Combatting domestic violence in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia

Fellowship stories

29 September 2014

Kalpana is working to raise awareness of the sensitive issue of domestic violence in Dharavi, the largest slum in Asia. Kalpana plans to open up debate and mobilise new leaders far beyond her own community. She says, “The Quest Fellowship has helped me discover the confidence to tackle my community’s unspoken problems.”

Kalpana, a health worker and mother of three, is passionately committed to improving the lives of others. Her work with SNEHA, a community development NGO, led to her being selected for a Quest Fellowship, bringing her together with other grassroots leaders to tackle the key social problems facing marginalised communities in India.

After completing a period of intensive training, Kalpana began conducting research on the community of Dharavi to understand the values and issues that characterised the area. Kalpana soon identified that many women in the community were regular victims of domestic abuse.

What concerned Kalpana most was the extent to which these women had accepted abuse as a normal part of life.

Realising the difficulties in starting a frank discussion about domestic violence, Kalpana began by distributing a survey to the residents of Dharavi. She asked about the key issues affecting the community as a whole, rather than immediately focusing on domestic violence.

Almost all participants in the survey identified Gupta, the local ration shop owner, as verbally and physically abusive. Kalpana realised that tackling the issue of Gupta would allow her to create a forum for frank public discussion. By empowering and motivating the women of Dharavi to act on this issue, she helped them to discover their voices.

With help from her mentor, Kalpana organised a major rally of Dharavi residents to protest against Gupta’s actions and behaviour. She encouraged women to write complaints and express their feelings about Gupta’s discriminatory rationing practices. Gupta responded to the societal pressure, reforming his practices under careful observation from the community.

The success of the protest was a powerful demonstration to the women of their own ability to incite change, and their confidence in discussing sensitive issues began to grow.

Kalpana made sure to respect the community’s traditional allegiance to the five local judges by seeking their support in her efforts. With the judges backing her cause, she used various media techniques, such as posters, to highlight domestic violence as an issue and emphasise unity in combating it. Support continues to grow within the community as more women become aware and informed.

Kalpana has built a desire for and awareness of social justice in Dharavi, creating potential for the movement to grow in the future under her guidance. She looks to inspire more local leaders, creating a network within the community to continue addressing its issues. She understands and values the importance of spreading information, and says that her fellowship has given her the tools to unlock her natural capacity for solving problems and inspiring others.