Satish Singh’s home state, the northernmost Uttar Pradesh, is renowned as one of the poorest and most male-dominated states in all of India. More populated than all but five countries in the world, with more than 190 million people, it is a vast land where the physical and verbal abuse of women rarely raises eyebrows.
Now, it is the heart of Satish Singh’s gentle revolution to change the way men think about violence against women.
“The dowry killings are increasing in my own village,” he explains. “There have been over five dowry deaths, and they are not seen as violence. Even my own cousin burned his wife, or perhaps she committed suicide due to the domestic violence, I do not know. The whole village kept quiet.”
Outraged, Satish mobilized men in his village to demand justice. Since then he has ignited a growing movement that motivates men to protest against violence and to support survivors, often through direct intervention with authorities. Its members also hope to become role models for boys and other men.
Today Satish’s network, Men’s Action for Stopping Violence against Women, has over 100 village organizations that have reached out to tens of thousands of youth and men. These organizations form violence prevention watch groups that intervene in cases of violence within the village. They also work with doctors, police, lawyers, judges, and the media, as well as local schools and colleges, to ensure that these villages are violence-free zones.
The network tackles hundreds of acts of violence each year and has been asked by the government to expand from 40 districts to all 75 across the state.
“Once we started meeting survivors and saying, ‘You are not alone; we will stand by you,’” Satish says, “we found that they can better fight their cases and solve them.”
They have had many successes. In one case a woman was burned for dowry, and the perpetrator made it appear to be a suicide. A delegation of men from three neighboring districts repeatedly met with authorities to ensure that charges were pressed and the guilty arrested. In another instance, a citizens’ group helped a woman register her case with authorities after her father-in-law pushed her off a roof following her refusal of his sexual advances. Her injuries necessitated the amputation of both legs and an extended hospital stay. The men’s group arranged for her medical care, including prosthetics to help her regain her confidence.
There is seemingly no end to the network’s creative strategies. Boys and men raise their voices through campaigns, debates, poster competitions, and film shows, and all pledge against acts of violence and rape. Tapping into media is a key strategy—they often train journalists from rural media outlets in order to reach new populations.
At the core of the movement is the idea of self-change.
“Initially, we find that this work naturally appeals to men because they tend to view themselves as protectors,” says Satish. “However, this is based on a dominant belief of helplessness in women, so we go further, asking men to reflect on their relationships at the workplace and in their homes.
“In many ways I continue to pay the price for this work, and I feel discouraged often. Many local organizations do not welcome my teachings—violence against women is still viewed as a women’s issue, a family matter. In the beginning, even some feminist groups challenged us, asking, ‘Why should we use our limited resources on educating men and not women?’”
But ultimately it was working alongside women’s groups and feminist friends that changed Satish’s life and opened his eyes. “All these friends have helped me reveal my inner humanness, which has remained hidden until now.” he says, “They showed me how to share my problems and open up.”
And the achievements of Satish’s network are quickly breaking ground.
“Now, in Uttar Pradesh, violence against women is a recognized issue—the media is talking about it, the government is referring cases to us. But the biggest success is that women have started feeling that they are not alone. I believe that no man is born violent. Men can change, but they need much support.”