When Kumudha (name changed), first approached the Bengaluru-based Garment Labour Union (GLU), its president Rukmini VP remembers seeing several stitches on her body.
Rukmini, who heads the women-led trade union of garment workers, recalls that Kumudha's husband had been harassing her for a very long time. "He hit her frequently, she had several stitches on her body and had been hospitalised many times. Once, he even hit her on the head," she says.
The union has formed a committee to handle cases of domestic violence of employees in the garment sector. It first attempts to resolve the conflict between the husband and wife. In Kumudha's case, the committee left the decision of filing an FIR to her.
When nothing changed, an FIR was filed and Kumudha's husband was arrested.
Shortly after that, under pressure from her in-laws, Kumudha started making daily visits to the union office pleading that she be allowed to withdraw the complaint to secure the release of her husband. Eventually, he was released and the harassment resumed. This time around, Kumudha did not approach the union. The couple relocated and no one in the union has heard from them since.
Rukmini says there are six lakh garment workers in Bengaluru 85% of whom are women. Over 30% of these women face domestic violence.
The number of cases of sexual harassment, including those at the workplace, is also high but no case has been filed by the union members. Rukmini told The News Minute that while women do talk about being sexually harassed to their female colleagues, they aren't comfortable with filing a complaint with either their employers or with the police.
In order to enable conversations about this discomfort, the Karnataka State Police and Amnesty International India organized "Ready to Report" event to mark International Women's Day. The idea is to help the police to understand why women are reluctant to report violence and the interventions needed to overcome it with safety and dignity; and to educate women about legal procedures.
In India, only 1 of 100 women report sexual violence to the police. While 30% of all women tell someone about having experienced sexual violence just one percent report it to the police, according to National Family Health Survey 2005-06.
“We want to encourage women to talk about their challenges. They should feel confident to approach the police with their problems,” said Alok Kumar, Inspector General (Training), Karnataka Police.
Women interacting with police at the event; AII/Facebook
However, Rukmini says this is easier said than done. Many fear that their families’ reputations would be lowered; others don't know who to approach in the Vishaka Committee or do not trust the committee to keep their complaint confidential.
Soumya N, Sub-inspector with the Cottonpet Police Station, feels that while there is a need to further sensitize those in the police force to deal with women wanting to report violence, more and more women needed to come forward and report such crimes.
"There will be at least one female police personnel deployed in a police station at night. Women can also call 100 when in distress or must have the number of the local police station with them," she says, adding that the stigma around people considering going to a police station a "hassle" needs to change.