The COVID-19 induced lockdown has been particularly harsh on women, children and the LGBTQ community, who are trapped at home and suffering at the hands of their abusers. According to the United Nations, domestic violence is nothing short of a ‘shadow pandemic.’ The National Commission for Women registered 660 complaints of domestic violence in July, over 45 percent more than the previous month. The situation has been no different in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh. However, victims of domestic violence in Bhopal have got a saviour too.
Several women, hungry and abused, are being provided with food and other essentials by Talat Jahan, herself a survivor of domestic abuse and dowry-harassment, and a dozen other women, who have been trained to become the city’s first female rickshaw drivers. In the last three months, these female auto rickshaw drivers have found vulnerable people, identified their needs and delivered close to 10,000 kits of food and other essentials in the last three months.
Talat and her fellow volunteers, who belong to the Gauravi One-stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) under the Ministry of Women and Child Development, have also served as a sounding board for these victims.
Talat has told media, “Some women who were stuck at home with their abusive husbands, they would come and seek me out and tell me about their troubles.”
The Gauravi Centre in Bhopal was established in 2012, after the Nirbhaya gang rape and murder shook the nation. The Centre provides domestic abuse victims with legal, financial, social and psychological help. Talat, and several other women rickshaw drivers, have been empowered by the social organisation, and were trained to become financially and emotionally independent.
“I felt blessed to be able to help these women because I had been through the same and knew what it is like, this feeling of helplessness,” Tala was quoted saying in media reports.
If and when there are complaints of domestic violence, counselors at the Centre talk to the couples over the phone or meet them at their homes; approaching the police is the last resort. However, if the women continue to suffer at the hands of their husbands, the Centre would provide shelter to the women and their children.
The Centre has received 1,400 distress calls from women during the lockdown. The issues range from domestic abuse, marital rape and trafficking, to lack of healthcare for pregnant women.
(Edited by Athira Nair)