We are in the seventh month of this pandemic induced situation and so much has changed for everyone. Along with the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising, the number of women who have been at the receiving end of domestic violence and abuse has also grown.
Iti Rawat, founder, Women Entrepreneur Foundation (WEFT) says that since 30 March 2020, the organisation has received 189 calls from women who have been victims of domestic violence and abuse of some form.
While that is almost a call a day, what is even more disheartening is that reports suggest that almost 86 per cent of the domestic abuse cases just go unreported, and 0 per cent of the cases reported are of first-time offenders.
National Commission of Women also mentions that domestic abuse cases in India are at a ten-year high. Alarming, to say the least.
Entrepreneurial Forum Shifts Focus
WEFT was founded in 2018 to give women entrepreneurs a chance to network, help them fine-tune business pitches, and also connect them with potential funds. With a membership base of about 1500 women, the organisation has members from pan-India.
In March when the lockdown was announced Iti and her team sent out a mail to their member database, primarily to check if anyone needed any help with their businesses. “While most of them replied saying there wasn’t really much of a business they were doing at that moment, there was one reply which caught our attention,” says Iti.
It was from a member who was being abused and sought help in getting out of that situation. “We dug a little deeper and what we found made us rather uncomfortable,” she says.
Red Dot Initiative
On 30 March 2020, WEFT launched the ‘Red Dot Initiative’, as a means to reach out to women who were suffering from domestic abuse and find ways of rescuing and rehabilitating them. Iti says, “A conversation with the National Council for Women (NCW), Rekha Sharma, also proved to be an eye-opener, because we were told about how the pandemic and lockdown had resulted in a spike in domestic abuse cases. We were also told how many women do not even have the wherewithal to lodge a formal complaint.”
Since the start of this initiative, 73 women have been rescued from across India.
What does a rescue mission entail?
Just as dramatic as it sounds, the rescue mission is an elaborate plan that needs proper execution. Explaining this, Iti says, “Rescue missions take place in cases where the woman wants to get out of her home but is unable to do so. We reach out to the local police, get them to file the case, and follow up with them until we can safely get the woman out of the abusive environment.”
Having been part of many rescue missions, Iti speaks about how every case brings with it new learnings. “I started this with a lot of passion, seeing that women all across needed support and help.”
There is an elaborate plan behind every rescue mission. There is a team that does an initial reconnaissance once a case is registered with the organisation. If verified that the woman does need help, they spring into action. “We have needed to set up these checks because of some cases we got initially were just to spite the in-law or out of the need to get revenge, the woman had reached out to us,” explains Iti.
Once the woman is brought out of the house, she is either moved to a family member’s home where she can stay safe, or if no one is there for her to be with, a safe house is identified where she is kept. “We also try as much as possible to find them jobs to ensure that she is financially independent,” says Iti.
Since 30 March 2020, seventy-three women have been rescued from abusive homes. Calls have been pouring in from across the country, and some of the rescue missions have also been conducted in Jind in Punjab to Silao in Bihar and Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan.
A Case That Left An Impact
Speaking about a case that Iti feels very strongly about, she says, “A young woman of about 36-years-of-age from Silao in Bihar sent us pictures on Whatsapp of her swollen knees and a terribly bruised back. We reached out to her, and she shared with us the horrors that she was being subjected to.” Her in-laws would regularly beat her up, and there was once an instance when they even threw a sil batta (grinding stone) on her.
Her husband, who worked outstation, would return every few months and rape her, only to be egged on by the in-laws. “This was also a dowry harassment case, where the in-laws wanted more money from her and hence tortured her.” While Iti and her team managed to rescue her from her house and even get a case lodged against the in-laws and husband, they managed to get out of jail on bail rather quickly.
“Just listening to the horrors that the young woman had been subjected to left a very deep impact on me. Their way of setting her right was to get the husband to rape her into submission,” says Iti. As Iti narrates this story, I feel horror and anger at how badly women continue to be treated.
How Are The Financials of WEFT Managed?
WEFT has been functioning primarily with the membership money that it had collected pre-COVID times. Iti says, “Our expenditure as of now is only for the rescue missions we are conducting. If it is a local rescue mission, we spend not more than Rs 500, and if it is an outstation mission, that costs us upwards of Rs 5000, which includes booking their tickets and other help that we provide.”
The membership fee costs Rs 5000 annually.
If you need to reach out to WEFT and the Red Dot Initiative, you can reach out to their helpline number at 9686119822 or send them an e-mail at [email protected] You can also reach Red Dot Initiative on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)