SNEHA at #NoPlace4Hate

By Shamolie Oberoi

Society for Education, Nutrition and Health Action (SNEHA) was invited to attend #NoPlace4Hate, a panel discussion hosted by digital media portal Youth Ki Awaaz. I attended the event on behalf of the Empowerment, Health and Sexuality of Adolescents (EHSAS) team on 23rd September, 2017

It started off with a performance by feminist spoken word poet Harnidh Kaur – highlighting the kind of abuse especially women face online just for having an opinion, political or otherwise. Yet, she maintained her faith in the internet as an space of democracy and expression.

The panel discussion followed, moderated by Karanjeet Kaur, the Deputy Editor of Arre, a popular digital media website. The members of the panel included Gurmehar Kaur, a student who was trolled online for speaking about peace between India and Pakistan, equal rights activist Harish Iyer and actress Tannishtha Chatterjee, who recently was a part of the film “Angry Indian Goddesses.”

Each of the panelists shared their experiences of being trolled online, with Gurmehar in particular mentioning that she often feared that this online violence would manifest itself offline. Harish Iyer spoke of his unique social position, i.e. being a part of the “male” majority and queer minority, and how it impacts the way he is perceived in online spaces.

Tannishtha and Gurmehar also made the important distinction between disagreement and abuse, highlighting that while different opinions can and should exist, they should not cross over to personal attacks and threats to safety. All three also shared the ways in which they tackle online abuse and hate- ranging from sometimes engaging with the trolls, resorting to humour or simply blocking those who spew hate.

At the end of the event, 3 members of the audience also went up to talk about their experiences of online abuse – two women spoke about the specific gendered abuse they face- fat shaming, being called sluts and being threatened with rape. The male member of the audience who spoke up talked about how he was threatened online for expressing a negative opinion about a particular political figure. He also mentioned that the level of online abuse has increased over the last few years.

It was an interesting discussion to be a part of, but I do wonder if it helps to hold discussions on topics like these with a small, middle to upper class “curated” crowd!


Not a ‘private matter’

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By Rahul Thekdi

An abundant amount of written content, a robust set of laws and several promising media campaigns have all been unable to combat the problem of domestic violence at its root cause. Mostly shrugged off as a ‘private matter’ by men, the victims who in most cases are women, are yet to speak openly about the ill treatment faced by them behind closed doors.

The social evil, which affects both rich and poor equally, has denied many women the basic human values of respect and freedom of individuality thus restricting them to caged framework of conduct laid out by the society. Not only do these women succumb to physical injuries but also face long lasting negative impact on their mental health as a direct consequence of the abuse.

Women who are victims of domestic violence are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety among other psychological consequences. Domestic violence is also associated with a thread of fatal consequences such as chronic pain disorder, sexually transmitted infections including HIV, unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage, complications during pregnancy which may also lead to substance abuse and suicide.

There have been relatively very few studies in India throwing light on the men’s perceptions as to why they inflict violence on their spouses. In this backdrop, to engage men in bringing a positive change in their behavior towards nonviolence, a study conducted by SNEHA in which it interviewed 13 male participants revealed that primary cause of violence lies in the notion of male superiority and authority over his spouse’s conduct. The deeply ingrained patriarchal social system is to be blamed; it creates a permissive environment for spousal abuse.

In order to sooth the male ego, any act of disobedience or mistake by the woman, form the basis of his right to use force in order maintain his dominance within his marriage.

Another very important parameter is societal pressure, which causes instances of abuse by men so as to keep intact their image in the society. Men justify these acts by simply labeling it as social norm and any act of outsider’s/natal family’s intervention or contact with the police is considered as a threat to the marriage.

The study found out that a section of these men who accepted the blame cited stress and frustration as the primary reason to resort to violence. In fact, according to the study, men who undergo stress are more likely to be abusive than those who do not undergo stress. Stress is caused mainly due to economic hardships, difficulty of coping with urban lifestyle and lack of personal space. The study found that men hesitate to share any of these stressors with their friends or family for fear of being labeled ‘weak’.

The need for the hour is to break the societal barriers and create an environment for men to openly discuss their problems. Counseling these men to help stop the violent behavior and build a nature of acceptance rather than denial is the key. This could only be done through opening up and letting the partners share their feelings and as an intervention, provide a helping hand through effective communication, self-control, anger and stress management workshops.

Simply labeling the men as violent partners is not the answer to solve the problem; an intervention is required to bring about an effective communication model and to provide them a platform to voice their concerns which will in turn help change their outlook towards domestic violence.

