Neeta (name changed) was five months pregnant when she went to the hospital for medical termination of pregnancy. When the concerned counsellor from Mumbai-based NGO SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action) at the Women’s OPD asked her the reason for this high-risk decision, the harried 32-year-old revealed that she was doing it because her husband did now want the child at any cost.
When the counsellor probed for more details, Neeta revealed that husband had also been violent towards her. Due to the lack of support, financial constraints and constant marital disputes, she felt her only option was to abort the baby.
Realising the young mother’s dilemma, the counsellor held joint meetings for the couple as well as for the husband’s family members. But even after all this, they refused to support Neeta’s wishes..
With the help of a SNEHA lawyer, Neeta filed a case under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. She obtained a maintenance order for herself and her child, but her case continues in court.
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Today, thanks to the NGO’s tireless efforts, Neeta lives independently in a rented house with her baby. She has started looking for a job so that she can support the two of them better.
Neeta belongs to Dharavi, a teeming slum of one million people souls in Mumbai that has a high incidence of gender-based violence, discrimination and harassment. However, these social menaces are not limited just to Dharavi; they have a distressingly pervasive presence across India.
According to the National Family Health Survey (NHFS) findings, nearly 47% percent women in the country have faced some violence, and only 2% of these women have asked for institutional help.
The recently published findings of National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) also highlighted the severe, diverse and omnipresent nature of violence faced by Indian women. And much of it – domestic violence, dowry deaths, rape, child abuse, honour killings and acid attacks – take place at the hands of family members.
In the multi-ethnic, congested environment of Dharavi, this serious problem is compounded by the fact that most women are poor and uneducated.
Cognizant of the fact that it was vital to involve men in the process of finding solutions — sexism, male dominance and patriarchal social norms form the foundation of violence against women — the organisation started conducting regular meetings with the men of the community. The idea was to raise awareness against gender-based violence and to demystify issues relating to sexuality and sexual health.
Though the meetings initially had to face a lot of resistance, they gradually found acceptance among the community. Today, the volunteer group has hundreds of active members who participate regularly in these meetings and have started challenging deep-rooted patriarchal norms.