Street courts help women in Bangalore slums

Reposted from Urbim, by Carlin Carr, Bangalore Community Manager http://urb.im/c130603#quicktabs-qt130603=1

Concerns for women’s safety in India have dominated headlines this year. Since the horrific gang rape in Delhi last year, stories about mothers, teenagers, and even young girls being subjected to violent attacks, rapes, and other physically and sexually gruesome incidents have been reported on nearly every week, if not every day. While the Delhi rape case was committed by men who were strangers to the victim, all too often women know the perpetrators of such crimes. A 2012 Indian Journal of Public Health article paints a grim picture of domestic violence statistics. The violence, in its many forms, cuts across social and economic strata; however, poor women face violence at significantly higher rates, and their position in society leaves them with few avenues for redress.

Community and family support were commonly missing among victims in the study. One of the recommendations was that women in slums need “more social support, awareness and income generation.” In Bangalore, an organization called Global Concerns India has been targeting its efforts in the slums to increasing social support to women, particularly those affected by domestic violence. “The many women’s ‘self-help’ groups in the slums are primarily economic,premised on capitalistic microcredit loans, rather than social empowerment,” says an article on GCI’s site.

One area of focus is a street court that, until GCI moved into the Bangalore slum of Lakshman Rau Nagar in 2009, literally took place outside in the narrow bylanes on straw mats. GCI says that a woman named Anu, 23, was the first person to bring her grievances to the Naari Adalit, or “Women’s Court.” Anu, who was more educated than her husband and had a good job, used to be beaten by her jealous husband. With the help of GCI Director Brinda Adige, a social activist, the community of Lakshman Rau Nagar gathered to discuss the issue and take collective responsibility.

In an interview on Radio Open Source, Adige chronicles her experience developing a system to help women in Lakshman Rau Nagar and her tough approach that grew the street court into a local institution: “They call the Office the place where, if you have a problem, it will get sorted out. There will be a solution that we can find for it… but you have to be responsible for it… It’s only when the women come here that they realize that the question, the answer, the problem, the solution lies within them… If you put up with nonsense, you get nonsense all the time.”

In addition to the Naari Adalit, CGI has worked with local self-help groups to expand their efforts to empower women. Most important, however, has been the role of the community in seeing that these programs, as well as the court, continue to make a positive impact. “Young men in the slum have also been keen to get involved,” says CGI, “and the Women’s Court is transforming into a ‘People’s Court.'”

The Women’s Court is a promising model that shows the power of community-led solutions to inspire change. That’s not to say that the state doesn’t play a key role. More stringent laws need to be enacted to protect women and more institutionalized education programs for men need to be integrated into schools. No matter the mechanism, one thing is clear: progress can only be made in a cooperative environment, and Naari Adalit shows that communities will take responsibility if clear avenues are created for bringing justice to the situation.

Photo credit: Meena Kadri

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