Nishi is a counsellor working in a counselling centre for victims of domestic violence in Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh. She belongs to a very conservative joint family. She used to be very conservative in her outlook and wore a long ghunghat (part of the saree used to cover head and face). She had a terrible complex about having two daughters. She was facing a lot of emotional problems. At that time, she came in contact with Gayathri Devi of Mahila Samiti, who advised her to take up voluntary work at the organisation. Through Mahila Samiti, Nishi became a part of CREA’s Ibtida programme. And, she says, she has changed a great deal since then.
For an Ibtida training, she had to travel alone for the first time and that too, to Delhi. She was very scared, but the visit was successful. With time, she has gained the confidence to travel alone anywhere. Her self esteem has gone up. She leads a team of eight people now and “I can talk to and convince even hardened men”, says Nishi. She has decided that she will not marry off her daughters before they reach the legal age and are ready for it. She will also educate them and let them study as long as they would like to.
The Head of her organisation shared (independently) how well Nishi and others who are part of the Ibtida programme handle cases and work independently, even when she (the Head) is not around. “They frame training agendas on their own, can answer difficult questions during training programmes, and are very confident in dealing with courts and lawyers”, she adds. Also, the organisation’s documentation and monitoring practices have become much more streamlined. The work is reviewed every three months to assess whether the organisation is moving towards its goals.
Recently, Nishi had to handle a case of domestic violence where a woman was being tortured by her husband, an advocate. Nishi helped the woman file a police complaint against her husband. She also discussed his sexual behaviour in detail with woman, which revealed that the husband would burn his wife with cigarette butts during sex. There was a lot of pressure from the community of advocates to withdraw the case (since the husband was an advocate), but Nishi withstood all the challenges. In a private meeting with the judge, Nishi shared how the wife was being tortured by the husband in various ways. The husband was arrested and the case is now in court.
Nishi feels that this was a very big step for her. It showed where she has reached in terms of her comfort level for discussing issues of sexual violence against women.
Another staff member of Mahila Samiti pushed for the inclusion of marginalised women in her organisation's work. The organisation ran an HIV prevention programme for sex workers, but did not reach out to them with counselling services. On one occasion, a sex worker, who had come for a health check up, informed the organisation about facing an incident of sexual and physical violence. A thorough investigation revealed that she had been raped and assaulted by a group of men. She did not file a FIR with the police, as she feared stigma and discrimination, and thought that the police would never lodge a FIR for a sex worker who has been raped. The Ibtida member told her to lodge a police complaint and informed her that in case of rape, she can demand justice regardless of whether she is a sex worker or not. This case encouraged the organisation to start working with sex workers on women's rights issues.