How a community radio station is dealing with 'shadow pandemic' of domestic violence

From mid-April to July, some 300 women were engaged in this mask-making effort


Domestic violence is a social norm here, says Nitika Kakkar, project director of Hinsa ko No—an initiative by Smart, the NGO that runs Radio Mewat, a popular community radio station in one of the most backward districts in India.

"When the lockdown was imposed in March this year, we knew the situation for women is going to worsen," says Kakkar whose team came up with a mask-making campaign as an excuse and opportunity to identify cases of violence and abuse. Her team tapped into a ground network of some 700 women from 30 panchayats as part of the already existing campaign of Hinsa ko No. These women would report stories and cases of harassment in households nearby. The NGO had special travel passes made during peak lockdown, got its ground staff to find women who own sewing machines and can stitch and sew, provided cloth material and got the local administration to approve the stitched samples.

From mid-April to July, some 300 women were engaged in this mask-making effort and produced some 55,000 units which were redistributed, after paying Rs 6 for each mask. "The women would visit homes to provide the cloth, teach them how to make the mask, but most importantly inquire after their well being. The conversations were all about how violence at home," says Kakkar, who would learn of stories and cases which would feed Radio Mewat's programming for extensive messaging on domestic violence and mental health. "It became an opportunity to maintain communication with women on the ground and provide a source of comfort for them in highly constrained circumstances," recalls Kakkar. She informs how the One Stop Centre—a centrally sponsored scheme which offers an integrated range of services to women affected by violence in every district—was established only last year in Mewat. "That is run by a single person and that too a man. Even this centre was shut through the lockdown. Women hardly know about its existence," says Kakkar.

November 25 is observed as International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women and gives way to a 16-day campaign against Gender-Based Violence . The UN has called it the "Shadow Pandemic" amid the COVID-19 crisis. The National Crime Records Bureau's 2019 report says of the 4.05 lakh crimes against women, over 30 per cent were that of domestic violence, with the highest reported cases from Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. According to a 2020 National Commission for Women report, domestic violence complaints increased by 2.5 times since the nationwide lockdown began in India. Kakkar recalls the story of a girl, already a victim of domestic violence at her in-laws' place which she eventually shuns, becomes the receiver of physical violence at her maternal household when her father and brother lose their daily wage jobs in April. "Our team members told her about the mask-making project and she fortunately had a sewing machine. We were the first ones in Mewat to start this initiative and others soon followed."

Supported by Azim Premji Philanthropy Initiative (APPI), Hinsa Ko No initiative, which is three years old now, targets not just women in Mewat, but various other stakeholders that have the power to make a difference. Smart has reached out to 10 most active community radio stations from Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana and is now training their staff in a three-day workshop, ending November 27, at the India International Centre in Delhi. "The purpose of the physical workshop—the first of its kind during COVID-19—is to help produce and develop programmes that can create awareness about their rights, and the law, to help build the agency of women to take control of their lives. The aim is to understand the existing patriarchal societal structures, and enhance their capabilities to negotiate these structures for their own self-respect and safety," states the press note from Smart.

Under this project, the stations will build stakeholders by including panchayats, police, women and child development protection officers (WCDPO), lawyers and paralegals, mediapersons, local NGOs and activists, as well as students. 

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