Jagrutha Mahila Sanghatane (JMS)

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Dalit Women’s Right to Dignity

JMS 2015-16:

Taking Position and action on issues of violence against Dalit Women

Violence against women continues to be a challenging task within the sanghatan. In the past year, JMS continued its follow-up with old cases while also taking up new ones. So far they were familiar with visiting the police station, filing FIR and following up for charge sheet. The old cases that they were following up had all reached the Court for hearing. This was the first time that the women were approaching the Court.

Follow-up of old cases

JMS has put in a lot of energy and attention into following up each case. This means several internal processes and external tasks. They internally discussed the pros and cons of their proposed actions, built a kind of agreement on their course of action, met with the victims/family multiple times to discuss and counsel, visited the police station/ Court and met with the concerned police personnel and lawyers respectively, attended court hearings and so on.

However each of these old cases has been a tale of reversal which has been frustrating, disheartening and demotivating for JMS. This being their first experience with Courts and the challenges related to it, women have felt daunted and demoralized.

Rape of a minor girl: JMS continued its support to the minor girl who could not undergo abortion following rape. They visited her every month in bala mandira and in August 2016, she delivered a healthy baby girl by c-section. JMS women were present with her in the hospital and until her discharge three days later. The CWC suggested that she put up her child for adoption. But the girl refused and said she will not part with her baby. In October 2016, her case came up for hearing in Raichur Sessions court. JMS met the Public Prosecutor in charge of POCSO who said she was happy that the Sanghatan was taking interest in the case and that she was ‘fed up of fighting cases that end up in compromise’. But as and when case hearings came up JMS realized that the PP and the defence lawyers were hand in glove. In the first hearing, the police did not bring the girl to court. And the defence lawyer submitted that the man has offered to marry the girl and also write one acre of land in her name. The judge instead of dismissing such a suggestion said that if the man has agreed and the girl was a major then she could be persuaded to get married! JMS asked the PP why she did not challenge such a thing. The PP said that it depends on the girl as to what she will say in Court. She asked JMS to train the girl to stick to her statement which she had given to the police. JMS women visited the girl in Bagalkot to inform her about court proceedings and also to tell her not to accept it and that JMS would support her and her child. The girl even at this stage said she will not accept such a proposal and will not marry him. At the next date the girl was escorted to court and the PP met her alone along with the accused in her chamber. When JMS women tried to be part of the meeting she asked them to stay out. In Court when the judge asked her if she will marry, she agreed. Her sister who was present in Court was angry and tried to talk her out of it. But the girl refused. JMS women tried to plead with her but to no avail. When JMS met the PP she said the girl told her that JMS women had been trying to persuade her against it and the PP accused JMS of trying to stop a girl from getting a decent life!  JMS women told the PP that in fact it was she who had convinced the girl to get married and pushing her into marriage with a man who already has five children. JMS women had interacted with the accused in Court who said that he had paid nearly 1.4 lakhs to his lawyer and he complained that he was demanding more and that he had to take a loan! He apologized to the women and said that he will look after the girl well. But the women told him that he had no capacity to look after her and marrying him would only condemn the girl to a life of grinding poverty and violence.

But what the JMS could not fathom was that the girl had completely changed her mind so swiftly and suddenly and had turned almost hostile. This was very disturbing.  But till date there has been no ‘progress’ on it. The girl continues to be in the shelter home in Bagalkot with her baby while the Court drags its feet.

Yellamma, the woman who was burnt by her marital family:  Even as her case was being heard in Court, Yellamma’s father Husenappa struck a deal for 3 lakhs with Yellamma’s marital family and withdrew the case. This came as a big blow to JMS. They saw it as a personal failure. ‘How could he do such a thing?’ was a constant refrain. It took several rounds of discussion that this is not about ‘winning’ or ‘losing’, ‘success’ or ‘failure’ but as a sanghatan to be a voice for justice. And that these kinds of struggles and uphill battles are common and that one needs to understand why these things are happening and begin to address them systematically.