What needs to be understood are the reasons for the aggressive nature and their source of frustration in order to deconstruct their existing concept of masculinity.

SNEHA – A community-based health model that delivers

Public health in urban areas is one of the most persistent, yet neglected, issues facing the developing world. Cities present an especially challenging canvas given the many different factors – migration, inadequate housing, lack of infrastructure, crime, political corruption, pollution, and dysfunctional health systems – that are in play.

Over 50% of the world’s population lives in cities and this number will rise in the next few decades. Due to migration, India’s cities are growing more than three times as fast as the rural areas, and it is likely that more than half of the country’s population will live in urban areas by 2050.

The factors that affect human health are many, ranging from climate change and greenhouse gas emissions to reproductive health and rights. Meeting them is key to India’s success in achieving universal health coverage and improved national health indicators.  96-of-109

The National Urban Health Mission in India aims to enable rightful access to quality health care. This is by setting up an improved public health system, partnerships, and community-based mechanisms. This is to be done with the help of secondary and tertiary institutions, urban health centres, and community outreach. The positive outcomes of such a partnership in Mumbai’s urban settlements, demonstrated by SNEHA, is the subject of a paper recently published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet.

The interventions of the Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action, SNEHA, interventions are born out of 16 years of work with women and children in informal settlements. They range from maternal and neonatal health, sexual and reproductive health, childhood nutrition, and prevention of violence against women and children. What makes SNEHA’s model unique and effective is that it integrates these activities, and the model can be replicated in urban settlements across India, perhaps in many developing countries as well, with some tweaks for local, cultural specifics.

SNEHA’s adoption of an integrated approach came after a large neonatal trial conducted in Mumbai. It was felt that this would be an effective method given the multiple health issues faced by women and children, and the belief that communities would be more responsive to an intervention that had both, physical presence and service delivery.


Every SNEHA centre is equipped with three full-time community organizers with backgrounds similar to the people they reach out to. They are trained to bring together the themes of reproductive, maternal, and neonatal health, child health and nutrition, and prevention of violence against women and children into the community services. They are responsible for home visits, group meetings, organizing day care for malnourished children, and community events, in close association with existing systems.

A survey was done before, and two years after SNEHA’s intervention on three main outcomes – family planning in women (15–49 years), immunization of children, and wasting among children less than five years. The survey looked at secondary outcomes as well, like violence against women or children, number of home births, pregnancies in women younger than 20 years, to name just a few.

There were significant improvements in the met need for family planning, and full immunization. Compared to the NFHS 2015-16 figures of 14% unmet need in Mumbai, the results in the areas of intervention was 22%. Again the NFHS-4 findings showed that 46% of children between 12–23 months in Mumbai were fully immunized. Contrast that with the intervention area rates of 69%. The findings were similar when it came to wasting in children, and diet among children.

There were other positive fallouts seen as well like the use of sturdier material to build homes, building of private toilets and use of safe, drinking water.

The challenges of meeting the health needs of settlements in an urban milieu are many. The shifting nature of the population and specific cultural beliefs can often slow down rates of progress. However, the overwhelmingly positive outcomes demonstrated by SNEHA’s model shows a way forward to city governments across developing countries who are grappling with ways to improve health in informal settlements.

Link to The Lancet paper –

When classrooms promote patriarchy

That sexism and patriarchy is deeply ingrained in India is not a matter of debate. But when actively promoted in school textbooks, it becomes a matter of grave concern.

There is much outrage and sarcastic humor over the recent news report about a Class 12 textbook in Maharashtra that lists “ugliness” as a cause of dowry.

To elaborate, the sociology textbook says – “If a girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes difficult for her to get married”. It follows this up by saying that families of such girls feel helpless and end up paying more dowries.

The battle against patriarchy, as many NGOs working on the ground will attest, is a long, uphill one. It’s a fight to change mindsets that develop and are fostered at homes – attitudes that both genders are equally guilty of propagating.

Imagine the impact then of school textbooks on deeply impressionable young minds? They should be agents of change. However, instead of damning a system that places girls in a secondary role and fosters practices like dowry, our textbooks are promoting regressive attitudes.

This is not the only textbook guilty of promoting such pearls of wisdom. Read this gem from a textbook in Rajasthan – A donkey is like a housewife … In fact, the donkey is a shade better … while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off.. You’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master.

