Multiple Facets of violence On Women: Some Reflections
Whenever we talk about the question of violence on women, we tend to think about it's direct physical and mental forms. It seems quite natural given the fact that they have a direct resonance on the life of a woman and for that matter, has been a long standing issue in the whole history of the feminist movement. But working here in FAT I often think about another dimension of this violence, i.e. an invisible societal coercion which limits the dreams of a young women, which is perhaps not very direct and thus not easily tangible to the eyes. But one has to understand that patriarchy often works through very subtle ways. Often it exercises hegemony not through direct violence but through the mental slavery of a women. Perhaps this is the reason why so many women in this world consider oppression over them as their destiny and thus in a way paves the ground for naturalisation of patriarchal hierarchies. In this note I will try to shed some light on these aspects by highlighting the everyday life and challenges of the girls in our tech center.
Almost all the girls in our tech centre are domestic workers. We have been running this centre for last six months and we have had great dreams about its future. But despite all our efforts and endeavours, what often frustrates us is the fact that these young women have no power over their own dreams and aspirations. They tend to maintain a very pessimistic attitude towards their own lives. To be sure, they certainly do want and long for all the comforts and facilities of life; but they do not have the self conviction that they themselves can do something to make a difference in their lives. Here at FAT we are trying our best to give such an opportunity to them. All they need to do is to manage some time and learn things here. But they don't even have this minimum freedom of mobility so that they can come here whenever they wish.
The families of these girls are originally from Tamilnadu who had migrated to the city in different periods of time in search of jobs and livelihoods. They live in the slums and jhuggis around the city which are extremely unhygienic and are devoid of every public facility. Often they are considered as illegal intruders in the city despite the fact that without their presence, the everyday life in the upper middle class colonies of the city will be in jeopardy. These families struggle hard to maintain a minimum life condition and questions of decent education and jobs are a distant dream for them. The men in these families are either daily wage workers or are employed as drivers, mechanics, cleaners and helpers in different shops and workshops in the city. In case of unemployment, which is not so infrequent, they resort to alcohol and narcotics and it's practice is perverse in the colonies. Often the entire income of these hard working people get lost in such pursuits and ends up making them idle and physically unfit for work. So at the end of the day, the women in these families are forced to work as domestic labourers in the middle class colonies of the city and supply not only food and clothing for their families but also the money to buy alcohol for their husbands and fathers. At an early stage, the sons of the families not only learn the skills of their fathers but also their doping habits. On the other hand, the daughters learn to plan their lives as per their mothers, and begin to work as domestic workers along with them. Then they are married at an early age, which in most of the cases do not extend beyond 14 or 16 years of age. By the time they reach 18 they end up becoming mothers of two or three children. Whatever they earn through their hard work, they do not have any right over them. Either their fathers or their husbands decide what to do with them. Through conversations with our girls we came to know that even for buying small things and goods they are forced to ask for money from their fathers and husbands and in most of the cases the only reply they get is a denial. To make things worse, they are forced to work even to repay the debts their fathers, brothers and husbands had taken on their own. Unmarried young girls work to earn their own dowries. In fact, dowry has been a big problem in the entire community. You must pay it, irrespective of whether the families have the means for it or not. We witnessed cases where the younger sister is working to repay the debts incurred in the marriage of the elder sister. But despite all these contributions, beating and thrashing at the hands of the fathers and brothers has been a common destiny of the women.
They have no control over their own bodies, their own incomes,. their dreams, their self aspirations.
What can one do in such a situation? Well, there is no predetermined road. There is no quick fix solutions to complex societal questions. There was a time, when it was believed that economic independence will make women free from patriarchal oppression. But what seems increasingly apparent is the fact that often women themselves devalue the work they do. Apart from the non-waged and unrecognized but socially necessary works like care-giving and domestic chores, women tend to see even their waged works as inferior or supplementary to the works of the male members of the family, even when it is clearly not the case.
Respecting one's own work and self is the primary condition for any struggle against oppression. In the coming days, apart from the course works, we are also planning to do some gender training with our girls. With the help of our sister organisations, we are hoping to make a library as well. We are exploring ways to make the course more attractive and entertaining and in that regard, we are in touch with many friends and well wishers. Very soon, we will organise a theatre workshop and we are looking forward to arrange some classes in non-conventional skills like digital photography, camera work, radio programming, etc., for our girls. The coming days will be full of challenges as well as excitements and as always, we are hopeful about the future.