Girl who was abandoned by the husband after a miscarriage: The family of the woman who was abandoned by her husband after a miscarriage requested JMS women to intervene and see how they can support the girl’s future. Initially the girl agreed that she will visit a vocational training centre in hospet along with one of the JMS women and will explore what she would like to learn. But soon she changed her mind and demanded that she be taken back to her marital home. Her parents and JMS women tried hard to convince her but she was resolute- “I don’t want to be staying in my natal home where people will gossip about me- that I could not keep my marriage”.

New cases

Even as JMS were struggling with dilemmas and challenges related to the old cases, JMS was approached by families / women facing violence. The past year JMS had gathered a reputation for raising issues related to justice for women.  Even though JMS women felt that they had been fighting a losing battle, the larger community seemed to think otherwise.

Murder of a 24 year old woman: In September 2015, a 24 year old woman was found hanging from the ceiling fan of her marital home in Raichur. She happened to be the niece of the vice-president of JMS. The girl had been upset as she had been subjected to a lot of harassment and physical abuse. But she had not shared any of this with her family. She had even visited her aunt for a week and stayed with her but had not confided in her. The family came to know things were really bad a week before her alleged ‘suicide’ when a neighbor called her parents and informed them that they had been hearing screaming and crying from the house and that their daughter may be in danger. When the parents rushed to her house, even then she pretended to be fine and told her parents she was ok. A few hours before she allegedly committed suicide, she had called her cousin and asked him if he can visit her that day. She was upset and had cried on the phone. He assured her that he will meet her the next day and told her not to worry.

When the news of her death reached them, the JMS women rushed to Raichur at 11 in the night. They first went to the police station and filed an FIR and ensured that all appropriate sections were included in the same. They ensured that the body was taken for postmortem. In fact several male leaders from the girl’s natal town of Hatti had come with her family. Presence of JMS took them by surprise. In fact the girl’s family had paid them to come along with them for ‘support’. JMS presence at the police station ensured that the FIR was filed correctly along with panchanama and in a way also prevented these male community leaders from ‘striking deals’ on behalf of the natal family with the marital family. JMS’ intervention raised several eyebrows among the However this continues to be a distinct possibility even now. The girl’s family are still in shock and somehow feel unable to make any decision. The investigation is led by the DySP and presently the husband is in custody. JMS requested that the PP file an application against his bail as there was a genuine threat that her husband might influence / threaten witnesses. The hearing is yet to begin.

Abandonment and demand for divorce:  A young educated woman from Deodurga taluk, married to a traffic policeman in Raichur, approached JMS for support. She had been facing dowry harassment for the past three years. Two years ago she had filed a police complaint against her husband for dowry harassment. Then community leaders had intervened and got him to sign an affidavit that he will not harass her anymore and will look after her well. But about six months ago he had started harassing her again. He had made allegations that she has an affair and had even installed a CC TV camera in the house to monitor her movements. Then suddenly one day he did not return home. The woman went to the police station where he worked looking for him. But they were evasive and gave conflicting information that he is on leave and that he is not well and so on. They refused to even lodge a complaint. Then the woman received a divorce notice in which her husband alleged that the second child born is not his and therefore he wants a divorce from her.

She had been unable to file a police complaint against him and was unsure what to do next. She had hired a lawyer to represent her in the family court and wanted JMS to support her through the issue.

Being somewhat wiser from their previous experience, JMS said that they would be happy to help but they would need her to take the lead. And the woman demonstrated her commitment by filing complaints in the SP’s office. However she needed to lodge a complaint in the local police station for which she requested JMS women to accompany her. The women asked her to mobilize at least 4- 5 members from her own family to accompany her to the police station. She said that she will fix a date after the elections. JMS women are still waiting to hear from her.

Women seeking intervention in a domestic violence case: Several women have been seeking JMS’ intervention in cases of domestic violence. In such cases women have spoken to both the husband and wife and their families to get them to understand that violence is unacceptable and that differences have to settled through discussions and dialogue. In one such instance the husband accepted his mistake and even attended the meeting in sanghatan with his wife where the wife said he had changed his ways. On the other hand, JMS has had to stand up to local sanghatans dominated by men who are known to take money to settle matters.

JMS Women’s Convention

15 years of JMS journey was celebrated with much enthusiasm on 28th and 29th December 2015. JMS was joined by women from various villages, several well-wishers and friends of JMS, local sanghatans and importantly former students of Chilipili child labor school, many of whom were pursuing college education now.

