Ensuring a life of dignity for her
Women are often marginalised and victimised. Treated as the ‘second sex’, they are often subjugated in our patriarchal society.
Women tolerate all kinds of misbehaviour and harassment with a hope that an end will come to such treatment. “But the day will never come until and unless you raise your voice. The voices should be loud so that people can hear you. Only then will your issues be addressed,” opines social activist Sharada Chand, who is the Chairperson of Kanchanpur Senior Citizens Group, Vice-Chairperson of Safe Motherhood Centre, Kanchanpur.
Chand works on the issues of violence against women and senior citizens. Having been a victim of domestic violence herself, Chand became determined to fight violence on women because she felt that “one must raise one’s voice so as to live life with dignity”.
... I was beaten till I was about to die, but I screamed and they stopped ... One of the persons present in the room opened my mouth and another put poison... and then threw me in the river
A scar on her forehead, bruise marks on her body and hardened muscles on her left arm are a testimony of her painful story. She finds it difficult to tell her story but forges on.
“I tried to drown myself in the Mahakali River because I couldn’t tolerate the pain and suffering I suffered at my in-laws place.”
U-turn in life
Born to Jaimati Devi and Sangram Singh Bohara on November 16, 1976 in Bandorisail, Doti, Chand enjoyed a normal childhood.
Her father migrated to Mahendranagar when she was a year old. When she was 15 years old and preparing for her SLC, her life took a U-turn.
“Lalit Bahadur Chand, my father’s business partner told my mother that he was getting married and he wanted me to help him in his wedding shopping. As he was my father’s partner, my mother gave the permission. He took me to a house in Haryana, India and kept me there. On the fifth day he told me to put on a sari and I did that. Later he put vermilion powder (sindur) on my head.”
After they returned from India, Sharada’s life started becoming miserable. Her in-laws refused to accept her because theirs was an inter-caste marriage. He was a Thakuri and she was a Chhettri.
She was brutally beaten by her in-laws. They threw her out. She stayed at the riverside in Khairbhatti in her locality. “I survived eating mud then,” she recalls.
Her in-laws took her home at times but they also beat her up. The torture wasn’t only limited to beatings.
“One day I was beaten till I was about to die, but I screamed and they stopped beating me. One of the persons present in the room opened my mouth and another put poison. They dragged me and threw me down two storeys and then threw me in the river. Arjun Luhar, a man from the locality, saw my body floating in the river. I was rescued,” she narrates.
After surviving the poisoning and drowning, she started collecting and selling firewood to make a living. She then came to know about the Adult Literacy Programme in her village in 1999/2000 and that there was a vacancy for a trainer.
“I was attracted to the money they offered. So I joined the programme. In the 16-day training I felt my life reviving.”
It was then she decided to raise her voice against domestic violence. She migrated from Khairbhatti to Kanchanpur and opened a clothing shop there and was able to buy a piece of land at Bhagatpur, Kanchanpur.
She was working as a volunteer in Naari Utthan, an organisation working for women empowerment. When she saw an old woman Parbati Joshi, 85, crying for food, she vowed to help the elderly too. “There was no looking back. Along with 10 other women, I started dancing and collecting money. This was how we started the Mahila Tatha Briddha Sewa Kendra in 2006/07, in Baaghmare, Kanchanpur. We started doing street plays and started making people aware about violence against women.”
The centre at Bankhet, Kanchanpur houses 62 people which includes the elderly, rape victims, women abandoned by their husbands, children rescued from streets and rivers. The centre provides training in sewing, goat farming, candle making and other income generating activities.
The problems behind
Women endure all the harassment as they cannot share their problems because of family reputation and fear, points out Sharada.
There are many reasons for violence against women, but it is mostly because of money matters, lack of awareness and education, unemployment and alcoholism, according to Sharada.
“A porous border with India, alcoholism in both men and women, and poverty are some other problems for the increasing violence in the far western development region,” adds Kedar Khanal, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP), at the District Police Office, Kanchanpur.
Along with time, women are slowly opening up. They are becoming more aware of their rights. “Women are highlighting the issues and are speaking up because they are aware of their rights and freedom,” adds Sharada.
“We get an average of 10 complaints each day regarding violence against women here,” informs Khanal.
And for those who still fear to report the issues, Sharada and Khanal suggest them to register complaints and raise their voice. “One can come to the women’s cell in the police office without hesitation and fear,” advises Khanal.
Violence against men
It is not just cases of violence against women, but lately cases of violence against men are also rising. “One hundred and forty five cases of men being violated have been recorded with us in the last one year.
Women going to a foreign land and getting married to another despite having a husband here, migrant workers sending their hard earned money to their wives here but some of the women are cheating on their husbands with his money, extra-marital affairs and even eloping with another man — such cases are increasing in areas around Kanchanpur,” informs Sharada.
“Teenagers eloping with mutual consent but the girls’ family members registering cases for abduction have become common here,” reveals Khanal.
While working for the rights of women, Sharada has faced many difficulties. Be it threats on her life or financial crisis, she has let nothing deter her fight for women’s rights.
And she has also found support. The locals of Kanchanpur have helped them by donating a fistful of rice each day (Muthi daan), financial assistance from the District Development Committee, and financial assistance from the government.
She has also faced threats of her murder. “I am often threatened because I raise my voice for women suffering from violence. We have been fighting for punishment of the perpetrators.
I have even heard of plans of my murder. I have heard that I will be shot with a gun. A few weeks ago I was followed on bikes in the night. I have lodged a complaint at the District Police Office, Kanchanpur,” says an unfazed Sharada.
“We are investigating the case. Yet those who followed her haven’t been identified. We haven’t been informed about her murder plan. If there is one, then she must immediately inform us,” adds Khanal.
Sharada’s efforts have also won recognitions. She was awarded with the Late Dayaram Memorial Human Rights Award from the National Human Rights Commission, and was also honoured both at the national and local level for her contributions to women, elderly, and children.
She was also awarded the Celebrating Womanhood Durga Award 2016.