Conflict & Justice

In India, activists work to change mindsets and empower other women

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Credit: Nilanjana Roy/Wikimedia Commons
Students protest the rising violence against women on Dec. 22, 2012.

Ever since a young woman was brutally gang raped in New Delhi in 2012, the international media has focused on the culture of violence against women and sexual assault in India. 

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According to the National Crime Records Bureau in India, a woman there is raped every 20 minutes. 

A key factor ontributing to these statistics in India may be the mindsets of both men and women — especially those in poverty-stricken areas. There, girls are often raised to believe they are second-class citizens who are less worthy than their male peers.  

But one organization in the state of Andhra Pradesh is trying to change those mindsets. Jameela Nishat runs the Shaheen Resource Center for Women in Hyderabad's Old City. Her organization, which is funded by the American Jewish World Service, attempts to aid and empower women — particularly those in Muslim and Dalit communities.

Nishat recalled the story of a hungry, pregnant woman her organization tried to help. They gave her food and asked her to come back after the baby was born. She never came because her young daughter killed the baby — saying she had suffered enough, as had her mother, and there was no reason to bring another child into this suffering.

"There is violence everywhere, whether in a town, or outside on a road. Rape and sexual assault is a way of life in India," she said.

And victims are often forced to suffer in silence, unable to talk about what they're facing with friends, family members or even police, she added.

Nishat says her organization has to go door-to-door to reach out to women who may have been victims. They work in 20 slums, she added, and encounters women who have been victims of gang rape, incest — and often the women aren't even women, they're girls, "not very old."

"They're 7 years old, 9 years old. They are raped. When we go to the police, we file a case, it takes a hell of a time," she said. "Justice doesn't happen fast."

Often, the women Nishat works with feel like this is just a way of life — their lot in life is to deal with these circumstances. But her group has helped them realize their life is worth something — and that they shouldn't have to suffer through this.

"The mindset is the main problem," she said.

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