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  • Women want Justice and Safety in Delhi

  • SEWA Delhi - The voice of Young Women

  • Sexual Harassment at Work-Informal Workers in Gujarat

  • SEWA Membership on the Rise

No. 46 | January 2013
H2 Side Women want Justice and Safety in Delhi

The brutal gang rape and death of the 23-year-old student on a Delhi bus, caused shock waves all over India, and more so among women. SEWA members, especially in Delhi related their own experiences and fears and felt that "enough was enough". In the year ahead, it is imperative to not lose sight of the overarching challenge of protecting Indian women against the rising tide of dangers. Devising and enforcing an agenda for women's safety is a difficult task, but the call for "we want justice," which rang out over India Gate, needs a clear agenda and practical action.

Women today are entering public spaces in large numbers. Every family, however poor, attempts to send its girls to schools and girls today aspire to better and higher education and indeed outnumber and outperform boys in colleges and universities. For young women, of every class, marriage and children and the kitchen are no longer her only aspiration, but many dream of a job, a career and a place in society outside the home.

Unfortunately, Delhi has always had a culture of various forms of violence against women in public places. It is "accepted" that a group of men may pass a lewd comment against a woman in public, or that they may "brush up" against her in a bus. For young men, harassing women is covered up in the mild words "teasing". It is not uncommon for this form of open harassment to lead to actual molestation and even rape.

The attitude of the general public in Delhi supports this anti-woman culture. Women today often fight back, but are rarely supported by others, even in crowded places. Every incident, whether in a bus or the metro or on the road, has some men muttering "look at the way she is dressed" or "she invited it", or "girls should remain at home, why is she out on the streets".

If women are to continue on the path towards becoming useful and equal members of society it is imperative that their safety in public places be guaranteed. We have seen many women who have had to withdraw from schools or jobs because of the harassment they face in buses or on roads. This is especially true of poor or middle class families where the first generation of girls are emerging from their homes or their traditional occupations. Creating a safer environment for women is not only the responsibility of the police or the government, it is a matter for us all.

First, it is necessary for women to speak up. Silence encourages the perpetrators, and ensures that they behave worse next time. Second men must support women when they speak up. They must make the perpetrator feel ashamed and apologetic. Third, the police must play an active role. Sexual harassment is not "teasing" it is a crime, and the perpetrators cannot be treated with a smirk as "boys will be boys". Finally, when such crimes reach the courts, it is necessary for the courts to also treat it seriously. Many judges treat her like the criminal, rather than the victim. At the same time these cases are allowed by the court to drag on for years, so that the victim never gets justice, but continues to be harassed by the criminal who is out on bail. Delhi had 635 reported rape cases in 2012 with only one conviction. It had 193 cases of 'eve teasing' reported with zero convictions.

Most important is the need for citizen patrolling and citizen- police co-operation. Parents of school and college girls are often willing to work with police to protect their children. They need to be tapped in large numbers. Women's committees can be formed at the local or mohalla level and regularly interact with the police and other authorities. NGOs working with women and girls are able to mobilize and are often able to provide information to police on areas where women face harassment and need to be drawn into partnership with the police and Government efforts.

Renana Jhabvala

H2 Side SEWA Delhi - The voice of Young Women

Young members of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) Delhi spontaneously held meetings to protest and to express their fear and unhappiness. They sent their recommendations (below) to the Justice Verma Committee set up by the Government of India.

These young women live in poorer areas of Delhi called the JJ (Jhuggi Jhopri) colonies. They said that instances of harassment, molestation, stalking is quite common in their colonies. There had been cases of rape too, but there was a conspiracy of silence.

They said when they went to school or to work or even to the market, they had to listen to lewd and insulting comments from men who vary in their age from 10 years to 60 years. Some of them felt that it is so sad to see that men of their father's age also pass comments. In order to avoid hearing what was being said and feeling fearful and insulted they put earphones of their mobile phone and listen to music. The streets are so unfriendly for young girls, they said.