A three-year-long study on Indian education, which looked at 22 English and 20 Hindi textbooks, stated that the authors of school textbooks showed a deeply patriarchal mindset. Women are shown as weak, in need of protection and capable only of staying at home.

A study by UNESCO of school textbooks from across the world found that many of them are deeply gender biased and undermine girls’ motivation, participation and performance in school. Regarding India, it said, “half the illustrations in elementary English, Hindi, mathematics, science and social studies textbooks depicted only males”.

The subliminal messages these books reinforce is that of a patriarchal world, where women are capable only of playing secondary, submissive roles. Attitudes are shaped early and such messages at the school level have a dangerous impact, substantially undermining the fight against gender discrimination.


‘The Sanginis are truly the heart and soul of the Little Sisters project’


SNEHA had launched the Little Sister Project as part of its Prevention of Violence against Women and Children program in 2014. The Project uses mobile technology to track and report domestic violence in Dharavi, and to seek intervention during crisis. Damini Mohan, who coordinated the project for 18 months, recently left to pursue higher education. She agreed to speak to us about the highs and lows she felt while coordinating this important and one-of-a-kind intervention.

Q) What were some of the challenges you faced in coordinating the implementation of the ‘Little Sister’ Project?

Damini: One of the biggest challenges I faced was addressing  technological malfunction. We built a customized interface with the help of a tech developer which was occasionally prone to bugs. With almost 100 live users, managing the tech ‘crisis’ while ensuring work doesn’t get hampered for our Sanginis (community workers), field staff and counsellors was an exercise in enthusiastic team work, logistics and keeping up spirits!

Q) In terms of implementing a mobile technology project in a low resource context, what have your stand out learnings been?

Damini: I think it is important to acknowledge the significance of giving a smartphone to a woman in an urban informal settlement in modern India. Along with reporting cases on the Little Sister app, Sanginis used the smartphones to Google recipes, manage household budgets and contact family and friends on Whatsapp. Digital literacy was an unplanned though welcome outcome of the Little Sister project. The one drawback was the never-ending high phone bills which SNEHA was footing. We revised the data plan, shifting from postpaid to pre-paid to ensure the project remained low-cost while offering Sanginis opportunities to explore and learn about the digital world.


Q) Could you elaborate on some of the art-based activities you piloted in the community?

Damini: During this year’s 16 days activism, four Sanginis faciliatated an art campaign, “Mera phone, meri kahani”. They felt that as Little Sister Sanginis, they were confidantes of women facing violence and the phone was like a box of secrets. They worked with community women to create ‘phones’ out of shoeboxes, each with a story of violence inside. The participants enjoyed crafting the boxes and creating a story to put inside the box. The Sanginis, facilitated the session were confident, eloquent and demonstrated excellent leadership skills!

Q) Personally, what has been the one gratifying thing about running the Little Sisters project?

Damini:  It has been very gratifying to work with an excellent team, both the staff at SNEHA as well as the Sanginis who are truly the heart and soul of the Little Sisters project. Their fierceness to speak out against violence, commitment to help out women and children in distress, their curiosity and zeal about technology and their formidable spirit will stay with me for a lifetime. It was an honor and a privilege to work with them!

Thank you, Damini! Wishing you the best for the future!

Ehsaas: Making Boys Part of the Solution

It is now widely recognized that improving the status of women has to involve boys and men. As much as girls, boys too are trapped in stereotypes and they need to recognize and value the importance of building equal and healthy relationships.

Unequal power not only suppresses women and girls, but also oppresses men and boys. Apart from the pressure of being the economic provider, rigid gender roles also limit men’s cultural experience. There is the pressure to appear virile and strong at the cost of suppressing emotions.

Since 2013, SNEHA’s Ehsaas program has been working among adolescents in Mumbai’s slum communities towards breaking these stereotypes. Through a mix of street plays and community sessions with adolescents and their families, gender stereotypes are questioned and challenged.

“The attitude has been to look at boys as problems”, says Neeta Karandikar, associate program director, Ehsaas. “This is especially the case after the Nirbhaya and Shakti Mills incident in Mumbai where the accused were from the slum areas. Boys from poorer communities were seen as problems. But we have to recognize the challenges they deal with”.

Traditional patriarchal attitudes, believes Karandikar, not only oppress women but act as traps for boys and men. By highlighting norms that allow boys to play while girls do hosuehold chores, Ehsaas encourages youngsters to question prevailing mindsets.

