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‘We have to be the change that we want to see’

  • Published at 02:02 am March 31st, 2018
  • Last updated at 02:03 am March 31st, 2018
‘We have to be the change that we want to see’

Why are victims of violence not breaking their silence?

A girl, a woman is always victimized and she is victimized again by the colonial justice system. A rape survivor or victim is victimized again when she goes to complain at the police station, when statements are made, and when the FIR is registered. This is because patriarchy exists at all levels of South-Asian culture and religion, causing the girl to always be blamed. Thus, very few women come out to complain because the patriarchal norm causes few to listen and fewer still to believe a woman. Moreover, there is also a considerable degree of humiliation attached to this in South-East Asian countries. Some cultural practices cause discrimination from childhood, such as the high demand of male babies because of lineage and patriarchy which rule through religion. The control of religion is in the hands of men, and it is well-known what they do with that control. Also, as long as patriarchal laws are determining the rights of women in terms of inheritance, property rights, and custody of children, discrimination will continue.

Despite so many laws being instated to prevent violence against women, why is it continuing?

Such laws are formed because of the circumstances that women find themselves in, and some of them are very good. The problem with this is that you can write something but it does not mean it will be implemented, because we do not live in a legally bound society. Our society is one where culture plays a very important part. Much of our actions and thoughts are guided by culture and conditioning – whether it is gender differences, gender discrimination, or patriarchy. It is more through religious values, customs, and traditions that the magical cultural world is built up of from childhood, a process through which we learn to believe in and follow certain things. The law within families can actually be far more oppressive.

How is this oppression still happening in society?

I think that these days, violence has been institutionalized. Even though a consciousness has formed that women need to fight this and they need not be the victim because they have the power to be free, it is extremely difficult because all your life you have been told that you are nothing, that you should be submissive. Therefore, the self-esteem is lost. This image that is created about a girl or woman’s personality – it imprints itself upon society through consumerism, advertisement, and the media. The girl is constantly told that she is not who she is because she does not look like someone else. She is not a woman of substance because she does not have hair and nose like someone else. She has a build which is not you. You are consciously led to believe that the opinions of outsiders are more important that knowing yourself. I think the most important thing is to build self-confidence by ourselves – to believe that we are important and that we have dignity and rights.

How helpful are street theatres as a part of social movement?

Theatres have an organic relationship with social movements. We started out in order to reach the people. Street theatres are very effective because even people who are illiterate can understand theatre very easily and relate it to their own lives. They can imagine themselves as the people in the plays, though sadly most of them do not recognize that they are the protagonists of their own lives. Street theatre reaches out more than films and has the power to spread a message because it has a direct relation with people. The impact of theatre is tangible, but nothing immediately concrete. People have more interest in street theatres and new forms of communications such as flash mobs. Sometimes people from the crowd come forward to talk about the issue. This is the best part and is essentially our goal.

Why is formalizing domestic work so important?

Domestic work is considered the lowest in terms of the hierarchy of work, and considered an invisible sector because domestic help carry out cleaning work with their hands. Therefore, it is important to formalize them and bring them into the limelight as workers so that they get the dignity, recognition, and legal help that they deserve. The government needs to formalize this occupation, because the number of cases of exploitation in this sector has been increasing. We found many workers who have been trafficked in from places as far as Bangladesh and West Bengal.

How is their health being affected?

These people have respiratory, back, and arthritis issues that are directly related to their living conditions as they live in slums where they do not have access to amenities or potable water. They also do not have enough food for their children who grow up without proper nutrition. Moreover, proper food is not given to them at their workplace. We have this caste system in India which makes it so that some people can clean a toilet but not use it. When you have such a system, the health of those under discrimination is bound to be affected. Moreover, you are also not recognized as a worker so you do not have any laws or maternity and health benefits, with government hospitals giving very little help. There is a direct effect on pregnancy and neonatal health. As these people do not have any legislative benefits, they have to work till the last day of pregnancy and they might even have to go back to work in the postnatal state. Also, the baby gets very little nutrition because their mothers are unhealthy throughout pregnancy. The condition is really bad.

What barriers do we face in making a response?

The slums are full of Bengali Muslims and people from different nationalities. Trafficked girls are also more vulnerable as they are from different nationalities. These girls are brought into the country illegally and then sold, so they have no individual rights. They essentially belong to somebody and are like commodities. Even placement agencies, which are most often illegal, do not give any freedom to girls. They are kept in houses to work and their employers treat them irresponsibly. They do not even bother to find out where these girls are from. They need to know the whole story and be more responsible so that they stop enlisting such help and treat those who work for them fairly. There have been cases of sexual harassment, abuse, and even death but these are mostly invisible and silent behind the four walls of a house.

How should we build a response for this situation?

First, we need to spread awareness about the current situation; then we need to try getting people in society to open their eyes to exploitation because these incidents are rarely made public. This will not be easy because most members of society are either apathetic or do not want to get into anything that might be troublesome. People need to be sensitized in order for them to get involved and treat the exploitation of somebody else on a personal level.

What impact does have on early childhood development?

There are many. Abuse either becomes normal to them or they become desensitized, with many of them eventually becoming abusive later. Secondly, the trauma never goes away. The trauma of rape or abuse stays inside them like an infestation. As a result, they begin to hate people and cannot trust or love anyone. Rape victims often do not complain because they are often betrayed by the state and society, and thus live in a constant state of insecurity and vulnerability. A woman’s trauma can be observed by the child and affect him or her in many ways. A woman might even take out her frustration on the child, which damages the relationship between them. This takes a long time to fix unless they both receive counselling. Moreover, sometimes it is the child who goes through abuse and cannot speak up.

What can we do to help the situation?

Without equality there will not be any development. Without gender equality, you cannot have a society which brings change and justice. Empowering women is also of great importance to society because women need to be safeguarded for their reproductive contribution. We have to change our values, mindset, and attitude and pass the changes on to future generations. We can pass it on through poetry, proverbs, films, and other cultural activities. We need to be strong and focus on our task in hand.