At least 5000 survivors of sexual assaults from across the country are preparing to begin the ‘Dignity March’ from Mumbai on Thursday, 20 December.
The 65-day-march organised by the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan and other groups will see survivors of sexual violence and their families cover 10,000 km across 24 states of the country. The aim: End victim-shaming of survivors of sexual violence.
“The key purpose of this yatra is that we want people to listen to us. We want justice and for that we will shake everyone (authorities) up till we receive our justice,” says 57-year-old Bhanwari Devi, whose lifelong struggle for justice began after she was gang-raped in Rajasthan in 1992. Her case laid the foundation for forming Vishakha guidelines (laws against sexual harassment at workplace).
Having fought all her life to see her rapists behind bars, Devi now aims to create awareness about the social stigma that rape survivors and their families face even today.
The ‘Dignity March’ was planned after a survey conducted by the Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan brought to light some shocking facts on sexual violence across the country.
It found that 95 percent incidents of sexual violence against women and children across India go unreported. Among the 1,553 respondents from across 14 states, 74 percent said that they had faced sexual violence.
“We found out that most women don’t end up reporting sexual violence because they don’t receive support from their families and friends, and because they fear social stigma. We want the survivors to talk to people in these cities, share their stories in the hope of helping people open up about their experience, and even initiate legal action if necessary.”Ashif Shaikh, Convenor, Rashtriya Garima Abhiyan
Of the 1,150 people who said they had been sexually assaulted, 78 percent said they were minors when the incidents took place. In 64 percent cases, the abuser was known to the victim.
While addressing a press conference, sexual violence survivors – Bhanwari Devi, Urmila Devi and Janki Bai, a custodial gang-rape survivor, spoke about their fight for justice.
“Nine years ago I was waiting at the police station after my daughter-in-law had filed a case against my son, husband and me. Even though it was false, they were arrested and I was waiting at the police station for them. I was the only woman. They woke me up at night, took me inside and started verbally and physically abusing me. Four policemen raped me and threatened to implicate my son in false cases if I complained.”Janki Bai, Rape Survivor
Janki, however, refused to stay quiet. She narrated the incident to a jailer the next day who helped her file an FIR. Today, she’s actively fighting to help survivors of custodial rape speak their truth.
The ‘Dignity March’, which will see survivors like Janki Bai and others’ participation, will make its final stop in Delhi on 22 February 2019.