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SNEHA gave us strength

Dec 4 2023 / Posted in Gender Violence

Earlier, Sunita D’Souza, 28 would think that violence was her lot after marriage. Married at the age of 14, she would be beaten black and blue by her in-laws every day and would suffer their taunts silently.

After associating with SNEHA in 2002, she became a sangini and since then helped a lot of women turn their lives around. From being a girl who wouldn’t step out of the house, she now confidently approaches authorities and tackles issues in her locality such as sexual harassment in public and other forms of violence and abuse.

“Now when I see a man molesting a girl on the road, it feels like a bomb blast in my brain. I cannot tolerate any girl being abused in any way,” said Sunita.

Sunita is among the 150 engines trained in crisis intervention during occasions of violence in the community, counseling women and family members, and even filing complaints with the police. These sanginis (meaning friend in Hindi) handpicked by SNEHA work voluntarily in the community.

When SNEHA began its work on the prevention of violence against women and children, it would conduct regular meetings with women.

These meetings helped build a perspective on gender, violence, and sexuality in the community. More importantly, the women had to be told that talking about violence in a home is not an issue of shame or dishonor.

“Some of the women in these meetings emerged as leaders. We took them into our fold to build sustainability of the program, local capacity, and leadership. Also, we needed someone on the ground at times of emergency. These women became the eyes and ears of SNEHA. They also work as a group that puts pressure on the community,” said Preethi Pinto, program coordinator, advocacy and communications, SNEHA.

Like Sunita, most of the engines had suffered violence themselves. They can relate to other women in similar situations and help them cope with the situation better. “We suffered so much. We do not want other women to go through it,” said Shubhangi Gaikwad, who is in her late 30s. Shubhangi suffered violence from her husband for over seven years, before she approached SNEHA. She later became a sangini.

There is also an obvious shift in the thinking that women should not talk openly about violence. A few months ago, Rashida Shaikh risked hurting herself by trying to save a woman in her locality.
“That woman was being dragged by her drunk husband with a cloth tied around her neck. People told me not to intervene in what they said was a family issue.
I fought with them and told them that I would get the police if he didn’t let go of his wife. People do not realize that just because I fought with the man, the woman’s life was saved,” said Rashida.

Most of these women are homemakers, from very conservative backgrounds, and not very educated. It is a huge deal for them to step out of the house, confront people, and try to rescue women. They now go to the police and demand that complaints be filed. The experiences with SNEHA have empowered them to confront their problems with authorities, instead of suffering in silence.

Shobha Janga

A policeman was refusing to file a complaint when my daughter lost her cell phone. He kept saying that the children are spoilt these days and own cell phones. I told him it was none of his business and insisted a complaint be filed. Finally, he had to file a complaint,” said Shobha Janga, who has been a sanguine since 2002.

These women have come a long way since they first engaged with SNEHA. They have empowered themselves and are now in a position to empower other women like them. One of our engines is even pursuing a Masters of Social Work (MSW),” said Bhaskar Kakkad, program coordinator, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA.

Bhanu Dedia

Many of these women have even started working with SNEHA. “I used to be in ghunghat (veil) earlier. I have barely completed my eighth standard.

I never even imagined I could work earlier. I started as a songster and now I am a program officer. I feel my sanginis should also become strong,” Bhanu Dedhia, who has been associated with SNEHA for 12 years.

The engines with Bhaskar Kakkad on the left

The engines find strength in each other. “I would not utter a single word outside my home earlier. Now, I tell people that if they try to harm me, my engines will get together and teach them a lesson. I am not afraid of anyone anymore,” said Rashida.

Also Read : SNEHA at #NoPlace4Hate