Their schools and educational institutions are also not safe for them as many boys and men roam around their schools and harass them with bad comments, even disturb their studies.

Many of them shared that their parents tell them to be quiet and not to respond to men's comments as it is not safe and the Police is also unfriendly. Women remain silent but feel broken inside. After some time they begin to get depressed and inactive and fearful. They said that their mobility and growth is restricted due to such situation, as their parents do not want them to travel too long for studies or jobs.

Leelaben, a SEWA Delhi board member says, "While the protests in the Delhi Gang Rape case were going on, we had an incident in my colony. Laxmi (name changed), age 9, was alone in the house as both her parents are street vendors and had gone to sell. Suddenly a neighbour aged 24 or so, came into the house and grabbed her. She tried to shout and struggle but he hit her and silenced her. Fortunately, just as he had torn off her clothes, her grandmother walked in and raised an alarm. The neighbours gathered around and the young man ran away. We went to the police station but they refused to file an FIR. Many SEWA members came and filled up the police station so finally they agreed to file an FIR. But the police told us, 'You find the criminal and bring him here and we will charge him.!' We all protested, and refused to leave finally the police went and caught him, he had run away to Bareilly".
Recommendations of SEWA Delhi
  • Installation of CCTV cameras in and around Educational Institutions: Surveillance cameras must be set up in and around educational institutions to vehemently discourage any untoward incidents of harassment and molestation. The footage of these cameras must be regularly monitored to blacklist any mischief-makers.

  • Parents Committees must be given "Citizen Police" status and be asked to patrol the areas around schools and also buses which lead to schools.

  • Strengthening of Gender Resource Centres (GRCs): The GRCs are an important existing outreach of the Delhi Government. Women help lines should be advertised by GRCs encouraging women to report untoward instances. Furthermore, GRCs can also bridge the chasm of reluctant complainants and police by providing active assistance to the plaintiff.

  • Setting up a local Citizens (Women) Committee and holding regular Safety Audits: In areas identified as 'susceptible' to crime (especially slums), create a team comprising of revered local men and women, with more than 50% women, to carry out an investigation inspecting and assuring safety for women which includes street lights, condition of public toilets, situation around educational institutions etc. This committee should be empowered by the police and authorities and can work closely with the Police to monitor the situation.

  • Stop the sale of Illegal Drugs: Regular raids must be held on fighting the menace of drug usage. Apart from the chronic health implications, drugs act as a catalyst in crime against women. Putting a more stringent punishment in place for the offense, coupled with raids can emerge as a plausible solution.

  • No common roof for Public Conveniences for Men and Women- Public conveniences for men and women must not be located under a common roof, for they are often deserted and used as a hub for drug dealings. Public conveniences for women must be manned by women, themselves.
H2 Side Sexual Harassment at Work-Informal Workers in Gujarat

The SEWA members had a meeting and voiced the harassment they faced as workers. Many women work in large kitchen catering for restaurants, marriages, parties etc. They bring along their daughters to work, but while working with men in the kitchen they feel insecure and are sometimes the victims of physical abuse. Many times younger girls would not realize that they are being victimized by men physically. Many women confessed the fact that they were physically taken advantage of. They said if they refused they would not be given their payments and sometimes lost their work. The harassment was not only restricted to the men working with them but it also involved men at whose place the occasions were held.

Women vegetable vendors start their work in the early hours of the morning. They leave to buy vegetables in the Jamalpur vegetable market of Ahmedabad. These women vendors in the recent times have felt very insecure about their safety. Under the pretext of providing vegetables to the women the middlemen would use it as an opportunity to touch them. Not only this they would use dirty language, give spoiled vegetables or lesser quantities of vegetables to the women. Women would also be taken advantage of by the rickshaw drivers. If the women vendors co-operate with the sexual behaviour of the rickshaw drivers then services like dropping off the goods right at their doorstep and lesser or no rickshaw fares are taken from them.

