By Yusra Husain: Rajni’s voice cracks as she tells how at one point, between her husband’s kicks and punches and the verbal lashings from her mother-in-law, her confidence fell so low that she was afraid to leave the house.
The 28-year-old’s marriage with Chetram began falling apart after two-three months when her parents gave the dowry for their only daughter. Soon the mother-in-law started to incite her son against Rajni. The mother-in-law taunted and rebuked her daily, while pushing Chetram to get another wife. He had not just one, but two extra marital affairs with high earning women. Rajni found out when she answered a call from one of the girlfriends. When Rajni confronted him, he beat her until she had bruises everywhere. More beatings ensued every time his affairs came up. Being punched and kicked became an everyday ordeal.
She eventually fled with their infant daughter, seeking refuge at her parents’ for a month. When Chetram was in Agra, she returned and had to call the police to get past her mother-in-law and enter the house. The incident infuriated Chetram, who unleashed all his wrath, he bashed her up before filing for a divorce. When Sarita Kanojia, Counsellor with AROH Foundation (an NGO working for women) met Rajni at the office of Crime Against Women, or CAW, one of her cheeks was swollen and her husband had left scratch marks on the inside of her other bruised cheek.
She was limping and visibly in deep physical and mental pain, Kanojia recalls. Rajni has since started taking art and crafts classes and plans to takes more courses she can support her child. She and her daughter are now on their own, but near her husband and her mother-in-law’s prying eyes.
“It would be very difficult for me to accept him back. The shock and grief of one was hard to bear, now there are two,” Rajni says, referring to her husband’s adultery.
As many as 44% of women were victims of cruelty by husbands and relatives in 2010, according to Delhi Police statistics. Police are trying to reduce that number with “Parivartan,” a campaign whose name means “Change” in English. Under the campaign, women constables work for the safety of other women prominently of the slum areas.
Dressed in a cotton khaki salwar kameez uniform, 35-year-old Head Constable Rajrani from ‘Parivartan’ is on her way to visit a slum in north-west Delhi. Listening to cases of domestic violence, sexual abuse and molestation, rape, dowry and domestic brawls has been her everyday routine since 2007.
“Counselling sessions by police personnel and various NGOs working for women are taken up to make the victims and victimisers both understand the repercussions,” Rajrani says.
Rajrani is one of the 56 female constables working under “Parivartan.” The campaign helps women in the slums deal with alcoholic husbands, domestic violence, sexual abuse, harassment, molestation, abduction, kidnapping, rape and all other forms of crime against women.
Most of these cases go unreported and unchallenged where the women are scared of the stigma they might have to face or they step down for their children. Women at society’s lower levels are much more vulnerable to abuse and need to be protected even more, according to police.
“Being a police constable, it is my duty to help people, listen to their troubles and issues. Working with and for women is not a difficult task for us. Ever since I joined the police in 1996, I have been doing such work even when I am deployed at a police station,” she says.
Rajni is a victim of not just physical abuse but also mental trauma. The fact that Chetram carries a suicide note with him to blackmail Rajni is just another keyhole view to her traumatic life. “I apologise to my daughter innumerable times a day for bringing her into a world where she has such a man for a father.”
Many other victims share Rajni’s case of domestic apathy and violence. “Jiss shaadi mai vishwas nahi laalach tha, wo shaadi kaisi?”(The marriage that was based on greed and not trust, was it even a marriage?) Rajni says.
Where words fail, Parivartan uses pantomime shows, performances using expressions, gestures and body movements without dialogue in addition to motivational and awareness films, self defence programmes, street plays on social ills and other confidence building mechanisms in an attempt to help them.
The pantomime shows in various slums deal with three basic areas. ‘Ram Kali ki kahani’ on domestic violence against women, drug abuse and prevention, and ‘Hadsa’ on rape and sexual harassment are the most performed shows. As many as 489 performances were conducted over 35 months and the show is still going on.
Even though they are surrounded by negativity and societal ills all around, these women constables take it as a challenge.
“Just as a teacher listens and trains her students no matter how difficult they are, or the challenges that a judge or lawyer faces when confronted by criminals, we too try and make the slum dwellers understand their rights,” Rajrani says. “In return, we gain knowledge and experience. We do not let the negativity creep into our lives. We see both the good and bad.”
‘Parivartan’ was launched to create awareness, to protect women. “Women and children are most vulnerable in slum areas. Frequently exploited by all known persons such as relatives and neighbours, these women need to know about their strengths,” says Dr. P. Karunakaran, Deputy Commissioner of Police, North West District, Delhi.
Police personnel like Rajrani are working hard to protect victims such as Rajni.