In-decorousness including crime, and odd events with girls/women around the world take place every now and then. We read about them almost everyday in news papers. We appeal for clemency, but is it enough. What else we can do on such issues other than feeling sorry or mourn over and forget. Obviously these indecent actions must take into some serious consideration and quick actions must be taken to decrease the crime rate.
Speaking of which, these two girls from Udaipur have set a precedent. We are talking about Archana Shaktawat and Saroj patel. These two power puff girls are not only helping girls with such issues but also making needy women employable. They are founder of Mutthi sansthan.
Mutthi sansathan is a nonprofit organization which has been working towards women empowerment. It operates two voluntary projects;
- Sexual offence awareness program (SOAP)- a missionof educating girls of school and
colleges about sexual offenses, laws related to it. They help girls with precautionary measures, self defence techniques and how to report the crime. This program also has a helpline number on which
victims can call anytime, they give all possible help to them.
- Jobs4her- This is voluntary job portal for women. It connects with women in need of jobs with
those people who can employ them. It aims to provide better and more job opportunity to
We will be talking more on Mutthi Sansthan with Archana and Saroj. Read below the full interview,
Betingle: In Udaipur when it comes to women empowerment and feminism your name comes first in mind. You have helped many women in many ways. Hence, firstly we would like to know more about Mutthi Sansthan.
Archana & Saroj: Mutthi Sansthan is an NGO founded by me and Saroj Patel, and we have a vision of empowering women through Awareness, Financial Independence and Vocational Training.
We are often asked this question “How it all started”. Which dates back to 16/12/12 the Nirbhaya Case which left us and the nation shell shocked. I guess that was the last straw for us. Something had to be done but it was up in the air. I’m an Army BRAT. My father retired as a Colonel from the Indian Army and my parents have never questioned my decisions instead forced me to take one. Thus, I come from an extremely philanthropist, empowered, liberal, progressive and rational upbringing. Hence, my blood boils when I see, hear and read about gender discrimination, sexual abuse, harassment etc. I consider myself lucky and blessed to be raised in a broadminded family. But, like knowledge, empowerment spreads by sharing. And rather we’re doing exactly that through Mutthi as we firmly believe that “Empowered Women, Empower Women”. Thus, the journey began with the thought, that if I’m not the victim or if I’m so lucky why can’t other girls and women be.
Being novice in this field, (I’m a hotel management graduate, worked in hotel industry for 4 yrs and now I’m personality development trainer and a certified counselor) we thought of meeting and interacting with established NGOs and getting to know how things work in this sector. The first person we met was Devendra Agarwal who shared his project called Divya Mother Milk Bank which was a phenomenal concept unheard of “Donating Mothers Milk”. We couldn’t have had a better start than this. Our motto was to set up the First Mother’s Milk Bank of Rajasthan and Northern India and we did that. Once the mission was accomplished we parted ways and thought of doing something of our own.
A question I often asked myself was “Why do women suffer?” We asked this question to police officials, lawyers and the public. There was a unanimous answer “Women don’t know anything”, “Women are unaware of their rights and since they don’t know their rights they don’t fight”. That’s when we realized that women / girls (which to an extend included us) were completely unaware of their rights, laws, offenses, etc. This was the Brain Child of SOAP – (Sexual Offences Awareness Program) mission. It took us almost 7- 8 months before we took our first session which was in Sept 2013 at the Govt School of Kavita. Our session is a 60-minutes lecture which is succinct yet informative and entertaining but sensitizing. We thought the weapon to fight against any form of sexual abuse was Awareness. SOAP is a voluntary mission of creating awareness among school and college girls about sexual offenses, laws related to it, precautionary measures, self techniques, how to report the crime and so forth. We’ve been able to reach out to 20,000 girls of Udaipur district. For some it is just a A number but for us it is THE NUMBER
Since the day we started, we received amazing responses. Numerous girls have approached us with their problems like being stalked, texted sexual messages, tortured by their boy friends, eve teased, stared at, touched inappropriately, following and the list is long. We always reported these crimes to the police station and fortunately the police have supported us probably because we know the law. It couldn’t get better when these girls’ mothers approached us with domestic violence or divorce cases. We help these ladies meet the right set of lawyers and get justice. Divorce is still a TABOO and will continue to be so. However, the bigger stigma is of living alone and dependency. This was a eureka moment for us. We comprehended that women continue to live in a unhappy married life because of financial insecurity and dependency. Thus, empowerment to a very great extend has to be financial independence and let’s be honest, women like you and me are empowered because we make our own money. Jobs4her started from there. This is again a voluntary mission of providing better and more employment opportunities to women. We connect women in need of jobs with those who can employ them. We’ve been able to place about 50-55 women in domestic help and maid profiles and about 20-25 women in other sectors.
