Counseling center is the base of our work. We began with a counseling center and it still remains the most important part of our work. This is the place where needy and distressed people come and register their case. Our counselors listen to the grievance of the person that has approached us. (We say 'person' instead of 'woman' because men as well as women approach us with equal ease). The counselors talk to the case and understand their problem. Then we call down the other party to hear their version of the story. It is only after listening to both the sides that we give any advice. We generally convey the message to the other party. Work as the mediators. That is what is needed in many cases. After we have conveyed and both the parties have understood the matter, we generally call a common meeting. Our experience tells us that many cases can be settled when we follow this procedure. Many of the disputes are settled. Some are beyond settlement, they get separated. But when they have registered the case with Mahila Hakka Saurakshan Samiti, they generally get separated peacefully... without allegations, without wasting a lot of money, time and energy fighting in the court. But a few, mostly husbands, are real nutters, determined to create problems. In such cases we back the aggrieved party. We extend legal help, help the woman involved get police protection etc. Many a times the husband simply snatches away the child and drives the woman out of the house, without allowing her to carry even her clothes with her. The police offer a great help in such cases. They accompany the woman to her in -law's place and help her get the possession of her child and her belongings. We also have a team of well wishers who are legal professionals. These lawyers fight the case at nominal fees or even free of cost if we request them to do so. Both our counseling centers are generally crowded. One of our counseling centre is situated at New Pundit Colony, at a walking distance from the central bus stand. And the other is located at CIDCO, the same place where we have our work centre. Not only that, but our extension centers are also quite busy with 1-2 new cases reporting on every working day. We run these extension centers once every week, generally on the day of the market in that village. We run these extension centers at Dindori, Trimbakeshwar, Ghoti and Ozhar in Nashik Disrict. The cases are mainly related to dowry, custody of children, superstition, maintenance, vices of husband, divorce, alcoholism, legal separation, unemployment, bigamy etc. in urban as well as rural areas.
• We feel there a need to create awareness in the society aboout women's issues. The level of knowlede and awareness about these issues and legal provisions among the literate as well as illiterate class is almost the same. A common man dosenot bother to keep information about these things. We try to create awareness column writing in News papers, staging street plays, taking coner meetings, organising camps for school going and college going studens, for villagers ( by organising Jagruti Yatra), competitions, poster exhibitions, radio program , etc. • The main focuse in all these awareness programs on following issues:- 1. Legal Literacy, 2. Ration i.e. Right to Food, 3.Health Awareness, 4.Gender equality, 5.Pre Marriage Counseling, ect
In the initial years from 1982 to 1985 we concentrated on working in Nashik city and reaching out to the literate class through news paper reporting. Then we organized corner meetings and staged street plays and thus could reach out to the working and illiterate class of Nashik city. Somewhere in 1988-89 we decided to go to rural parts of Nashik. We call it Jagruti Yatra. In Jagruti Yatra, we select a taluka place. We select 10-15 villages and conduct meetings and stage street plays, followed by group discussions. The subject/topic of the street play is one of the following: Domestic violence, Superstition, Health care, Supply of safe drinking water, Education, Gender equality, Legal literacy Hygiene Right and duties of family members. After the meeting, we request the Sarpanch or Police Patil to help women in distress and if needed guide them to Mahila Hakka Samrakshan Samiti. As a result of these Jagruti Yatras many victims of domestic violence have come to us for help. We have been able to save lives of many such sufferers. We have conducted Jagruti Yatra in various Tehsils like Sinnar, Niphad, Nandgaon, Malegaon, Satana, Peth, Dindori, Wani etc. We want to keep arranging these Jagruti Yatras because it helps us develop a rapport with the village authorities like the Tehsildar, Police, Sarpanch (Village head) etc. These people almost always respond to the cries of the women in distress. We have a number of cases where these authorities in the village brought the needy woman to our office by spending from their own pockets. This networking at the ground level is of paramount importance as it offers help at an earlier stage, which ultimately results in solving the problem more smoothly, and sometimes even in saving the life of the woman. There is one more angle to this activity. Now the authorities like Tehsildar, Nayab Tehsildar, BDO, SDO etc. have been assigned as the protection officers under the Domestic Violence Act. If we go to these villages and give them information about the laws and about the work of Mahila Hakka Saurakshan Samiti, these people work more willingly and more efficiently. All these reasons make us think that we should keep on collecting funds for reaching out to more and more people.
