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Rise in domestic violence in India: Gender rights leader receives frantic calls for help

By Monisha Goyal*
 
“And one day she discovered that she was fierce, and strong, and full of fire, and that not even she could hold herself back because her passion burned brighter than her fears.” – Mark Anthony
It’s been 75 years since India gained independence, but the country’s women still remain in shackles of fear and discrimination. Be it the womb of the mother or the physical world, a girl in India is never truly safe and has to fight at every step of her life, be it for the right to education, equal pay, or life itself.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for IPC cases, a woman succumbed to dowry death every hour, and an average of 87 rape cases were reported daily in 2019. A 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled “Spot On!” mentions that approximately 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to the unavailability of proper sanitation facilities.
The government has failed to ensure a women’s safety and protect her rights. However, today we see many individuals and organizations fighting against the patriarchal mindset of society and emphasizing gender equality.
Madhu Garg, a women right’s activist belonging to Lucknow, and state president of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), says, “I have always been bothered by the struggles of people, especially those from the marginalized society in India. But being a girl from a conservative Bania family, I did not get enough opportunities to go out and speak against the system. After marriage, my husband, a JNU graduate, motivated and inspired me to work for the society.”
She moved to Lucknow in the early 80s with a year-old son. It was then that she came in contact with a women’s association and had since been raising her voice against injustice. Garg started her journey in 1983 when she, along with the other members of the organizations, organized a flood relief program to aid the victims of the flood-affected areas in Lucknow.
In 1987, an 18-year-old girl Roop Kanwar committed Sati, and it sent a wave of shock and unrest across the nation. Garg actively participated in the nationwide women’s movement against the practice of Sati, and it was the result of the efforts of activists like her that the government finally enacted the Sati (Prevention) Act of 1987. In her 30 years of journey as an activist, she has helped thousands of women, appealed to the government for establishing family courts, demonstrated against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), and much more.
Garg recalls the most challenging case that she worked for. Zahira, a 13-year-old daughter of a rag picker, Gabruddin (names changed), was abducted and brutally raped by six men in May 2005. The prime accused was a nephew of a mafia turned politician, and the family was being pressured by the culprit and the police to keep mum about the incident. It took Garg six months to gain the family’s trust and motivate them to continue their fight for justice against all threats.
“Today, the rich and powerful can get away with almost anything, and the poor are left defenseless and broken. Justice is the right of everyone, and that is what Gabruddin and I set out to seek”, she says, adding, “I remember taking Zahira to court, and at many instances, a group of lawyers and gangsters surrounded the court. I used to hold Zahira’s hand tightly since the girl was scared of being attacked.”
On being asked if she ever got scared, she says, “Yes, I was, but we do not see anything else when we fight for justice.” According to her, anytime she felt threatened, she sought help from the media, and they arrived at the site instantly. Media, along with the moral support provided by society, made the fight easy. All the accused were convicted in April 2006, after 11 years-long struggle against money and power. Zahira is now 29 and got married a few months back. If persistence and mettle were to be personified, it would definitely look like the old man Gabbrudin, Garg, and her team.
Talking about the rising domestic violence cases in India, Garg says, she receives around 15-20 calls every month from victims. In such cases, the intervention is in the form of talks with both the parties or police FIRs as required in the case. Even after 30 years of witnessing such crimes, she still fails to fathom how a person making big promises at the time of wedding can suddenly turn violent and unremorseful.
Garg urges for implementing change at all levels – home, society, and the law. Traditions like the beating of the doll (made by the women of the village) by the men on Nag Panchami have to stop. These kids would grow up beating their sisters, wives, and mothers next. “In the Indian society, all the fasts and pooja are performed for the male child, and hence boys grow up feeling superior. Boys are taught to be strong and have been systematically desensitized.” Garg laments.
AIDWA is a non-funded organization and relies on donations for carrying out its operations. It has an annual membership fee of Rs. 5 and a presence in 23 states in India. “Educated people join NGOs since they get paid for it. Ours is a path of thorns, sacrifice and selflessness, but we will continue to fight”, concludes Garg.
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*Final year student at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad

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