At a time when the Coronavirus has sequestered people in their homes, an initiative in Bhopal aimed towards empowerment of women has seen about a dozen ex-victims of domestic violence train to be auto drivers. These courageous women are Bhopal’s first women auto rickshaw drivers and they have been instrumental in ferrying food as well as other essentials to the families in the city who have been hit hard by the epidemic.
Talat Jahan, 29, is a survivor of domestic abuse. She along with other fellow volunteers of Gauravi, a city based charity in Bhopal have had to counsel women who were in the same house as their abusers, especially during the lockdown period, which saw a sharp spike in domestic violence around the world.
Jahan says that there were women who were stuck at home with abusive husbands, and these women would seek her out to narrate their tales of misery. Jahan is more than happy to lend them an ear and counsel them with their problems. Jahan, herself, is a domestic abuse survivor who was pestered for dowry by her in-laws.
Gauravi, meaning ‘brave heart’ in Hindi, happens to be Bhopal’s first of a kind charity that provides legal help, financial support along with social and psychological support to abuse victims, invariably women. This center was set up after the horrific incident of the rape and murder of a woman on a Delhi bus back in 2012, which paved the way for very stringent and tough anti-rape laws in India.
The setting up of Gauravi has empowered Jahan and other women rickshaw drivers, the majority of whom are domestic abuse survivors to seek out a new profession and also assist other needy women.
According to Sarika Sinha, who is the manager of Gauravi, the women auto rickshaw drivers have been key in seeking out domestic abuse victims and providing them with adequate support so that they could come out of these abusive relationships. She says, “It is a difficult time. You lose your livelihood, you lose your food, you lose your security. So, where do these most vulnerable women go? This is the larger picture.”
During the period of complete lockdown, Gauravi received over 1400 distress calls, which ranged from marital rape, domestic abuse and women trafficking. Gauravi also received calls from pregnant women who were not in a position to access healthcare and abortion facilities. With the domestic violence and abuse cases, counselors from Gauravi would talk to the concerned couple over the phone. Failing the above, counselors would meet with the husband at the home of the couple and make them see reason. Not all cases worked out, the police also had to be called in in some of the instances.
In case the husbands were not cooperative, volunteers from Gauravi would arrange for the women and the children to be kept at their shelter. The auto rickshaw driver/volunteers from Gauravi have had to overcome lots of challenges like procurement of travel permits so that they could reach the women in distress. Sinha says,” Earlier we would hug women, hold them, wipe their tears to comfort them during a difficult time. A healing touch – that was what was most needed during Covid-19 –and that totally got lost.”
With the United Nations predicting a 20% rise in domestic abuse cases, the volunteers at Gauravi were instrumental in identifying vulnerable people, being cognizant of their needs, packing kits of food and aid, using the auto rickshaws to make over 10,000 deliveries in the last 3 months. Also, they drove women to work, assisted them in calling government ambulances and educated people about the Coronavirus. The women auto rickshaw drivers unanimously chorus that they have gained immensely in confidence and are now ready to take on the world in their new avatars.
Image Source: Geo.Tv