Betingle: You run one of the popular personality development classes in Udaipur. You must be pretty busy with that. So how do you get time for Mutthi Sansthan.
Archana & Saroj: I’m elated when you say that but I wish it was that popular (😁) . Jokes apart. I just love being a Trainer because as a Personality Development Coach and counselor I’m helping people overcome their weaknesses, apprehensions and insecurities. And, as a Social Reformist or worker I’m doing exactly the same. Though, it may seem polarized profession but they are correlated. There are certain traits common in both like being empathetic, a good listener, confident speaker etc. But like I mentioned, I just love every bit of both my professions so I don’t take out time, I want to make time for it.
Betingle: What initial challenges you had to face or currently facing? What kind of responses you got when first time you came up with this idea.
Archana & Saroj: I guess our persona frights people especially Men away (Hehehe). Moreover, we are stubborn women who just don’t given. So I’m sure the difficulty is more at the other end. Thus, we didn’t face too many challenges and difficulties. Even during our survey of 7-8 months of interacting with police and judicial officers, they were cooperative and thought that SOAP is an excellent initiative. Moreover, school and colleges also have given an extremely positive response. Hardly any school or college has said NO for our session. The only difficulty we have is when we are asked “Are you really doing it for free?” rather we are impugned that we would be doing this with a vested interest. Another challenge is when girls approach us with their problems like harassment, eve teasing, stalking etc, then at times we are stuck. Reasons are numerous like girls don’t want their identity to be disclosed so lodging an FIR isn’t possible. Sometimes, the case is old and there’s lack of evidence. Societal and peer pressure also are a challenge. But these hurdles is what makes it worth doing it. “Virtue is it’s own reward”
However, our mission Jobs4her has been more demanding because People are demanding. Though, these services gratuitous for which otherwise people pay a bomb. But sometimes, people are rude, call at erratic hours, complain and whine and so forth. But, it all has to be taken with a pinch of salt. On the contrary, women who need jobs are so thankful and their blessings appease all the hurdles.
On the other hand, about 18 months back, we started taking session for young girls i.e 9-13 yrs age group. Which is surely challenging. Firstly, it feels pathetic that we have to tell these young girls about such heinous crimes but can’t help as it is the need of the hour. The session includes explaining them about good and bad touch, not falling prey to uncles or boys offering chocolates, motivating and encouraging them to share any encounter like these with their parents or elder sibling, explaining them it is not their fault and so forth. This is extremely tough because we have to discuss these topics sensibly and sensitively. Moreover, sometimes we are scared of the questions they might ask us. This session is for sure challenging, because we don’t want to corrupt their minds but want them to be aware also.
Around the same time. we started another initiative of taking sessions in the police stations and sensitizing police personnel about how to address and deal with girls who come with their complaints. This was different because initially we could sense a lot of negativity and indifference. Moreover, we were also out of our comfort zone, but we had to break the ice. Though, wouldn’t lie that this didn’t do as well as we thought. We took sessions in only 5 Police stations as the response wasn’t really positive and we couldn’t force them. But it was an experience of a different kind probably that’s why it was challenging.
Betingle: Now you have covered hundreds of schools and colleges, guiding girls about their rights. What kind of sessions you organize. Do you still think that women oriented issues are still not being taken seriously? If no, what do you suggest, what should be done?
Archana & Saroj: Our SOAP sessions are comprehensive. We try to include everything under the sun that can, may and will help girls. It begins with sensitizing them about concepts of feminism, gender discrimination like their brother goes to Mumbai or Pune to study but they aren’t allowed. Followed by types of Sexual Offences like Voyeurism is something girls aren’t aware of. Laws related to these offenses, how to report these crimes, how to write an FIR, whom to meet at the police stations, basic self defense techniques, precautionary measures like trusting your gut as it never lies, not falling for typical dialogues of “Mein tumhare bina mar jauga”, meeting your boyfriends in public places and not hotel rooms. Most importantly, we request and urge girls to start support each other. Now that we’ve been doing this for quite sometime, we found that women don’t lack knowledge or strength but there’s a dearth of unity among women. No man is an island and we all need some sort of emotional or social support. Most women lose battle because of paucity of support and unity.
