When women found their voice, the community found the path to peace

Bharat Nagar is a big slum area where people from different castes and religion live. The land is flat to start but becomes hillier the further in we go. Currently, it is under scrutiny by the Slum Rehabilitation Authority. Problems with criminals, addicts, sexual harassment faced by girls and woman, domestic violence and lack of education plague the residents.

After becoming aware of these issues, CORO – Mahila Mandal Federation started working in this area. One thousand houses were selected in Bharat Nagar for the intervention, out of which a cluster of 250 houses on Bhim Hill was included. Due to the widespread incidence of violence and sexual harassment on this neighbourhood, the local women would stay home and consider themselves lucky to be safe within their household. The women would meet but they had never conducted a formal meeting with the aim to change. The sole purpose of their get-togethers was to console each other. They had no expectation that they could ever work towards a solution to their problems.

When the initial CORO-MMF meeting was organised, the women were most concerned with unchecked fights breaking out in the locality. According to the women, they said that locals aren’t concerned about others, in fact, they are scared to even visit the police station. So, the women suffered quietly without uttering a word. All this was revealed when the women started speaking up in the meeting. To address this issue, the CORO team organized and conducted a strategic survey (Ran Neeti) with women from all over the community to discuss their views on violence faced by women and examine the local situation. Then, a meeting was held with all the women to relay the survey results. Different films about violence against women were shown as well. All this felt new for the women who said that no one had ever discussed these issues with them and they never thought of working for such organisations. But they liked what CORO-MMF was doing.

Little by little, CORO started to organize community programs. Girls who had passed their 10th standard exams were felicitated by local women alongside chief guests. The women felt really good to be a part of this, and their support attracted more women. Soon, Bharat Nagar formed its own Mahila Mandal Federation. 250 households participated in the Awaaz Do campaign, Sandesh Abhiyan postcard distribution, and rallies for constitutional rights and gender equality. The participating women began to realise that there are so many immediate ways to take steps towards stopping violence against women. They also felt that the work CORO Mahila Mandal Federation had done in the community was work they wanted to come together and join in.

Without putting up a sign or announcement, CORO Mahila Mandal immediately started a Community Registration Centre (CRC) in Bharat Nagar. Only the grouped 250 households were made aware that the CRC would assist with registering cases against violence faced by women or otherwise helping with local issues. Initially, the women formed the CRC to find support for the violence and problems they faced every day in their own households. Slowly, they started speaking out about it and making the decision to act. They were trained on the legal and social issues and found a new strength through working together. They registered their Mahila Mandal and finally put up a sign so people would know that there is a group in the area working on women’s issues.