my NET and other exams without any break. My father is very proud of all of us, especially, his daughters. My father is my role model, in terms of discipline and hard work.

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I still remember my first job interview in Delhi where the interviewer said, “Oh, are you from the OBC Category? But this seat is for the General Category”. The interview was for the General Category population, so the people from OBC category were not even entertained. I wanted to introduce the OBC Cell in the college to spread awareness that 27% of reservation that we get is our right but we can compete in general category too. 

We are getting 27% reservation because our community has been suppressed for thousands of years. We make up 60-70% of the population but make up only 7-8% of the work force. The discrimination still exists. The general category forms 20% of the population but they have 80% of jobs. So who’s getting the reservation? We have to change the angle of looking at things. The people from general category even say that, “You people never wanted to study”. Everyone should change their perspective and think whether we have never wanted to study or education was denied to us. It reminds me of an old incident I still remember. I was in the 12th standard and the reservation policy had just been introduced. Everyone in the class was discussing whether the reservation should be given or not. One of my classmates said, “These people from the backward classes, these Yadavs, they get the reservation and they are easily going to get through jobs and colleges.” I was like “Oh my God, so I’m from the backward class” I was not even aware at that time that I was from the Other Backward Classes. On top of it, I was the only Yadav in my class. I went back home, and asked my father, “Are we from the backward class?” Later, I realised there were other Yadavs in the class but they did not use their surnames. You shouldn’t feel shy of where you come from.

I think acquiring knowledge is very important. The only reason that the so-called general category people can criticize us is that they believe we are not hardworking and we reached a position only because of our class, and not because of our caliber or knowledge. You should work hard, gain knowledge and you should know about your rights. So when someone criticizes you, you can reply based on your knowledge.

I know a lot of people who use this line, “Oh, it will sound politically very incorrect but it’s very easy for the reserved category people to enter into any kind of a job”. They always use this tagline, “It might be politically incorrect”. It’s the sweet poison that they give you. It means that they don’t want to ruffle your feathers, but they still want to make you feel uncomfortable.”

Watch more on impact of caste system on women in India here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PV_OL5XMWpE

 

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(Patna) “I am a practicing lawyer at Patna High Court. I deal with all kinds of cases including in the development sector. I take up pro bono cases for NGOs. In the past, I have filed cases on implementation of labour laws in Bihar. I have also worked on cases related to child marriages, right to education and trained officials and activists on laws related to domestic violence and child abuse.

I was 18 years old when my mother passed away. I was married within four months of my mother’s death. My husband was still a medical student and so I had to stay in a village with my in-laws with no options to be employed anywhere. I was not professionally qualified but I finished my graduation after marriage. 

At the age of 19, I moved from a life of going to college, reading books and watching Oscars and Grammy’s to a life of cooking food all day on a mud stove in a remote village. My mother-in-law would get angry at me because I used to be in the kitchen all day, and yet, the food was not being cooked on time. Sometimes, I felt low because all my dreams seemed to disappear. Growing up, I wanted to be a commercial pilot and pursue higher studies in the USA. Nobody knew that I was also a regular teenager with aspirations. It was a very tough time for me but I never complained because I had no other option. I continued reading a lot of books especially literature. Through the books, I was living so many characters, and nothing in life could surprise me. If something doesn’t work out the way I want then I find a reason to move on.

I continued to hope that one day I would become a writer. I was into literature since my childhood and that interest didn’t diminish. For the next 15 years, I was a housewife and many times introducing myself as a housewife seemed disheartening. But I loved my children so much that I didn’t mind. I introduced them to a lot of books and told them stories. 

I shifted to Patna for my children’s education and that was when I took up law. When I entered the court for the first time, it seemed like I am back to school again. I loved every moment of it. It was a profession that was cut out for me. Today when I look back, I think that we should not feel battered by the hard times. You must give life a chance and it will show you beautiful things.

When I started practicing in the Patna High Court, I didn’t face any gender bias; people saw me as a very confident woman. But there is a lot of caste bias and caste lobbies here. Since I was raised in an army cantonment, I had not seen any kind of caste discrimination. So, it came as a shock for me when I was denied the membership of Barrister Association because of my caste. 

There is a Barrister Association at Patna High Court in which 95% people are from the “Upper Caste”. The Vice-President of the Association told me that I could not be a member because I belonged to a “Backward Caste”. I felt hurt and was disturbed for months and I thought if I was facing this kind of discrimination on the basis of caste, then what about people who are coming from villages to practice here. Then I decided I will make sure that people do not face harassment on the basis of caste. At that time, I reached out to many Dalit victims and organisations working for them. We have special laws, courts and public prosecutors for Dalits, but the conviction rate is zero because the whole system isn’t active. So, in spite of having laws, people do not get any benefit.

Right now, I am trying to file a PIL to make sure that the domestic violence law is implemented properly and make sure there are shelter homes everywhere. By helping others, it also feels like I am helping myself.”

(Find out more on impact of caste system on women in India here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PV_OL5XMWpE)

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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.)