“My sisters would eat only after the men of the house would finish their meals”, says Shahid Shaikh, a peer educator with Ehsaas. ‘I never questioned that. It was after I joined the program that I realized how wrong this was and I now make sure they eat with everyone else”.

For decades, gender equality was considered a woman’s issue. Now, there is a realization that the role of men and boys in challenging and changing unequal power relations is critical. There is a stronger focus on the positive role men and boys can play in promoting women’s empowerment in the home, community, and  workplace.

To know more about Ehsaas, read this NDTV report 

Let’s Talk About Periods

She may have missed out on a medal but Chinese swimming star Fu Yuanhui is being hailed as a champion back home and around the world for breaking the taboo that comes attached with periods in sports.

Fu attributed her team’s failure to make it to the top three in the 4x100m medley relay to the fact that she started her periods a day before the event, a remark that the Chinese media was quick to praise, given the silence that surrounds menstruation. Soon athletes and activists around the world picked followed suit.

Across the world, and more so in countries like China and India, there are a deep-rooted cultural resistance, even stigma, attached to periods. There is indignity and even a certain revulsion attached to it, which prevents open discussion. Which makes statements like Fu’s, or American musician Kiran Gandhi who ran the 2015 London Marathon while she had her periods, welcome.

For those who might think them over the top, consider this. Menstruation remains a major barrier to achieving gender equality in many parts of the world today.

Adolescent girls in developing countries miss five days of school in a month due to lack of access to sanitary pads and hygienic toilets in schools. This makes them fall back in education.

Menstruating women in countries like Nepal and India are seen as impure and a sign of bad luck. They are made to sleep outside their homes and eat out of different utensils.

If talking about periods openly and scientifically can help end this damage of a million lives, then by all means let us all start.

An app that is saving women’s lives in Dharavi

One of the most positive fallouts of the rapid mobile phone penetration in India has been the impact on education and health in rural India. These are parts of the country that have been left out of the benefits of the economic boom and progress seen in urban parts, either due to poor infrastructure or lack of political will. Be it apps that provide health updates or learning tips, start ups are coming up with creative, innovative ways to reach a constituency that was regarded as difficult to access for the longest time.

One such initiative that has received much attention, and for the right reasons, is SNEHA’s Little Sister project that deals with the sensitive subject of domestic violence. DV is rampant in India but has never been given the attention it needs given the scale as most women do not report it. Many of them don’t even see it as an issue as a nationwide survey in 2013 found out. Over 50% of women said it was justified on many counts.

Apart from being a human rights issue, DV is also a health issue. It impacts women’s health in a myriad ways – from causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to depression and even affecting maternal health outcomes. Also think of the impact on a child who watches his mother get verbally abused or physically beaten up? You are looking at a generation that will grow up to be either abusers or victims of abuse.

SNEHA’s Little Sister app works by offering women in Dharavi a safe space to seek help. It is private, non intrusive and effective. Most victims of DV are not looking to walk out when they seek help. Often they want a shoulder to cry on before deciding what to do next. Little Sister does just that. It allows the woman to set the pace. Its the comfort of reaching out to someone who you do not have to see again if you don’t wish to and who will not judge you, or your situation.

To find out more about the Little Sister project click here. There is a video link about the project as well. 




Break the Silence on Menstruation

Standing outside the gate leading to her school, Anjali, a resident of Ghatkopar, Mumbai, 15, points inside to a partially broken door.

“This is the only toilet in the school which has running water. Now do you understand why I prefer to stay home on ‘those’ days”?

“Those” are the days when Anjali is menstruating when she, and most of her friends miss school. That is nearly seven days every month and the frequent absences Anjali fears will come in the way of her dreams of becoming a doctor. Many girls in her neighbourhood have dropped out totally shortly after hitting menarche.

What is a natural process marking the onset of adolescence in girls is fraught with huge challenges for girls in developing countries. Studies in different parts of Africa have documented how menstruation significantly compromises the education of girls.

The same is the case with India where according to an pan-India sanitation study by Dasra and Forbes Marshall, almost 23% of girls drop out of school when they start menstruating, and as many as 66% of girls skip school during this time. The same study also highlighted that 88% of India’s 355 million menstruating women have no access to sanitary pads – a lack that affects the health of women and adolescent girls.

An unsupportive environment in schools that includes lack of adequate toilets, absence of gender-segregated facilities, poor sanitation and inadequate water is one of the main causes. Another factor that explains the low school attendance is access to sanitary products that girls, especially in rural India, face.