Undoubtedly, women issues aren’t taken seriously. Let’s be realistic that Empowered women like you and me are about 2-3% which is minuscule. As the word “Feminism” is misconstrued where everybody assumes that women want to be superior. We as Feminist want equality. “What’s sauce for the goose, is sauce for the gander” Women have suffered for years rather centuries and the plight isn’t any different now. In fact, it is increasing with the rise in the population. Nonetheless, a lot can be, should be and is done. Personally speaking, awareness is the golden key. Women need to be aware not just for themselves but also for daughters and SONs if the son at a young age starts respecting women, the change is already here. Secondly, financial independence is a must to get women out from their emotional and monetary insecurities. Another way, is stringent laws. Strict punishments like life imprisonment or death penalty can deter them from committing a crime. Though certain measures might sound or seem meager but these have a bigger impact in the longer run. Like, Co-education kills the curiosity among teenagers and that’s where they realize that a boy and a girl can be friends too. Presence of women in all sectors. The more men see women and vice versa the less the awkwardness and inhibitions. Most importantly, talking about it. “Forbidden fruit is the sweetest”. In my personality development classes, I always take up these so called Taboo Topics like live-in relationships, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, safe sex, etc. I strongly feel SEX Education must be taught in schools in a creative manner to curb these problems because now abuse isn’t limited to just girls and women. Boys are a victim of it too. Lastly, change a man mentality. Sadly, a man realises that worth of a girl only when he has a daughter which is way too late. Thus, we as mothers should bring up our children with equality. Teach our daughter to ask for respect (not love) and teach boys to respect girls/women. Change takes time and I’m being utterly positive.
Betingle: After every session you always encourage girls to call you and share their problem. What kind of calls you get?
Archana & Saroj: Our motto is to motivate girls to start raising their voice and fortunately they do want to but the peer and societal pressure succumbs them. Therefore, we try to convince them that don’t ignore crimes like stalking, teasing, touching etc which may look minute but these crimes end up in grave and heinous offenses like acid attacks or rapes or severe harassment. Moreover, it is easier to report these so called smaller crimes. The burden of proof and peer pressure is also less. In addition, it sends a message to the boy/ man that this girl won’t tolerate any sort of abuse.
We’ve got an overwhelming response from girls and women. Sometimes, we get calls just to say thank you. Since, we address school girls they’ve reported about being teased by their friends, some were stalked after school, a few report about ex-boyfriend going crazy, some call up to share their break-up problem and so forth.
However, at college level the girls and women call about domestic violence, in fact once we had a girl who complaint of Marital Rape (which is still not illegal in India), cases of being blackmailed for sexual favours, extra marital affairs gone awry, parents don’t allow them to pursue further education or work, a unhappy married life in terms of husband and in-laws etc. In most of these cases, we motivate them to stay strong and put forward all possible solution. We’ve noticed most of the victims are generally subdued and dependent women. Thus, it begins with empowering them mentality, emotionally and financially. Followed by seeking legal or police advice about can and should be done.
I recall an incident where the girl had been a victim of abuse at the age of 10 yrs by her own First Cousin (Tauji ka beta). She’s now 22 yrs. Honestly, we’re helpless because there was lack of evidence and most importantly her family at stake. Moreover, she wasn’t ready to take action. Thus, apart from being a listening ear and motivating her to move on we just couldn’t do anything.
Thus, there are numerous cases where we can’t do anything. But, these girls and women always thank us for listening to them and most importantly not judging them.
Betingle: What message would you like to give to our society?
Archana & Saroj: We like to call ourselves social reformist because we want to reform the way society looks and perceives women. It begins with that we are significant half (49%). We contribute equally in every aspect. Thus, the first message is EQUALITY. We as feminist want to be treated equally and most importantly with respect. We don’t want to be loved, because we love our dog but don’t respect it. Hence, respect us because we as daughters, sisters, wives and mothers respect our fathers, husbands and brothers.
My second message is to women, that we need to start supporting each other. We must transcend beyond jealously, vanity and envy and be each other’s strength not weakness. Men had, have and will continue to take advantage of this vanity. Nobody wants to be a prostitute but her circumstances force her to be. Let’s not judge each other. The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. We as mothers must inculcate respect in our sons and daughters for women of the society. Teach your son to treat women including you with dignity and respect. We as mothers, sisters and wives will have to end gender discrimination. Lastly, Women aren’t अबला, we are सबला from every nook and corner. However, there’s sheer scarcity of opportunities. Hence, if the society supports and gives us opportunities we had, have and will continue to excel in whatever we do.