In a neatly organized room of hardly a few square feet, there is a small place for washing, near perfect organized utensils in a rack, a small sitting place and a table fan. This is Kavita’s house in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar in Dharavi, a locality that houses one of the largest slums in the world. Just like many others, Kavita is also a part of the informal economy and runs a household enterprise in Dharavi.
I met Kavita through MAVIM (Mahila Arthik Vikas Mahamandal), one of the partners of Safecity. MAVIM is the nodal agency by Government of Maharashtra to implement various women empowerment program through Self Help Groups (SHGs).
In one of my initial engagements with women from MAVIM, Kavita was always one of the forthcoming members of the group who would not shy away from talking about the kind of harassment that girls in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar face. Infact she along with two other women from her bachat gat were the first ones to take the initiative of mobilizing other women in their locality to take up the issue of sexual harassment.
Kavita is 37 years old. She was brought up in a small village in Satara, Maharashtra. Her parents married her off at a tender age of 17 to their distant relative’s family friend. Her parents were told that the boy drives an autorickshaw in Mumbai and has his own house in Wadala. As it turned after the marriage, the boy was not only unemployed but also had a heart ailment.
“Ab madam bimari se koi bura aadmi toh nahi ho jata na” (A disease doesn’t make anybody a bad person), said Kavita while talking about life after marriage. She said that unlike many of her friends who got married to able bodied men, she considered herself better off than them as her husband was neither abusive nor violent. He was extremely supportive of her decision to go out and work as a house help after marriage. Later when she gave birth to her twin daughters, his condition deteriorated and he was bed ridden. Even in that condition, when Kavita expressed her desire to start her own tiffin business, he was a constant pillar of strength for her.
While recalling the days when she had just started her business, she said, “it’s not easy when you have a sick husband and two babies at home. It became extremely difficult to manage which is when I thought that I should work in a way I can stay at home for longer hours. I loved cooking anyway and this was my best bet.”
Unfortunately, her husband passed away 2 years later. Her daughters are now 17 years old. Both of them are in college.
Her eyes light up when she talks about them. The elder one who was born five minutes earlier wants to be a fashion designer whereas the younger one wants to teach small children.
MAVIM has played an instrumental role in helping her through the difficult years. She says that had it not been for the guidance and support that she received from the organization and the other women associated with it, she would not have been able to educate and raise her daughters like she has. She says that there are so many other women who have been through even more difficult life situations and they have mustered the strength to come out of it and make their lives better and that has been a constant source of inspiration for her.
When I told her that how much I appreciated her inputs in Safecity’s initial engagement with the other women, she said, “Madam jispe beeti hoti hai, wohi bolta hai” (the ones who have suffered are the ones who speak).
When her daughters were in junior college, she used to be extremely worried till the time they were not home. She would hear all kinds of stories that happened in their locality and most of the times, it was adolescent girls who took the brunt of these incidents. She has gotten into fights with drug addicts who sit in their gali and smoke on various occasions but she is tired of all this fighting and screaming.
In an area where there has been no third party intervention as far as the issue of sexual harassment of girls is concerned, Kavita says that Safecity has given her a hope that there may be a way in which she can make these spaces safer for her girls.
And, this hope is the first step to change.
Sumati Thusoois a Program and Outreach Officer with Safecity. She is responsible for engaging with the communities and establishing and maintaining partnerships with NGOs and colleges, conducting workshops with colleges and raising awareness regarding sexual violence and providing input for developing appropriate training programmes.