Helping rape survivors in rural India speak up — and be heard
Docfort MedicoSocial Journalism student Meghana GS writes for NewsTracker at https://bit.ly/2li2YBe.
Where is rape more prevalent — in urban or rural areas? Does location play a role in how sexual violence is reported? It certainly seems that way.
In 2016, The Guardian pointed out that there is a difference in how rapes in India’s cities are investigated and reported compared with those in smaller cities, towns and villages. Rural India also appears to see more crimes against women: according to the National Crime Records Bureau, of 24,923 rapes reported in 2012, just 3,035 were in major cities. The police are reportedly more apathetic in rural areas and there is even less outrage in these parts for the kinds of brutal crimes that have been garnering media attention in urban centres.
As a city girl who moved to a rural area to study medicine, I was curious about this culture of silence that surrounds sexual violence. While there are many societal, cultural and legal changes that need to be effected for long-term change, what can we do in the here and now to improve the reporting of rape — by victims to the police, and by the media to the larger public?
Bridging the gap between the police and the public: the Grameena Abyudaya Seva Samasthe at work. Photo: GASS
The answer may lie, at least partially, with grassroots organisations such as the Grameena Abyudaya Seva Samasthe (GASS), a non-profit that, among other things, seeks to bridge the gap between the police and public in rape and sexual harassment cases. The organisation has been appointed by the Department of Women and Child Development, Bangalore Rural District, as a service provider for women and works to empower survivors of sexual violence.
In Doddaballapur, Bangalore Rural District, I got in touch with Amali Naik who in 1996 co-founded GASS along with her husband Gopal Naik. She told me that even though modernity has made inroads in rural areas, the secrecy and silence around rape remains.
“We counsel and encourage the rape victim to file a case. We explain all the compensation schemes that the government offers. We assist the victim in getting appropriate legal guidance,” says Naik, whose organisation also runs a 24×7 women’s helpline, Mahila Sahyavani, that has assisted 3,199 beneficiaries.
“In spite of such efforts, the sad reality is that barely five to six percent of victims come forward to file complaints,” says Naik. The most likely reason, she explains, is the fear of social censure for the rape survivor and her family.Another factor is that filing a case may hinder a rape survivor’s marriage prospects.
To encourage more survivors to come forward, GASS has created awareness programmes for the local ASHA workers and Anganwadi teachers. The organisation also provides information on legal avenues and government benefits available for rape survivors, along with sex education.
In 2002, GASS opened Abhaya, a shelter for survivors of sexual violence. They can stay for three years and are given vocational training to build their independence. For child survivors, the organisation provides counselling and ensures that their education continues.
GASS provides nine other programmes focused on education, employment, rehabilitation, social security and empowerment — thus broadening the organisation’s influence — and has made an impact on nearly 200 villages in Doddaballapur.
In a 2013 report, Firstpost reporter Praveen Swami observed, “For there to be progress in India, we need to know where rape happens, who the perpetrators are and how they chose their victims.”
The hope is that, emboldened by service providers such as GASS, more survivors will file cases and cast off the veil of secrecy that has been not only rendering them invisible but protecting perpetrators. And as they tell their stories in greater numbers, there will be an impetus for better reporting from rural areas.