“My husband used to beat me and my daughter every night. He didn’t work, but he would get drunk, come home and hit both of us. One day, he injured us so badly, we had to go to the hospital. The back of my neck, my shoulders and one side of my face was so swollen I was unrecognisable. I was too ashamed to tell the doctor that my husband had done this to us.”
The tortured words of Rajo Devi, as she tells her attentive audience about the life of a battered woman. She still shudders when she remembers her trauma. But that was before she decided to take control. Some time ago, she started attending the ‘protection against violence’ classes. Ever since, Rajo Devi has realised that she and her daughter, too, have rights.
The project, run by IPER, in association with Save the Children Fund, UK, focuses on protection of children, particularly girls, from violence inside and outside the home. But it is largely through the mothers, themselves victims of violence, that IPER is reaching out to the most vulnerable. In a survey conducted by the NGO, in three slums of two wards around Prince Anwar Shah Road, amongst 200 children, it found that 100 per cent of the girls aged between 5 and 16 suffer violence.
“We tried to categorise two types of families, violent and non-violent. But we couldn’t find a single family where some sort of abuse wasn’t present,” says Bijli Mallik, in charge of IPER’s Prince Anwar Shah Road centre. The study found that while family abuse decreased with age, neighbourhood violence increased.
And mothers, the most frequent abusers, were also the most important protectors.
At a recent workshop, the women and children had their say in how daily violence affects their lives. Tabassum Khatun, a Class IX student, was stopped from attending school when her family found out she was attending the protection against violence classes. “But education is my right as a human being. If my brother was allowed, why not me' So I persuaded my family.”
The IPER research found that apart from the short-term and more obvious consequences of dealing with daily violence among children, like unhappiness, fear and insecurity, long-term damages include aggression, maladaptive behaviours and lower verbal, cognitive and motor abilities. The kids felt that joint efforts with the neighbourhood to change the people’s attitudes was the way forward.
“You may think, why is a boy talking about violence against girls' But it is my responsibility to stop it, too, because boys and girls have equal rights,” says little Shubhodeep Mondal.
“When a child of seven says all he wants is peace, what do you tell him'” asks Mallik.2100 per cent fathers in violent families suffer from addictions, 95 per cent are alcoholics
2100 per cent five-to-seven-year-olds experience violence from family members, with 100 per cent from mothers
234 per cent children in violent families are sexually abused
284 per cent children in violent families are physically assaulted