A recent study focused on 53 slums and 159 villages in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh found that 89% of girls and women used cloth during their menses, with over half of them using the same cloth for more than one period. Two per cent used cotton wool and ash. Just 7% used sanitary pads.

The reality seems to have been taken note of at the policy level. In his Teachers Day address in 2014, PM Narendra Modi expressed concern about the large number of girls dropping out of school and the need to find ways to make sure girls don’t quit school early. The Swachh Bharat, Swachh Vidyalaya mission aims to build “at least one incinerator in the girl’s toilet block and a niche to keep sanitary napkins”.

What hold out greater promise is innovations in this field. Among the most prominent are those by A. Muruganatham, the Tamil Nadu-based creator of low cost sanitary napkin making units, who is aiding the Uttar Pradesh government’s efforts to reach total menstrual hygiene.

Guided by the UP government and Arunachalam, a pilot unit was set up in the village of Mahoba in 2013 to produce low cost sanitary napkins. The unit employs only women and is part of a decentralized enterprise model. This was coupled with a massive drive on menstrual hygiene across nearly 15000 schools in the district. The program was a massive success with the demand for Subah napkins far outstripping the supply and the UP government plans to take it across the state.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

Also effective has been the UNICEF program in Kanchipuram district, Tamil Nadu, under which a vending machine disposing sanitary napkins was installed in schools.

Awareness too has to go hand in hand with affordability and availability. There is tremendous shame and stigma associated with menstruation and schools must address this, among boys and girls, to break the silence.

Marking 16 Days of Activism

Mumbai’s reputation as the safest city for women has taken a beating after the release this week of a new study that shows that the financial capital witnessed a surge of 49% in crimes against women in 2014-15. While this may be a heartening sign that more women are coming forward to report such crimes, the staggering near 50% jump should compel us a society to reflect.

This year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence was an opportunity to do just that. Violence against women in India takes many forms. From sexual assault, public humiliation, abuse, domestic violence trafficking or ‘honour’ killing, crimes against women have more than doubled in the last 10 years according to the latest data of the National Crime Records Bureau.

One of the aims of the 16 days campaign is to raise awareness about this violence at different levels – local, national, regional and international. As part of this, campaigns and training workshops were conducted at various settlements across Mumbai city by SNEHA in collaboration with local organizations.

At community centres in settlements in Dharavi and Kandivili, daylong workshops were held with Safecity, a Mumbai-based organization that conducts campaigns to spread awareness about gender-based crimes.

IMG_0280The tone of these workshops was informal and interactive. Participants were asked about public spaces, their notions of what was safe and unsafe and interestingly there were several similarities in what boys and girls regarded as unsafe public spaces. The conversation would then broaden to include issues of sexual violence and harassment. The idea was to create a safe zone where participants could voice their opinions honestly about issues like consent, victim blaming, marital rape and domestic violence. They were also asked to map their localities, marking out areas that were regarded as safe or unsafe.


“Through the maps, we saw the reasons why many areas were considered safe and unsafe”, said a member of the Safecity team. “Safe spaces generally were areas that people frequented, or areas near places of worship and police stations. Unsafe spaces were much more in number and included spaces that were dark and secluded and where crime had happened before.’

The next step in this campaign would be for this group of youngsters to conduct a survey of their areas based on a survey form SNEHA has prepared that is based on perceptions of people regarding sexual harassment.

Violence against women is one among the most important factors preventing their full participation in the economy. Above all it’s a fundamental violation of human rights. Involving boys and young men in such campaigns send out the message that it is time they got involved in ending the scourge of violence against women and girls in their homes and communities

Safety as a human right

When one talks of “access to toilets”, the first thought that pops in the mind is “sanitation”. In Dharavi, however, the immediate association with “access to toilets” is “safety of women and girls”. Why ‘safety’, you ask?

SNEHA’s toilet painting campaign

‘Safety’ because:

– groups of men and boys are always hanging around outside public toilets, loitering, drinking, gambling, sexually harassing women and girls.

– men and boys sexually find toilets an easy place to target a large number of women. Men and boys see public toilets as opportunities to stare, ogle, pass comments, whistle, grope, pinch, abuse, rape women and girls.

– women and girls feel uncomfortable, violated, targeted, harassed, denied of their basic human rights of access to safe toilets and a life free from violence.

– women and girls (and their families) feel like the onus is on them to ensure their own safety.

– women and girls are the ones who are forced to find solutions to ensure their safety such as going to the toilet early in the morning to avoid harassment and their harassers or going in a group with friends or with a family member or avoid going to the toilet several times during the day.

