How Kerala women are changing from harassment victims to warriors against it

How Kerala women are changing from harassment victims to warriors against it
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According to a media report in 2018, India ranked highest for crimes against women in the world. Within the country Kerala, however, is done playing the victim game and is training women to fight back and protect themselves against rape and other forms of sexual misconduct and violence. The Kerala Police and a State Woman Empowerment Programme have merged forces to create a potent solution to tackle women's crime.

“The techniques are easy, basic steps from different forms of martial art that women of all age groups can master and use,” says Shema, a member of the Women's Cell of the Kerala Police.

Women are taught defence against rape, how to avoid an unpleasant situation, among others, adds Shahida, another officer, from the Women's Cell.

Colleagues Shema and Shahida travel and train women. Both admit that there is a palpable shift in the fear factor among women.

The district data on the assault on woman with intent to outrage modesty (509 IPC) shot up from 358 in 2016 to 460 in 2018, according to the Kerala Police website. The data from January to June 2019 is 216.

Similarly, molestation cases went up from 4,029 to 4,589 in 2018 with 2,250 cases recorded from January to June 2019.

Yet, while the crime rate seems to have risen like a hooded snake, fear among women has dissipated like mist and is replaced with liberation and confidence. “Last week a girl got teased on the bus I was in but she turned around and beat him before others joined in,” says Anagha, a student of class 12 from Mar Dionysius Seminary Higher Secondary School, Kottayam.

Role of Kudumbashree

Kudumbashree, a popular poverty eradication and women empowerment programme in the state, played a role in creating, at least, a ripple of change after training over 7,800 women in self-defence in Kottayam's Kangazha village late last year.

Kudumbashree is a three-tiered structure with Neighbourhood Groups at the lowest level, followed by Area Development Societies (ADS) and Community Development Societies (CDS) at the governmental level, says District Mission Co-ordinator Suresh P N.

“Gender-equality, sensitisation and self-help are imperative in our programme and include families as well. Our Neighbourhood Groups consist of 10-20 women. One person is selected and trained by professionals to later teach the others in their group,” says District Mission Co-ordinator Suresh P N.

Coordination with Pink Police

Confidence among women has surged and programmes and workshops are conducted in schools and colleges from classes 5 to 12. Defence does not come merely in physical form but also through verbal empowerment. The mind plays as equal a role as the body, if not more and Pink Police Inspector N Philomina emphasises on why women must “build a capacity to say 'no'.”

“We are hoping to make them stronger and more confident but it has to come from within, they have to be bold to refuse and say no,” says Philomina. She says that they have succeeded in empowering 55 women from different age groups.

The Women's Cell and Kudambashree share resources and information. The Pink Police help women but are not allowed to make arrests, a job done by the police.

The Pink Police receive alerts through the other two or as a direct message on their helpline number. Inspector Philomina adds that they are currently trying to educate and empower women from the labour class but are hindered by employers who want the women at work.

While all programmes and training workshops are meant for women and girls, co-ed schools are educated on how to respect and treat women, says Shema. “Personally I feel even boys have to be taught from a young age how to interact and behave with women. In our capacity, we address male students when we can on this topic in our introductory sessions because it is imperative,” Shema notes.

She claims that women who are initially quiet and hesitant to make conversation do so with ease, and can also talk to men with no qualms, once the course ends.

Men's role

While the campaign to embolden women is yet to reach a majority of women, men are exempt from this incredible programme, but a few young male students say they will intervene if a woman is harassed. “We will beat him and if he is in a condition to move, will take him to the police,” says a young student on condition of anonymity.

Female students add that bus-conductors are helpful and bring a sense of security.

ow Kerala women are changing from harassment victims to warriors against it

But how safe are women officers themselves? The personnel of the Women Cell has to attend a refreshment course each year where they brush-up on basic self-protection skills. “At one time yes, we did encounter problems but now we are so empowered and confident, we can handle this,” says Officer Shahida with twinkling, bold eyes.

The organisations may have much farther to go but have garnered enough recognition among the masses. “I haven't been teased yet but should that happen I know the Vanitha number. Either that or I'll scream my lungs out,” says a student of Mar Dionysius Seminary Higher Secondary School referring to 1515, the toll-free helpline number of the Women's Cell which could be accessed 24x7.

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