Started in the early ’90s, Shakti Vahini today has a huge network of law enforcement agencies to tackle violence, exploitation and assault again women and children. While it may have come a long way today, it all began with three brothers who thought of taking their university days’ activism against social evils to the next level and actually bringing about a change in society.
They began with tackling social stigma around HIV AIDS and went deeper into the underbelly of redlight areas in various cities where they came across cases of trafficking and prostitution. Ravikant, the president of Shakti Vahini, had a freewheeling chat with SheThePeople.TV and told us how it all started and what needs to be done to challenge social evils.
The semantics and the words used by the president of the US were not at all civic – Ravikant
Involvement In Social Issues
We started our work in 1994 and, at that time, HIV AIDS was a big issue. HIV AIDS was not just a disease, but also a social problem because it had a lot of ramifications – it had violence against women, child rights issues, medical issues etc. So then when we started going to redlight areas and working on HIV AIDS positive victims, we also got exposed to incidents of trafficking. We could not remain silent seeing how young girls were exploited. At that time as a young group, we thought that we should devote our energies into rescuing victims of trafficking and strengthening law and enforcement responses to combat it.
How Shakti Vahini Started
We were associated with various social causes during our university days and, with Shakti Vahini, we carried it forward. Basically, we are three brothers – Ravikant, Rishikant and Nishikant – so we all thought of forming an organisation to tackle social issues and work towards making a just, free and equitable society.
The Action Plan
We have been working for a long time. So now we basically work with law enforcement agencies in helping them with training and support. We have also developed a wide network of law enforcement agencies and organisations which provide us information on missing children cases and trafficking cases. In many of these cases, we try to find out the children with our own rescue team. We did prevention programmes in West Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. We also do recce and trace victims in the redlight areas of various cities.
We believe that until and unless the law enforcement agencies take over the work diligently, we are not going to get justice for victims of trafficking.
Change In Society Through The Years
I think that over the many years of power activism, civil society has collectively raised voices and we have been part of these voices. And over the years, we saw that laws have been strengthened and the Indian government’s commitment on these issues has increased, regardless of which party is in power.
The recent women’s march was a great initiative to send out a message against patriarchy. The semantics and the words used by the US President were not at all civic and that mindset will be seen in his presidency also, so this was a good move to put the word out against it.
The Rural Vs Urban Divide
There is a big difference between rural and urban – our idea of violence against women is only limited to urban cities. In rural India, these things just don’t matter, no one cares about it and even women cannot go to a police station after some period of time in the rural areas.
The Need Of The Hour
We do need to make noises and raise our voice but, at the end of the day, we know that we continue to point fingers on the law and order and the state not making enough efforts in ensuring safe spaces for women during the night and all these issues. I think that the government needs to invest a lot of money into law enforcement.
See, the current system of police cannot tackle these cases. A concerted effort by the government in building infrastructure for police agencies and strengthening and sensitizing them about these issues needs to be in place. The current lot does not have enough manpower and they do not know the nitty gritty of these issues. They do not understand the issues of violence against women as we do and so they deal with these issues in the same patriarchal way as they would in their villages.
Role Of Men In Gender-Based Fight
I think the time has come that both men and women should come together to fight the biases. Men should end the tradition of silence and start speaking on these issues because somewhere down the line, if I don’t speak, my daughter will face a problem. So it is an issue not just confined to women but for both of us to show concern about.