The 2011 Census of India found out that nearly 12 per cent of urban households resort to open defecation and another 8 per cent use public or shared facilities. Not only is this a health hazard, but it undermines the dignity of women and girls and makes them vulnerable to harassment and violence.

SNEHA addresses both, the issue of health of women and girls and the issue of gender-based violence in Dharavi, through campaigns, street theatre, meetings, support groups and vigilance groups. We raise awareness of these basic human rights in the community, and encourage and support collective, indigenous responses to combat violations of these rights. SNEHA’s men’s group members also act as vigilantes against sexual harassment of women and girls in public places, which includes the areas where public toilets are located.

Toilet tales from Dharavi

Last month, two sisters from Badaun district, Uttar Pradesh were allegedly raped and murdered when they went to answer the call of nature in the fields at night. Most people in Dharavi do not have toilets in their residence.We asked four adolescents in Dharavi how safe they felt when they visit the nearby toilet. 

Pratibha, 14, studies in class 9

We have a mori at home where we can have a bath and pee. For bathroom (meaning WC), I have to walk about five minutes.  I go just once a day in the morning. I do not feel the need to go after that.

I heard about a girl being molested there. Some boy who was on the way to the toilet caught her. I also heard of a five year old girl being molested there. It became a police case.

If the boys say or do something, it spoils our reputation. Our fathers too.

If I have to use the toilet in the night, my mother comes with me. Or else a friend comes along.
Hetal, 13, studies in class 6

We have a bathroom at home, not a latrine. For that I have to step out and walk for five minutes. We have to pay one Rs to use the latrine. I use it around 2-3 times.

I never go to the toilet alone if I can help it, especially in the night. My mother has told me that whether it is night or day, take someone along to the toilet. She usually comes with me, or else I go with my friend. Only when she is sick, I go alone.

I have heard of rape cases in that area. When I was a child, I was told that there was a bus which stopped there and picked girls for begging.

There are always boys on the way to the toilet. They come around 9 pm every night. They come with bikes sometimes. They say things like – palat ke dekh (turn around and look at me).  I once shouted back at them and said – Ghar main ma behen nahi (Do you not have mothers and sisters at home)? My mother had told me never to confront those boys, but I was very upset that day.

It is not fair that we do not have toilets at home. One of my friends did not use the toilet all night because her mother was not at home and her friend refused to come. Her stomach started hurting.

Boys have nothing to be scared of. They are the ones who trouble us. We girls have to be careful.


Kruti, 18, goes to college.

I do not live in a nice area. Many people who I grew up with left the area. It is not safe for girls. Many people in my area already have bathrooms inside their houses. There are hardly any people using the public toilets any more.

Till recently we had a horrible public toilet. It used to be so dirty. I would not like to go there. I would wait for half an hour to an hour to just use the toilet. Many times I have been late for school. Now we have one toilet for every ten houses. It is easier to keep to it clean and I do not have to wait long to use it.

I go to the toilet alone. It is just two minutes away. On the way to the toilet, we always find men around. Sometimes they just say something obscene and walk away. Men play cards or match (cricket) near the toilet. They always make comments.

I do not pay attention if someone makes a comment. If I confront that person, people will point their fingers at me only. They will say she must have done something to provoke the boys. It is best not to say anything.

One girl I know confronted these men who were passing obscene comments. But when she went home and told her parents about it, she was told – Tujhe hi sahi se jaana chahiye (You should have stepped out decently). They told her that she should not have worn jeans and T shirt.

I felt bad for her. She did not wear those clothes to show anything or provoke. She just stepped out to go to the toilet. In any case, even if you wear a dupatta and leave, you cannot hide your body. The men are going to comment anyway.

There is no light near the toilet or inside the toilet in the night. The bulb just does not switch on. We have to take a torch. It is just fully dark. I have to take someone along if I want to use the toilet at night.

My mother has always told me not to talk to my friends near the toilet. If I go to the toilet in the afternoon, I feel weird. There is no one there.


Vineet, 14, studies in class 9

The toilet is just one minute away. There are men smoking cigarette and drinking liquor there. My father has told me not to talk to anyone there. I am a little scared of them. They could beat me up if they want to. I always go with my father.

The toilet is sometimes very dirty. I have to wait for it for about 45 minutes to an hour. I sometimes get late to school. I do not go to the toilet even if I want to sometimes. It gives me a stomach ache.

