A Fresh Start For Pinky

A Fresh Start For Pinky

Twenty-two-year-old Pinky*, unlike many women who face domestic violence silently at their matrimonial home, took a bold step. She approached the nearest police station to file a complaint against her husband and in-laws.

Domestic violence is one of the most prevalent form of violence that women face in their lifetime. The recent National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data reports that a total of 4,28,278 cases of crime against women were registered during 2021, an increase of 15.3% over 2020. Out of these reported cases 31.8% cases were registered under cruelty by husband and in-laws.

Pinky got married in 2019 but from the very beginning she faced harassment from her in-laws and husband. She came from a poor family. She was harassed physically and mentally; it became worse when she couldn’t bear children after three years of marriage.

Pinky is one of the few women who instead of suffering in silence decided to set things right. Her parents supported her, welcomed her back home and gave her the confidence to walk up to a police station to report against the husband and in-laws.

Initially she was worried that like others she would be judged and threatened to return to her marital home. But when she reached the police station she was referred to the Bijayini Women Support Centre in Nayagarh. At the Centre, she met the counsellor who not only gave her a patient hearing but for the very first time did not blame her for the violence that she suffered. She was in a space that was non-judgmental and believed her.

Pinky wanted a second shot at life. She wanted to get her ‘streedhan’ back from the marital family, which was given to her as gift from her natal family. After several rounds of negotiations between the family and the counsellor, Pinky received her jewellery and other household items.

Today we are at a juncture where while the national-level crime data representation shows a continuous increase in the cases of domestic violence, not many young women are taking recourse of the justice system for redressal.

498(a) of IPC recognises domestic violence as a crime with imprisonment up to three years and fine on the marital family. The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act (PWDVA) 2005 provided for immediate relief; this was supported by protection officers.

Despite the legal provisions, the challenge is to bridge the gap in the expectation of women and girls for speedy and immediate action from the service provider or the criminal justice system. Secondly, women who approach the system are often categorised as ‘home breakers’ and are subject to ‘character assassination’. Often the attitude of the protection officers/service providers prevents women from taking recourse to redressal mechanism.

To plug these gaps, the Bijayini Women Support Centres were conceptualised to re-establish women’s self-worth, dignity and confidence in the redressal mechanism. The counsellors create an environment where she is able to express her voice without the fear of being judged. It provides professional support service to women and children facing violence and establishes a significant alliance with the police and legal service for seeking justice.

Presently, there are six women support centres, supported by Oxfam India, in Odisha—Khordha, Nayagarh, Kalahandi, Koraput, Rayagada and Gajapati district—which provides support to at least 1000 women every year.

The primary role of the Centre is to respond to the needs of women survivors through pro-women counselling service, assisting women for registering police complaints, and referral to other services including medical, psychiatric, educational, vocational and legal aid. The counsellors of the Women Support Centres also conduct outreach sessions to create awareness around ending gender-based violence in collaboration with the Department of Women and Child Development through ICDS and District Legal Service Authority. During the awareness session the counsellors develop an understanding around various forms of violence against women and actions that are needed to be taken to prevent them. Oxfam India also worked closely with students and youth in schools and colleges to bring a shift in their attitude towards domestic violence.

On 21 June 2023, Pinky received all her streedhan back from her in-law’s house due to the mediation by the Centre’s counsellors. Pinky is extremely confident of overcoming the challenge of being stereotyped by the community and carving her own path to empowerment and a better future.

*name changed to protect identity

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