8 March is celebrated as “International Women’s Day”, a celebration of women worldwide that dates back to 1977 when the General Assembly in the United Nations conference challenged its members to declare a day for world peace and women’s rights. Every year, we talk about the importance of women’s day. But looking at the bigger picture, we feel there is a lot be achieved.
In times when women are coming forward to demand equality, a question inevitably arises about the importance of men in the gender equality discussion, and the answer is that their role is “Crucial”. These three men from West Bengal show how important it is for a man to stand up for a woman to achieve equality.
The Logical Indian interviewed Rishi Kant, co-founder of Shakti Vahini from West Bengal who has been fighting against gender-based violence in India. He told us about his journey in the fight against the gender disparities.
Rishi Kant along with his brothers Ravi Kant and Nishi Kant founded Shakti Vahini – an organisation that aspires for an Equitable Society and strives to protect Indian women from abuse or violence.
Founded in 2001, Shakti Vahini now works in six states and is professionally managed by qualified social workers. Here are some excerpts of the interview.
Congratulations on completing 17 years of Shakti Vahini. What was your motivation to start?
Thank you! Ravi, Nishi and I were born and raised in West Bengal. We received a good education as our parents knew the importance of studies and they would bring us insightful books to read. Growing up, we often witnessed the sufferings of women who would survive the abuse of their alcoholic husbands. Since our parents always taught us to respect women, we decided to change the norms and break the stereotype. In 2001, We co-founded Shakti Vahini – Shakti refers to Maa Durga, and Vahini means Brigade, so it was Mother Goddess Brigade.
What is the motive of this organisation?
Shakti Vahini was started to spread awareness to end violence against girls and women. We wanted to address the skewed gender ratio which reached an alarming rate, especially in Haryana. This is because of the cultural preference for male children which has led to gender ratio imbalance linking to female foeticide and infanticide. The other motive is to connect men to our campaign and tackle trafficking.
What challenges did you face then?
We were met with a lot of mockery and scepticism. It was very uncommon those days, but it did not deter us from our motive. It was like running against a strong wind. Every society can only be balanced when women and men equally be a part of it. But nobody took us seriously. In fact, the community would laugh at us for taking up such causes. We worked and reached out to very hostile areas to help create awareness, where cases of violence against women were not reported. This changed a lot of people around us, and gradually others started to recognise our work.
What campaigns do you organise through Shakti Vahini and how does it help contribute to the elimination of violence against women?
We largely focus on the rural areas, and one of our major focuses is to target boys and men. We deliver talks to sensitise the wider community about the importance of preventing violence against girls and women. See the problem has penetrated in our culture and is deeply rooted. Some of these men simply don’t realise about the kind of crime they are committing when they molest or assault a woman. So we teach them the importance of gender balance and equality, to respect women, about the benefits of educating a girl child. We have got a lot of positive response and many people come forward to thank us as well.
We also organise joint sessions between girls and boys to foster equality and promote dialogues. This empowers the girls and boys also understand the importance of girls in the society.
We work with the Law Enforcement Agencies who report to us about the victims, and we go to rescue them. It is very hard for us to convince the victims of our intention to help as it is difficult for them to trust us. But it is so satisfying when I receive a call from them after many months, expressing their gratitude “Bhaiya hum khush hai” (Brother we are happy).
Not all the trafficked victims in the society are accepted by the families. We take care of their rehabilitation and girls go back to their schools and continue their studies. The most important part is to understand the ordeal and trauma of the trafficking victim.
My brother Ravi Kant is an advocate, and he takes up cases to help victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.
We also go to different colleges and campuses to talk about gender equality and attract a lot of people who volunteer with us.
What motivates you to keep going?
For us every girl is important. They are the warriors who after finishing their education becomes the torchbearer for others. It gives us immense happiness and motivation to be consistent in our work.
What message do you have for our community members?
I want to tell people that violence against girls and women can only eliminate when men become equal partners. It is very important to sensitise men to understand women. This battle cannot be won until both come together.
More about Shakti Vahini
Shakti Vahini, since the last 17 years has been conducting intervention programs for young boys, rescuing trafficking victims, have covered twelve states in Northern and Eastern India and have an office in New Delhi. They work closely with various government agencies for enforcement of new legislations. Addressing the legal, working with law enforcement, advocacy for enforcement of laws and rescue mission to help trafficked victims, Shakti Vahini is a testament to how a group of men can work on women’s issue.
Shakti Vahini is part of the Central Advisory Committee to combat trafficking and prostitution created by the Government of India. It has been appointed by the Supreme Court of India in 2011 as a member of the expert panel to guide the court in the rehabilitation of women.
It has also been involved in the training of more than 15,000 policemen across the country on issues related to sexual assault cases and anti-trafficking.
For their selfless devotion towards the society, the three brothers have been conferred with the Solidarity Award during the 2013 Vital Voices Global Awards in Washington, United States. You may visit their website here.
To volunteer or any query or concern, you mail them to [email protected].
This International Women’s Day, The Logical Indian salutes Rishi Kant, Ravi Kant and Nishi Kant for the commitment they have shown towards maintaining a gender equality in our country.