I have seen girls being molested near the toilet. It is horrible. The boys sometimes pull their clothes, their hair. We try intervene sometimes. But, such incidents scare me. These incidents should not happen.

(Names of the adolescents withheld to protect identity)

SNEHA gave us strength

Earlier, Sunita D’Souza, 28 would think that violence was her lot after marriage. Married at the age of 14, she would be beaten black and blue by her in-laws everyday and would suffer their taunts silently.

After associating with SNEHA in 2002, she became a sangini and since then helped a lot of women turn their lives around. From being a girl who wouldn’t step out of the house, she now confidently approaches authorities and tackles issues in her locality such as sexual harassment in public and other forms of violence and abuse.

“Now when I see a man molesting a girl on the road, it feels like a bomb blast in my brain. I cannot tolerate any girl being abused in any way.” said Sunita.

Sunita is among the 150 sanginis trained in crisis intervention during occasions of violence in the community, counselling women and family members and even filing complaints with the police. These sanginis (meaning friend in Hindi) handpicked by SNEHA work voluntarily in the community.

When SNEHA began its work on prevention of violence against women and children, it would conduct regular meetings with women. These meetings helped build perspective on gender, violence, and sexuality in the community. More importantly, the women had to be told that talking about violence in a home is not an issue of shame or dishonour.

“Some of the women in these meetings emerged as leaders. We took them in our fold to build sustainability of the programme, local capacity and leadership. Also, we needed someone on the ground at times of emergency. These women became the eyes and ears for SNEHA. They also work as a group that puts pressure on the community,”said Preethi Pinto, programme co-ordinator, advocacy and communications, SNEHA.

Like Sunita, most of the sanginis had suffered violence themselves. They can relate to other women in similar situations and help them cope with the situation better. “We suffered so much. We do not want other women to go through it,”said Shubhangi Gaikwad, who is in her late 30s. Shubhangi suffered violence from her husband for over seven years, before she approached SNEHA. She later became a sangini.

There is also an obvious shift in the thinking that women should not talk openly about violence. A few months ago, Rashida Shaikh risked hurting herself by trying to save a woman in her locality.

“That woman was being dragged by her drunk husband by cloth tied around her neck. People told me not to intervene in what they said is a family issue. I fought with them and told them that I will get the police if he doesn’t let go of his wife. People do not realise that just because I fought with the man, the woman’s life is saved,” said Rashida.

Most of these women are homemakers, from very conservative backgrounds and not very educated. It is a huge deal for them to step out of the house, confront people and try to rescue women. They now go to the police and demand that complaints be filed. The experiences with SNEHA has empowered them to confront their own problems with authorities, instead of suffering in silence.

Shobha Janga
Shobha Janga

“A policeman was refusing to file a complaint when my daughter lost her cellphone. He kept saying that the children are spoilt these days and own cellphones. I told him its none of his business and insisted a complaint be filed. Finally he had to file a complaint,” said Shobha Janga, who is a sangini since 2002.

These women have come a long way since they first engaged with SNEHA. They have empowered themselves and are now in the position to empower other women like them. One of our sanginis is even pursuing a Masters of Social Work (MSW),” said Bhaskar Kakkad, programme co-ordinator, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children, SNEHA.

Bhanu Dedhia
Bhanu Dedhia

Many of these women have even started working with SNEHA. “I used to be in ghunghat (veil) earlier. I have barely completed my eighth standard. I never even imagined I could work earlier. I started as a sangini and now I am a programme officer. I feel my sanginis should also become strong,” Bhanu Dedhia, who has been associated with SNEHA for 12 years.

The sanginis with Bhaskar Kakkad on the left
The sanginis with Bhaskar Kakkad on the left

The sanginis find strength in each other. “I would not utter a single word outside my home earlier. Now, I tell people that if they try to harm me, my sanginis will get together and teach them a lesson. I am not afraid of anyone any more,”said Rashida.

SNEHA starts a Women’s OPD at Kalwa


On the occasion of World Health Day on May 7, SNEHA in association with Thane Municipal Corporation inaugurated a Women’s OPD that will handle cases of violence against women and children at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Hospital, Kalwa . SNEHA is also running similar OPDs at Lokmanya Tilak Municipal Medical Hospital (Sion Hospital), and KEM Hospital.

The OPD offers a multi-disciplinary crisis intervention and supportive counselling services to women and children facing violence. The OPD will be functional from May 15.

The SNEHA team will also conduct sensitisation programme with the doctors so that cases of violence are referred to them. We hope this OPD offers a ray of hope for women here.

