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Swarna Rajagopalan On Violence Against Women

Posted: November 17, 2010

Since violence against women forms a big chunk of crime, gender and violence are closely related. Interview with Swarna Rajagopalan, Founder, Prajna Trust.

By Aparna V. Singh

The ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence’ campaign originated in 1991 as an initiative of the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. Today, many organizations around the world participate in this campaign against gender-related violence, particularly violence against women.

The Prajnya Trust, a Chennai-based non-profit centre for research, public education and networking on issues relating to peace, justice and security is organizing one such 16 Day campaign, from 25th November to 10th December. Prajnya’s first such campaign was conducted in 2008.

We spoke to Swarna Rajagopalan, the founder and Managing Trustee of The Prajnya Trust on the campaign and on violence against women in India. Swarna is a political scientist by training with several books and articles to her credit.

Aparna V. Singh (AVS): First, the basics; could tell us the specific objectives of Prajnya’s 16 days Campaign against gender violence? 

Swarna Rajagopalan (SR): The Prajnya 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence is primarily an awareness campaign. We are continually dismayed by how blind people are to the pervasive, persistent nature of this problem. Women and girls especially but also men, boys, transgendered persons and sexual minorities experience gender-based violence across class, community and age, but it does not seem to register as a reality.

If one in three women are said to experience violence, then surely awareness should be much greater! This denial-for it can’t be ignorance-is the main obstacle to making the world safer, and this is what we seek to tackle.

AVS: We know that people often wrongly believe that violence against women is restricted to the lower income groups in society. Any other such myths that you have come across?

SR: Constantly. The corollary of that myth is that education and economic betterment will remove the problem. The innumerable cases the media has crusaded against in the last year-of which the Ruchika case is one-seem to have made no difference to that myth.

Education and economic betterment do take away some justifications offered but they are hardly a panacea. Being able to afford dowry is not the problem; the practice of giving and taking dowry, which essentially says, “my daughter is not good enough so I am adding gold, cash and consumer durables to her side of the wedding scale”, is actually the problem.

Being able to afford dowry is not the problem; the practice of giving and taking dowry, which essentially says, “my daughter is not good enough so I am adding gold, cash and consumer durables to her side of the wedding scale”, is actually the problem.

AVS: What are the key programs/activities for this year’s campaign?

SR: Every year, we try and come up with different ways in which we can talk about a difficult issue like this.  This year we are repeating some elements that worked well from last year’s campaign. We have a concert on November 26, that features two choral groups and a Carnatic musician. We have a poetry reading on November 27, featuring Kutti Revathi, Salma and Sharanya Manivannan along with K. Srilata. We have a two-day workshop on workplace sexual harassment for HR professionals. And a theatre workshop for students of Chennai’s first women’s college, Queen Mary’s.

We also have several online initiatives planned, which will enable us to reach out beyond our geographical location. These include the wiki we set up last year, which we will promote again.

Because Prajnya is primarily a research centre, we lay a great deal of emphasis on information initiatives. The second edition of our Gender Violence Report will be ready before the campaign. We are launching a YouTube channel that compiles video and audio resources on gender violence. In addition, we have several other training workshops and roundtables lined up.

AVS: While wiolence against women is a global problem, are there challenges unique to India?

SR: Denial. But perhaps this is true everywhere.

There is a data gap that Prajnya has been writing about for the last two years. We really only have the numbers compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau but those only reflect reported cases and how they are categorised depends on the understanding at a given moment of the recording policeman.

Reflect, see if you recognize patterns of violence and abuse around you. Calling it violence or abuse is the first and most important step in this process.

AVS: Can you tell our readers about the different ways in which they can support this campaign? 

SR: If you are in Chennai, show up at our public programmes-show support! Do share copies of our Helpline listing widely. If you are outside Chennai, you can participate in our online initiatives-visit our blogand find out about them.

We welcome volunteers but because we are not a service provider, we prefer volunteers who can work with us in a sustained fashion than do one-off tasks. And like most non-profits, we are also under-resourced – so, donations are very welcome from within India, not just for the campaign but for our broader, year-round agenda of research and outreach programming on gender violence.

Beyond Prajnya and the campaign, however, there are many things that people can do. Reflect, see if you recognize patterns of violence and abuse around you. Calling it violence or abuse is the first and most important step in this process. Don’t shy away from conversations about gender violence and don’t use euphemisms for violence like ‘dishonour’ or ‘eve-teasing’. Consider if there is something you can do; an intervention which will help, an intervention which you are comfortable with. Find out about local resources and support service providers. Share that information. Support those organizations with money and if possible, time.

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