Usha Ravikumar is coordinator for the FEDINA’s network. She has been working for our organization for a long time now and part of her job is to carry out the activities of FEDINA about women. Oppressed in our patriarchal indian society, the network has made a priority among other vulnerable populations to support women. Rights awareness, statute improvement, stopping violence … many activities are set up in order to ear women the society and individual respect they deserve.
1/ What is precisely the place of women in the modern indian society ?
Usha Ravikumar : You see, according to me there is not such thing of a « modern society » in India as women we are working with are still treated as subordinates, needing to listen whatever the man of the family says ; just as before. Even though there is today more education and most women go to work, the family situation has not tremendously changed. Most of them are always paying attention to what the society would say, gossips and social outlook. Women are still oppressed at their work places and inside their families. We can say that at least 70% of the women in this country are concerned by discrimination and harassment.
2/ What are the main rights women shall claim in India ?
U.R. : In our country, there are many acts and laws being promulgated. We could quote the Domestic Violence Act or the Equal Remuneration Act as examples or also the different marriage acts promulgated by various religions. Certain entitlements came from these documents, especially about property for instance. However, the main problem is that it always fails on the implementation level. Therefore we still observe sexual harassment at work place and at houses for women even though both domestic and professional laws exist. People are not understanding that it is their right to claim the enforcement of such acts. And the main challenge remains the attitude of the public authorities, such as police, officials, etc. towards women and their day-to-day fights for justice.
3/ What are the activities FEDINA is carrying out in order to fight discrimination and support women ?
U.R. : In the past, we were carrying out for most of the time awareness programmes. Since 3 years ago, we are seriously trying to make women understand what are their rights, that they directly concerned by the meanings of the acts and how to have access to such information. In that context we form groups in both rural and urban areas and share awareness about these acts.
In the meanwhile, we are working at stopping violence against women. Usually domestic violence takes place late in the night : the group stops the violence at any time of day and night and give protection to the women and children. Legal action can even follow if needed the next day. The main problem is that police and authorities don’t take seriously such issues as they think it is family matter and they don’t bother intervening. They are plenty of reasons which are supposed to justify beating : financial reasons, alcohol or suspiscion and so on. In FEDINA, we fight back gender discrimination on women’ sides.
4/ How is FEDINA also working with men about women issues ?
U.R. : Wherever there are executive, workers groups, etc. therefore it means men are involved. In those meetings we deal with violence, equality and various themes. It is hard for men to take what we explain down to residential area and workplaces : the majority of them don’t accept talking in favour of women, especially when it comes to equal pay and violence.
However, there are cases where men joined women in order to stop an ongoing violence act. Moreover, some of the men we try to sensitize at least accept what we are saying in the meetings, and that is already an important step.
5/ What is your personal opinion, Usha, on the perspectives of FEDINA’s action in favour of women?
U.R. : Many laws and acts in favour of women are promulgated and our women groups take them up seriously and see that it is implemented properly. Personally, I find interesting working for women as a woman, but I still think a lot more needs to be done. I am happy though when I see some women’s issues being sorted out and the cases where men actually stopped being violent are always a victory.
For example, one day, while protesting in Bangalore, the women heard that a violence scene was taking place in a house nearby. Some of them left spontaneously the protest and went to rescue the abused woman ! There are also changes we can actually observe: for upper middle class families for example. For this generation, coming out of college, women are more flexible and able to demand what they want and testify what they need. That makes me feel there is always hope for women in India and some day they will finally get the respect they are due.