Non-violent communication in violent times

On a hot Saturday afternoon, Queen,  Elvis  Presley, Scarlet Johansson, Wonderwoman, Bubble, Free, Love, Kind, Lavanya, among others got together in an Artisans, an art gallery in Kala Ghoda. Women seemingly from disparate backgrounds and ages got together, assumed names they loved, and discussed the issues that concern them.

About 15 women gathered for a workshop — Negotiating Safe Spaces : Non Violent Communication- a workshop for women organised by SNEHA. Dr Nayreen Daruwalla, programme director, Prevention of Violence against Women and Children and her associate, Gauri Ambavkar, programme coordinator facilitated the workshop. The gallery was showcasing the installations of old saris with slogans of rape. The installations were worn by women from Dharavi who made them for a photo shoot and a fashion show.


The definition of violence, Dr Daruwalla said, has changed over a period of time for women. Earlier women come to SNEHA with bleeding noses and dislocated hands. Now, women talk of violence in the context of emotional violence where they are disrespected, verbally abused and are not given their own safe space. Violence can now be defined as violation of someone’s existence. Unfortunately our culture only reckons physical violence.

“Women are so busy fulfilling their roles that it does not leave us time to feel. Sharing ones needs and feelings is considered a taboo in our society, to the extent that needs are never spoken about over a period of time and become displaced conflicts. ,”said Dr Daruwalla.   Non violent communication gives the strength to a woman to understand her conflicts and assertively share her feelings and needs towards a healthy relationship.

Some of the participants felt that men are even more suppressed than women when it comes to coming out with feelings. “If a boy is playing with a doll, or seen crying he is called a sissy. That itself is violence. These emotions get bottled up over a period of time,” said one of them.

The participants were shown cards with names of emotions written on them, such as Anger, Vulnerable, Peaceful, Inspired among others and were asked to identify with any of them. “When I was a child I would burst into tears at the slightest hurt. Now I realise that I felt I was not allowed to express anger, and so I would burst out crying,” said Gauri.


One of the participants correctly pointed out that while she was angry about something that is going on in her life, but when she examined her emotion closer, she realised that she is angry because she felt vulnerable.

Expressing ones feeling in a non-violent way is crucial. “We are a culture of too many words. Being assertive does not always mean being aggressive, “said Dr Nayreen. The workshop ended with a powerful message that no one can make you feel inferior.

Talking gender in Dharavi

Pointing at posters of Hrithik Roshan, a 13-year old boy said that he is “fittest” and “good-looking”. Kareena Kapoor, the boy said, is beautiful because she is “fair”and has “smooth skin”. On the other hand, Bharati Singh, though a very good comedian, is “fat” and Vinod Thakur, the dancer is not the best looking as he does not have legs. The boy was participating in a SNEHA workshop on sexuality and gender.

In a bid to get adolescents to talk openly about sex, sexuality and gender, SNEHA has organised a series of 18 workshops for adolescents in Dharavi. As part of the programme- “Managing Sexuality”-a Ford Foundation grant project, these workshops delve in topics related to body image, puberty, sexual health, gender violence, relationships, among other adolescent issues. This session about body image is one of them.

The teenagers were also explained the difference between gender and sex. While sex is defined as biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women, gender is a socially constructed roles, behaviors and attributes that a society considers appropriate for men and women.

“Women cannot lift heavy weights. Men cannot have long hair. These are examples of gender constructs,”explained Jayshree Belwade, programme officer who conducted the session with the children.

In the session, the children were shown images of actors without make-up and also a video about how make-up and photoshop can transform an image of a person.

“The before-after images really shocked the children. We wanted them to understand that we should love people for their qualities and not for the way they look,”said Belwade. This workshop also stressed that self esteem should be based on one’s achievements and not on superficial qualities such as good looks. The children were encouraged to talk what they like about their bodies, and their friends.


The need for the workshops for teenagers was felt after preliminary research showed that the gender discrimination in the community was very large. “In the focus group discussions, what really surprised us was that most of the teenagers, their parents and community leaders felt that rape was the woman’s fault. They blamed it on the woman’s clothes or behavior among other reasons. Only if the survivor is a child, they felt the perpetrator is at fault,”said Sneha Kupekar, project co-ordinator, Managing Sexuality.


The SNEHA team believes that these workshops will open communication channels for these children to talk about difficult issues of sexuality in safe environments and help them cope better with realities of life.