The Stories Of Change

Fighting Domestic Violence in Rural Odisha

Sadhana from Odisha was forced to marry her abuser and continued to be at the receiving end of the torture for many years. One day she decided to break free and since then she has empowered hundreds of other rural women to fight against violence.

Sadhana Nayak, a 36-year-old lady from Odisha was in college when her friend’s brother sexually abused her. This was the beginning of a long battle, which even Sadhana did not see coming.

Instead of receiving justice, Sadhana was forced to marry her abuser.

“Since the society does not accept an abused girl and I did not want my family to suffer for what had happened to me, I had no other choice but to marry him,” Sadhana recalls.

Nayak | Photo: Paul Kronenberg

When her husband met with an accident, Sadhana took charge of the financial needs of the family. She started teaching in a school and took up a second job as a trainer for health workers in an NGO.

After recovery, Sadhana’s husband asked her to quit the job. When Sadhana refused to do so, he brutally abused her.

Domestic abuse became a regular part of her life. Quietly, she endured all hardships and assault.

“His torture was terrible and I was often not even allowed to eat food,” Sadhana recalled.

After several years of torture, one day, things changed for her. She was addressing a few women at her work place when her husband came over and abused her in front of everyone.

This turned out to be a life-changing incident for Sadhana. Then and there she decided to break free and move out of her abusive marriage. She gathered all her courage and left her husband and moved out with her three-year-old son. She started a new and better life without abuse. That day onwards, Sadhana has only been working for a better future for herself, her son, and the millions of other women.

“I have been through domestic violence during the time I was married. But, I always kept my mouth shut keeping our Indian culture, of not talking back in front of elders, in mind. Every day, I thought it would be better the next. But that never happened. My husband went through a lot of financial struggle as well. I always insisted on helping, but it was all in vain,” Sadhana said.

Sadhana took this change in her life as an opportunity to empower other women. She started an organisation, Sadhan to support other women facing domestic violence.

“I wanted to prove that women are not only there to cook food and work at home for her man. If she wants, she can make her own name by working for herself.”

Sadhana is not the alone. A large number of women in rural Odisha resonate with Sadhana’s story. In Keonjhar and Sundargarh districts of Odisha, an increasing 15 percent of tribal women are being affected by domestic and workplace violence.

Photo: Sadhan

In 2015, 72 adolescents in Keonjhar and 98 adolescents in Sundargarh were victims of forced marriage. From 2014 to 2015 the number of rape cases in these areas increased by 21 percent. Only 57.6 percent of all cases were filed and charged in court. 

“Almost 42 percent of tribal women in Orissa are victims of violence. The root cause seems to be lack of education, poverty, and societal ignorance,” Said Sadhana.

Helping women break the barriers

Sadhana is one of those rare women who managed to come out of the abusive marriage and become self-dependent. Not every women facing abuse carries similar strength. Especially when they are financially dependent on their husbands.

This is when Sadhan comes into the picture. The organisation has been helping women to become self dependent and stand against the social atrocities. Sadhan’s primary work starts with counselling and then skill training for the women.

“My mission is to support women both legally and mentally during unfortunate situations like these. I believe, women and men are equal and it is our right to be treated equal. I have been through very helpless situations before, and I don’t want any other woman to go through the same.” Said Sadhana.

Sadhan supports women by providing leadership skill development training, enterprise promotional training, and capacitating women on domestic violence act and workplace policy.

The women are included in decision making processes and are trained on how to deal with administration, financial institutions, political leaders, police and government departments to get their rights.

The next step is to make women financially independent. They are trained to become efficient entrepreneurs and taught various income generation activities.

A helping hand

When Sadhana left her husband and thought of starting an organisation, she found herself at a point where she did not know the right path. She then came to know about kanthari, an institute of social change.

She learned crucial skills in a seven-month log extensive training at kanthari. Sadhana got clarity of her vision and figured out the right approach to help the women in need. She was also taught important life lessons to raise her voice against the wrong, to strengthen the community through her voice, and to be a hope for many other women like her.

“kanthari helped me to gain confidence and gave me a lot of clarity and courage to start something from scratch,” said Sadhana.

Sadhana went back to Odisha and started teaching business tactics, banking, and basic legalities through various self-help programmes.

Sadhana is also a true activist for gender equality. “I want to train and educate women in a way that, they would be able to send their daughters to school. It’s shocking how even in 2018, someone has to think of that. But it’s true.”

Sadhana is also a trainer for anganwadi workers and women from the backward community in different government organisations.

“My dream is to show the world what a woman can do on her own. I want to support every woman I meet in the world, to first think about herself. A woman should know what she wants and what she doesn’t.” She said.

The impact

Sadhan is working in Deogarh, Sundargarh, Kolhapur and Keonjhar districts of Odisha.

In a span of two years, Sadhan has helped hundreds of women to be independent and helped them start a new life away from the injustice of society.

She requests people to join her in this journey to stop violence and help women achieve and enjoy the world they truly deserve.

If you have an idea for social change in mind but don’t know where to start? Apply for 2019 batch of kanthari.

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Nidhi Roy