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Violence against women > Roleof the Womens Movement > Womens Movement in India

Collective struggles against gender violence

Bringing VAW into the public sphere:

As in the West, in India as well, women have resisted all types of oppression both in the family and in society. Some of the important stages in this process have been the social reform movement of the 19th century, the freedom movement, the social movements of the post-independence period, the women's movement of the mid-1970s and early eighties.   The issue of violence within the family became a public issue in a true sense in the early 80s because the women's movement took it up consistently over three decades of continuous campaigning. In the period from 1975 to 1980, a number of women's groups were formed which addressed issues of eve-teasing, dowry deaths, rape and other forms of violence. These groups called themselves the autonomous women's groups - as they were not associated with any political party. One such group was the Forum Against Rape, later called the Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW). In Bombay, the Forum took up cases of rape and atrocities against women and launched campaigns to draw attention to them. Prominent among them was the Turbhe case, where a minor girl working as a construction labourer was raped.

Another case concerned a woman worker at the Ghatkopar industrial estate, who was raped and then murdered. The Forum also discussed several cases of wife murders in the city. These campaigns drew attention to the issue of violence against women and women's groups called for reforms in law, health, role of the state, roots of oppression and class and caste factors. The groups also realized that it was not only the law that needed reforming; other factors were also important. Work at the ground level - awareness building and sensitization -was necessary. This era, therefore, was marked by street protests, national campaigns on issues of bride burning and rape. Various services such as counselling, legal aid cells and shelters also began to be set up. The issues were consistently highlighted in the media and the media and in the Parliament, and strong protest campaigns were organized.

The Mathura Rape Case:

One such case was that of Mathura, which came to be known as the Mathura Rape case. A 16 year old girl was raped in `972, by local police officers in Desaiganj, Chandrapur (Maharashtra) police station. The case took its own time to reach the Supreme Court in 1979, when the rapists were acquitted. This led to nationwide protests against the patriarchal bias of the judiciary. In Bombay, the Forum Against Oppression of Women took up a signature campaign to build pressure to re-open the case. There were several such signature campaigns, protests, public meetings, rallies and delegations to the government to re-open the Mathura case. The issue of rape made headlines and united women across the board, clearly indicating two things: that the issue of rape cuts across class, caste and community lines and that the issue was seen as one of state repression. Indeed, the national campaign emphasized these two factors. The agitation sparked off by the Mathura case ultimately led to significant changes in the Criminal Procedure Code and the Indian Penal Code, the most important of which was shifting the onus of proof onto the accused in cases of custodial rape.

Emergence of Support Networks:

The womens liberation movement gave credibility to women who dared to come out in the open with what was happening to them in their personal lives. The family, considered the most private space, was no longer so private. Society and the establishment in particular had to take note of women's narrations. While it was important to launch campaigns and hold protests, the movement also worked to create a climate of understanding and support in which individual women often found the courage to step out of their violent homes and start life afresh, drawing on the help of counselling centres and support groups that had been set up. Several such counselling centres were set up by women' groups, such as Women's Centre in Bombay, Saheli in Delhi and Vimochana in Bangalore to name a few. These groups combined counselling and support work for individual women along with campaigns, conferences, research and consciousness raising activities on a broader level.

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