• Sada Sarvada was an innovative step by Mahila Hakka Saurakshan Samiti to reach out to the population on a larger scale. We selected the medium of Radio for this. Sada Sarvada was a radio program that earned the listenership in thousands. People used to tune in to the radio at 7.30 PM every Sunday and listen to the episodes of Sada Sarvada. This entire program was funded by Action Aid India. It consisted of 26 episodes of duration of 30 minutes each. These episodes consisted of the following topics. Phase I Phase II o Age of Marriage o Dowry demands o Documents to be checked when finalizing the marriage o Importance of girl child education o Importance of health for women and girls o Overall development of the girls o Ill treatment o Child sexual abuse o Small saving groups o Economic independence of women o Pre marriage counseling -Defining your role within both the families -Responsibilities -Adjustments -Budgeting -Selection of life partner o Importance of marriage registration o The right of streedhan and it’s importance o Sex determination test and killing the female feoticide Physical violence o Mental torture o Physical and mental violence for dowry o Problem due to the suspicion o Alcoholism o Unemployed husband o Grounds of divorce o Judicial separation o Divorce by mutual consent o Custody of the children o Maintenance o AIDS o Superstition o Rights of widows o Police protection o Role of police in giving immediate relief to the women o Importance of registering the complaint immediately with the police station on leaving in-laws place o Role of police in the custody of the children o Remedies on non co operation of the police o Procedure of lodging a complaint to the police station o When police can call a woman for interrogation o Right to property for women o Bigamy o Adultery o Section 498-A of IPC o Section 302 of IPC o Section 304 of IPC • • The number of cases registered in Mahila Hakka Saurakshan Samiti doubled in the period when these episodes were broadcast. We also received hundreds of phone calls for help. We were able to reach out to the entire Nashik district and a good part of Northern Maharashtra through this program. We plan to rebroadcast this program whenever we get funds for that. We also want to add more topics to these. We intend to make more episodes when we get enough funds. We are sure this will help a lot. We have already been able to solve a few noteworthy cases through this program. In one of the very striking cases, a woman called us 3-4 times in the period of 2 months after the program was over. She was calling from a place that is about 80 kilometers from Nashik city. We kept telling her to come to the office so that we could help her more effectively. She finally came after 2 months. She told us that she was an illiterate woman. She had problems of domestic violence. She had requested the village postman to listen to the radio program and to take down our number for her. He gave her the number on a piece of paper. But she did not have money to come to Nashik or even to make a phone call. She somehow managed to collect money to call us. Then she asked the person running the telephone booth to take down the address we told her. Then she collected rupee by rupee. And when she had money enough for a ticket to Nashik, she came to our office. We were able to help her in time, provide her shelter and finally solve her problem. These types of cases give us a boost, they tell us that we need to keep our work going. But they also tell us that we need to set up extension centers at every taluka place because women in distress often don't have money enough even to come to our office to seek help. We plan to set up these extension centers as early as possible. And we are sure that we will get helping and donating hands for that like we have been getting till date.
• In the time of crises or in emergencywhen people need money badly they have two options -one is to goto the bank a for loan and other is to go to a money lender for loan. The money lender charges a high interest reat and so it becomes difficult for poor family to repay the money. The various issues and cases brought to the notice of Mahila Hakka Saurakshan Samiti revealed that whether a woman is literate or illiterate savings form an integral part of her family life. Whereas a this was not understood by her and hence was not given any importance. The women working at our work center faced a similar problem. They keep on demanding for advance payments and loans against their regular salaries to repay the loan installments.We thought if a person forms a habit of saving small amounts every month, it will help him in times of need. In 1993, we started a saving activity-"Shree Group". Our social workers used to collect money on daily, weekly and monthly basis from people of different working class- like labourers, vegitable vendors, rag pickers, house helpers, etc. The collection varied from Rs.2/- per day to Rs.100/- per month.The money collected was deposited in bank account and loans were given to needy individuals. The loan account was mainly sanctioned for health care, education , incone generation, small repairs of the house etc. We continued this activity till 1997. In 1997 we decided to encourage women to form Self Help Group. Each group consists of 15-30 memberd. Three members from each group are declared as group leaders who are responsible for collecting themoney, keeping its record, depositing the money in bank, Sanctioning loans, recovery of loans etc. This helped women empowerment in true sense. It gave confidence to the group members and they realized the strength of unity. The members of these Self Help Groups have successfully saved wives from becoming victims of domestic violence, of eve teasing, protected them from the beating of the drukared husband, set their income generation unit. Made the local government officers to do their duties well. Today 35 such Self Help Groups are attached to MHSS.