To mark the 15 year journey, JMS brought out a photo-essay book titled ‘Claiming Dignity and Justice: Story of a Dalit madiga Women’s collective’ and a 15 -minute film titled ‘Footsteps’, that trace the struggles of dalit madiga women to build their collective, their journey dotted by achievements as well as challenges and their dreams for a better future for dalit women like themselves and their children.

The book and the DVD of the film were released at the Convention where women reflected on the present situation, challenges before the sanghatan and the way forward. Former students of JMS’ Chilipili Child Labour School expressed their gratitude to the sanghatan and shared how the school had been a refuge to reclaim their childhood and had been instrumental in changing the course of their lives. Well-wishers and friends of JMS present at the Convention congratulated the women for their grit and determination of continuing their struggle against all odds and had valuable suggestions for JMS’ future. The Convention renewed women’s energy, commitment and enthusiasm to strengthen and expand the sanghatan in the coming years.

CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE AGAINST DALIT WOMEN: 2014-15

JMS has long before recognized how entrenched violence is in women’s everyday life. In order to deepen women’s understanding of structural drivers of gender based violence, JMS organized a two- day workshop on the issue. This was anchored by activists from Mahila Munnade, a progressive women’s sanghatan in the state. A total of 40 women leaders participated in the two-day workshop.

The first day focused on understanding various forms of violence, its roots in power differentials and examining various forms of gender-based violence ranging from sex selective abortion, sexual assault, rape to maternal deaths and gender bias in various government policies. Women also got some insight into the history of women’s movement in the country and internationally. On the second day women visited the police station in Manvi taluk and held an interaction with the Circle inspector and SI on not only what are the responsibilities of the police personnel with respect to gender-based violence but also discussed the kind of problems they have faced in registering complaints, getting an FIR done and so on.

Following this workshop instances of violence which otherwise women would have missed were now being brought to the sanghatan and being discussed. For example, women actively intervened in instances of rumor mongering and vilification of young women in the village. Similarly women would also actively intervene in cases of domestic violence. Women suffering such violence started routinely approaching JMS for intervention.

After a two month gap, a second two-day workshop was organized on various laws concerning women and was anchored by Maitreyi Krishnan from Alternative Law Forum. She walked the women through several laws including the DV Act, Property Act, Anti-Dowry Act, the recent Act against sexual assault and so on. She also put the JMS team in touch with lawyers in Raichur who could help the women. She also suggested that if women understand some of the basic provisions, they could argue their own civil cases, particularly property related and reduce dependence on lawyers. But in cases of criminal cases, she said JMS should identify progressive lawyers in the district who could help them through the process in Court.

These kinds of interactions greatly enhanced women’s confidence and capacity to take up issues of violence against women and girls at the local level. They also got ideological clarity which helped them to think through issues and take decisions on the ground. In the past year, JMS had led protests, been part of delegation to the Women’s Commission and actively intervened in several instance of violence. Illustrated below are cases where JMS has been making efforts to take it to the logical conclusion

Follow Up on Cases:

  • Protest against Yellamma’s murder by her husband and others from his family
  • Following up a case of rape of a minor girl
  • Supporting the girl who allegedly eloped with a man with criminal history
  • Issues of abandonment after marriage

Deails on the cases followed up… Read More

Challenges Faced:

  1. Each case of violence takes up a lot of energy and time from JMS team. Being a small team at times it can be very stressful.
  2. JMS women faced instances of abuse and threat of physical violence from vested interests as they were in the forefront for justice.
  3. Each case has several complexities. For instance in the case involving a minor girl, JMS was not clear whether or not they can keep the girl in the sanghtan. Or what kind of legal issues are involved in seeking abortion services for a minor. In fact JMS team felt very disheartened that they could not reach abortion services in time and the girl was forced to continue pregnancy. Even though these were discussed during a workshop on law, women learn only as they deal with it on a case by case basis.
  4. Each case opens up several areas that need intense engagement. For instance violence is closely linked to emotional outcomes for the woman who needs intensive counseling and at times even psychiatric intervention.