Women working as construction and masonry workers are often exploited at their work place itself. The contractor himself would take liberty with these women. If the women object to his demands he would either refuse to pay her wages or give her lesser wages, burden her with more work or deny her work the next day, send her home if she comes late to work and refuse to grant her leave when she would need it the most.

Similar plight is faced by women paper and rag pickers. Women rag pickers work in filthy environments under any weather conditions and have to search though hazardous waste. They start their work early and hence have to roam through the empty streets. They are always afraid that they may run up against criminals. While taking the rickshaw to go to different places to collect rags they are often subjected to exploitation by the drivers. When women waste pickers go to the societies to collect waste the security guards of the societies make unreasonable demands from them. These women work from 3 in the morning till 7 in the evening and barely earn around Rs 50 to Rs 70 per day. Those women who regularly go to the sewage farm to collect waste are subject to such bad experiences as well. Now many young girls too have started gathering waste early in the morning. This has increased the fears of their security amongst their mothers.

Conditions are equally bad in rural areas. Women agricultural workers say a wealthy farmer would employ only poor women workers. Poverty stricken women suffer almost anything and everything that comes their way. While working in the fields the farmer and his sons would ask for favours under the pretext of giving them extra money. These women would give in to the wishes of the farmers as they are worried about the arranging food to feed for their families. Women are seen dying a slow death due their work. Such incidences play havoc in the lives of women who are exploited right at their work place.

Girls attending the computer classes of SEWA Academy stated how while crossing the bridge to reach the classes the bike riders and other commuters on the road would try to touch them and pass ugly signals and sometimes even follow them. There are times while attending schools or colleges such hideous attempts are made by men even if they are covered with dupatta (cloth) on their face and body.

Santokben leader of SEWA's Waste Pickers Group said 'Today I was shocked to see two very well dressed men on a bike giving some money to two daughters aged 10 & 12 years. These were the daughters of a SEWA member. I instantly ran towards them. Looking at which the two men fled on their bike. I approached the daughters and asked them why they were given so much money. To this the naive girls replied that they had no idea why it was given to them. However one of them said that this was the second time they had received money from these men and in turn the men wanted them to accompany them somewhere. The girls informed me of not having gone with them yet. I ran straight to their mother and informed her on what happened. I told the mother that next time such men enter our area the police should be informed and a complaint should be registered. Such men are trying to trap young girls. The mother started crying. She said,' I shall never forget your obligation.'

Later the mother and I arranged a meeting with the leaders of the area and the incident was explained. Suggestions like shouting for help, calling the elders, running away from the spot and the importance of a police complain were explained to the girls.

H2 Side SEWA Membership on the Rise

Our membership has increased and we are now 17, 36,033 women workers in eleven states of India. The majority of SEWA members live in the state of Gujarat (9, 19,912), where SEWA began and is most evolved. The complexion of SEWA's membership has changed significantly.

SEWA's membership has grown continuously and had a big jump of over 3 lakhs this year.

X Axis- No of Years, Y Axis- SEWA Membership

SEWA All India Membership - Year 2012

-Bhagalpur 38000
-Munger 27200
-Katihar 9800
Delhi 36,000
Gujarat 9,19,912
Madhya Pradesh
-Bikaner 15104
-Jodhpur 2586
-Jaipur 1500
-Dungarpur 8000
-Ajmer 4000
West Bengal
-Dehradun 3560
-Almoda 3000
Uttar Pradesh
-Bareli 3749
-Lucknow 97684
-Mumbai 4000
Assam 754
Total 17,36,033

In comparison to the previous years the urban membership has now equalled the rural membership in Gujarat.

Gujarat Membership- Urban and Rural Distribution

Main Categories of Workers No of Women Percentage of Total Membership
Rural 5,02,321 55%
Urban 4,17,591 45%
Total 9,19,912 100%
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