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30 Oct 2020

Towards A Safe Future

"I used to work in the village. I married him against my parents' wishes. During the lockdown, he came back from Ahemdabad and brought his new wife along. When I resisted, the father in law asked me to leave with my 10 month old child. They even took my savings and mobile phone."

Sushma (name changed) is one of many young women who find themselves fleeing difficult living arrangements after the introduction of other wives into the household.
Stories like this are nothing new to Sita, who started working at the Women's Resource Center a year ago. As a young entrepreneur, Sita also works for Udaipur Urja in Jhadol (approximately 50 kilometers from Udaipur) collaborating with more than 100 families to help connect rural communities with clean technologies and ethical markets.

Sita registered Sushma's case with the center a few weeks ago and is helping Sushma to separate from her partner and retain her savings and mobile phone. Many of the cases reported in the center are about husbands leaving their wives for younger/other women without compensation or any closure. The majority of women have children to take care and often receive little support from their parents. Sita says:
"Young girls often stay with their partners here and have children. Their husbands work in other places [away from village]. Most of the times husbands bring other women in the family, leaving the first wife without any legal/social decision. One girl in my village was asked to leave her house by her in laws and was not helped by her brothers too. She was so scared. She stayed at my house for four days while we spoke to both the families."
As well as working on cases of separation and family disputes she has been at the frontline battling violence against women and young girls in her village, Madri. Sita has been counseling many young women in the area over phone and in person over the last six months. Although domestic violence cases are not new, there has been a sharp spike in increase since lockdown began.

Women who use the WRC are often targeted by their family and other community members, Sita has witnessed families threaten WRC members as they seek to facilitate a negotiation, including her latest case. "Sushma's father in law is a very powerful man in the village. He is the prominent person in the caste panchayat. When we summoned him for a meeting, he verbally abused us on phone and dismissed the summon. After many repeated reminders, he agreed to come. He came with many people to threaten us and was not agreeing to pay any compensation to the girl. After a day long battle, he agreed to pay a compensation of 1 lakh along with the mobile phone and her savings."
Seva Mandir has helped set up Women's Resource Centres in numerous villages around Rajasthan, which are run by women they have trained. Training includes teaching WRC staff how to resolve those within their remit, including by leading mediation and to recognise cases which need to be referred to external bodies (for example, the police or courts). Sita is currently working with this team and is now one of the WRC leaders.

The Madri WRC is currently operating in the panchayat building, damp because of the rains, there are some young girls anxiously waiting to be heard, as she sets up the centre she explains "I used to hear the stories from Kapilaji (a Seva Mandir team member) in our meetings and get curious about she gets the courage to do all of this. I was not scared. I wanted to learn how to help more women and young girls around me" recalling her inspiration to be part of the WRC.

Sita is committed to ensure gender equality in the most remote tribal villages in southern Rajsathan. She feels encouraged when she sees positive outcomes for the young women, such as obtaining their compensation or successfully departing a violent partner. Before opening the doors of the centre to yet more young women in struggle she states:
"Women speak up against the violence and injustice here. They just need a space to share. I get courage to stand for women because of Seva Mandir, their name and respect in the community helps me fight these battles. It is getting very busy at the Madri Women's Resource Center these days. So many women are approaching us for help."


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