Nalini Ben’s Story
Nalini ben is from Savrastra, a very backward area. She explained that the society there is extremely conservative, and people are entrenched into social customs. Since childhood she excelled in her studies…’ I was always top of the class’. Even so, Nalini ben always thought she would be a housewife. It was her husband that pushed her into teaching, and her students that gradually built up her confidence in teaching. Now she could not imagine being in any other profession.
Nalini ben was teaching at HK Arts college where she met Ila ben Pathak (AWAG founder). She explains, ‘I had so many questions in my mind whilst I was growing up to which nobody could give me an answer. It was only after meeting Ila ben that my questions were answered. She answered all my questions about life, and then we became friends.’…‘In the 1980’s when I was pregnant with my daughter, Ila ben always discussed with me the idea of AWAG. I remember we discussed the name, the concept and then in 1981 it was started.’
Most memorable event at AWAG
‘In 1994 Ila ben phoned me and said “Nalini, would you like to come to Bhavngar for police training?”. I had to take one class only, but I watched many of the other. In one of the sessions, one male police officer stood up and said “there is no need for counselor in the police station”. Ila ben then explained that the role of Counselor and the role of a Police Man is different. “The way that police counsel her is in the same way that neighbors, relatives and friends do.” Then a female officer stood up and said to the male officer ‘”remember that time you counseled a girl and went home, you were bragging about how you had helped her, and then she committed suicide after 10 days”. Ila ben again repeated “that is why the counselors role is different, so please I urge to to refrain from counselling any ladies coming into the police station.” The female police officer then went on to recall another two or three incidents when the same thing had happened, whilst the male police officer began crying and accepted responsibility for the incidents. I remember that day as if it was yesterday. I remember Ila ben’s strength in delivering her point, how there was so much emotion in that room, and how the whole room shifted their views about the topic of counselling.’
‘I have been working on a research project with the University of Lincoln. We have been looking at the type of invisible violence that occurs when women are abandoned after marriage by non-residential Indian men. We have theorised this as a “new type of violence”. When women get injured through domestic violence, it is possible to complain and show bruises, but when women are abandoned and cannot fulfill their marital rights, they are left hopeless. There is also no law at present to stop this transnational marriage abandonment. Alongside AWAG’s goal, and my own research expertise, I took this project on board. It will be published soon.’
Pseudonyms have been used to protect the identity of women.
Ashini is a 19 year old girl. Since childhood she has been a victim of sexual abuse from her father – the family breadwinner, and an alcoholic. At age 14 she was forced to marry, advocated greatly by her mother who thought that this would be a way-out for Ashini to escape the on-going abuse from her father. After marrying, Ashini had a baby boy. When confiding in her husband about her brutal past and the activities of her father, Ashini’s husband attempted to persuade her to engage in sexual activities as a profession. Voicing comments such as ‘you did it with your father, so why can’t we make some money out of it?’, he repeatedly asked her to perform sexual acts with his friends who were ‘willing to pay’. Ashini was pushed to a breaking point, and moved back to her parents house where the abuse from her father began once again.
Ashini works as a domestic laborer. After explaining her situation to one of her employers she was given help to get in touch with AWAG. Since then, Ashini has been residing in AWAG’s short stay home. AWAG has given her regular counseling, as she maintains to suffer various psychological issues. We have also started filing a legal case against her husband, in order for her to gain the owed compensation and the right to her child, who at present remains with her father. Being away from her son, she suffers severe depression. She is also constantly anxious about her two younger sisters who remain living in her father’s house.
Ashini has suffered a life of on-going abuse and suffering. AWAG is taking the necessary steps to assist her in overcoming the problems of her past and giving her a bright, stable and empowered future. Whilst staying in the short stay home she has also been involved with AWAG’s income generation branch – EK AWAG. She is being trained in stitching garments and accessories, assisting her in skill building, on her path to gaining economic independence.
Last week, AWAG held the second session of the British Council’s Young Women Social Entrepreneurship Development Programme.
Training women from rural and urban areas in and around Ahmedabad, the 3-day session focused on a range of aspects centering around social entrepreneurship and sustainability of social enterprises.
Women were able to learn about project management, legal and policy issues, money management, potential challenges and maintaining a work-life balance.
They took part in various activities including practical tasks where, in groups, women were to hypothetically come up with a sustainable business model, identify potential problems and explain how they would over come them. The participatory training gave them confidence in social enterprise management.
Women were given a range of examples of sustainable business models from India and around the world, and left with a firm understanding of micro-level sustainable business practice.
On April 16th, AWAG hosted a discussion on the CAG report and the new startling facts about circumstances of women and children in Gujarat.
The discussion involved leading experts including Ami Yagnik (activist and high court lawyer), Suresh Mehta (Economist and former Chief Minister of Gujarat) and Professor Rohit Shukla.
Read more here about what the outcomes of the report were, and what was discussed in the session.
As well as hosting a range of regular activities for its local projects, AWAG also offers external help to women who have suffered traumatic and violent experiences.
Last month, a six-year-old girl was raped in Ahmedabad. A four-foot iron rod was used in the process and as a result she was relieved from the use of many of her internal organs. The AWAG team visited the young girl in hospital, offering support to her family. Traumatised by the incident, the girl now feels overwhelmingly tense if approached by any male members, including male doctors and nurses. She was in brutal pain, both physically and mentally.
Rape is still a common reality in India and should not be dismissed lightly. It occurs amongst the backdrop of a society that is fundamentally underpinned by structures of patriarchy, and an evident power imbalance between women and men. This girl was one out of many helpless women and children who are raped daily in India.
For a long-term change in breaking such patriarchal structures and in order to stop rape as a weapon of gender discrimination, empowerment is essential. Education and awareness for women’s rights and the presence of this in policy will allow for such structural changes. Here at AWAG, we are fighting for this change, and working towards a better India in which this young girl could be playing freely today.
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