We noticed in self help groups meetings that many women didn’t attend these meetings regularly. When we discussed this matter with the group leaders, we found out that these women spend a lot of time of their day only for getting enough fuel for cooking. They used kerosene or wood as fuel for cooking .They had to go out in search of wood or buy kerosene from the open market at a high rate or wait for their quota from the ration shop. Smt. Kusumtai Patwardhan started giving gas connection to women on loan basis. The women repaid the cost of these connections in 10 easy installments. These gas connections worked in two ways. Primarily it saved a lot of time for the woman as she did not have to look for fuel every now and then. LPG gas also proves to be a lot cheaper in the long run. Thus she was able to save a little money in fuel. And secondly, it increases her status in the family. It is our policy to give the gas connection in the name of the woman in the house. Thus it is an important thing that she owns. And because she owns such a vital and expensive piece of household property, she is better treated by her family members. The best part of the gas connections is that we don't just give these away. So the money comes back and we are able to give another gas connection to another woman in the next year. Thus the money once donated is used again and again to bring the warmth of a gas connection in the lives of many women. This feature of the scheme has made it quite popular with the donors. But we are constantly looking for more people to donate so that we can make more women smile.
• The Women and Child Development Department of Maharashtra state has sanctioned the Bahu Uddeshiya Mahila Kendra scheme to Mahila Hakka Samrakshan Samiti in 1994. As a part of this scheme we organize women's meetings in the urban as well as rural areas to impart information about different government schemes, programs and projects. Various workshops are also carried on by this center to achieve overall development of women. Once a year, the center distributes books and other stationary items to a school in some remote or tribal areas. Training Programs We impart knowledge of various govt. schemes (regarding welfare of women and children ) in different parts of Nashik District under this scheme. We have been working on this project since 1994. As a part of this work, we organize vocational training programs in different parts of Nashik. Normally the beneficiaries are women’s groups in slums, rural parts of Nashik, short stay homes and shelter homes run by the N.G.O.’s The programs include Training in • Book Binding • Fashion Designing • Beauty Parlour • Mehandi • Embroidery • Batik Printing • Bandhani ( An art of fabric dying ) • Block Printing Making of • Candles • Chalks • Cushions • Jewellery • Soft Toys • Phenol, Liquid Soap, Detergent Powder • Purses • Agarbatti ( Incense Sticks) • Idol
Economic independence helps in developing the self confidence in a person – especially in a woman. Many a times a woman who is a victim of domestic violence, marital discord, deserted by her husband or a widow faces a lot of problems in her family. If she is forced to return back to her parents' home accompanied by a couple of kids, the condition turns from bad to worse. And the root cause is economic condition of her parents. This made us think of doing something to make her economically independent. We thought of a number of ways of doing this, but finally settled on starting a work center. We started this work center in 1987. Today we give work to 35 needy women on a regular basis with an expandable capacity of over hundred. We are constantly looking for work that can be given to these women. It is our policy that we never ask for any favors. We strictly stick to policy. And it has been due to this policy that we have been given work by renowned companies like V.I.P. Industries, Mico, G.P. Electronics, Finotex Fibre Caste etc. so far. These companies give us job work on piece rate basis, which we further give to needy women. These women come from economically poor families. They improve their financial position in the family as well as in the society due to such work. We also give them ESIC facility for medical help. We extend help to them in the following ways. • Financial assistance for the education of their children. • Medical help • Giving moral support • Giving food grains • Covering them under Govt. insurance scheme • Arrange trip for them at least once a year We give our workers food grains, gas connections etc. on easy installments. They are members of Mahila Hakka Saurakshan Samiti and they have a right to vote for electing the managing committee. We have worked for the following establishments so far and we are still working for a few of them. • V. I. P. Industries • Fenotex Fibre Cast • G. P. Electronics • Caprihans • Carbon Corporation Limited • School Uniforms • Civil Hospital (Nashik) • Pulsar Footware • Supplying food items We can do the following jobs. o Stitching uniforms (for schools and companies), aprons etc. o Assembly and finishing work for companies o Liquid soap and phenyl o Food items (We have a food license) o Chalks o Paper plates and paper bowls o Chillie powder, turmeric powder and masale (we have a grinder) o Different types of Papad o Pickles o Our experience says that our worker women can do any job at a professional level if they are given proper training for it.