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Anuradha Kapoor has developed a model volunteer-based program to combat violence against women with integrated support service and public education components.

This profile below was prepared when Anuradha Kapoor was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1995.


Anuradha Kapoor has developed a model volunteer-based program to combat violence against women with integrated support service and public education components.


The support system in India for women who are victims of violence is compartmentalized and fragmented. Anuradha Kapoor identifies and completes the missing links in this system by working at two levels. First, she offers a comprehensive array of services under one roof that provide the necessary care needed by women who have walked away from violent situations in their lives. Second, she is setting up a referral service by bringing together existing organizations into a dynamic network of professional services. The objective is to maximize the use of existing resources and develop a coordinated advocacy group. Anuradha's center is the first organization of its kind to offer such an ensemble of essential services to women victims of violence.

In the process of creating her network, she has helped citizens to acknowledge violence against women as a public issue and to build the necessary mechanisms to address it. In contrast to existing programs, the short-term support she offers is followed up with vocational training programs and employment opportunities, an approach that reflects Anuradha's understanding of the interrelationship between women's economic dependency and their vulnerability to violence.


Women the world over have identified violence as the most pressing social problem. In India its grimly familiar manifestations include dowry deaths, where women are tortured and burnt by their in-laws if their own families are unable to provide "sufficient" cash and gifts, and female infanticide. In 1991, reported violent crimes against women included one rape every 5 minutes; one molestation every 26 minutes; one act of harassment every 51 minutes; and one dowry death every 101 minutes.

The system of support for women in this position falls far short of effectiveness in several respects. Law enforcement agencies are generally insensitive to cases of violence perpetuated against women, and existing laws relating to such crimes are often not implemented properly, which only exacerbates the problem of enforcement. If they seek help elsewhere, women victims of abuse have been limited to organizations that work with destitute women. Services are only offered during the typical nine-to-five office day and do not offer emergency services or attention to the specific needs - psychological, physical and financial - of an abused woman. No one organization offers them all the support they need or guidance to other help.

While most crisis centers work to provide an empathetic audience and immediate support to women victims of violence, the women are usually left to fend for themselves after a short period of time. Where job training is offered, it is typically limited to such oversaturated areas as tailoring, embroidery and candle-making and not followed up with marketing skills. The intervention of organizations is not sustained, and it does not help women build the strength they need to stay away from the only kind of life they know.


By working at various levels, from women affected by violence, to other organizations fighting violence against women, to national political lobbies, Anuradha is building a network of partners that will help spread her work regionally and lead to conceptual broadening. She works from an organizational base which she founded, named Swayam.

Swayam provides hospitable drop-in facilities where women have access to information, counseling, referrals, necessary contacts and follow-up with the police and legal and medical aid. It will soon have a 24-hour hot-line. Anuradha has gathered the support of lawyers, doctors and counselors who work pro bono with women who seek help from Swayam. But most of its services, including case work and counseling, run on the energy of a strong volunteer corps, which is a crucial resource for Anuradha's work, as there is no government funding for the program. Most are either students or women between the ages of 40 to 55 who are comfortably off and do not need remunerative work. However, Anuradha does not limit her pool to these groups but reaches out to broader circles. "Upper middle class women have a very set attitude which makes it difficult for them to empathize with the issues of violence; and students, though very enthusiastic, lack experience. And I find sensitive empathetic people come from all classes. Of late, I have even had male volunteers," explains Anuradha. She holds regular meetings for volunteers and arranges workshops to train them. She has created a training manual–a first in the field–to teach volunteers how to work effectively at Swayam and with the public. They are a key part of her strategy to collaborate with the media to increase pressure within the community for the cause. They also develop community outreach and awareness programs.

Recognizing that greater economic independence is necessary if women victims of violence are to create new, confident lives, Anuradha conducts workshops to help her clients learn self-employment skills. She follows up with creative job options. Swayam organizes training in types of work where there is demand for workers, including sectors that have traditionally been reserved for men such as electrical services, plumbing and horticulture. It is also setting up an in-house product line of stationery and paper products made by women who seek support from the center. To build long-term effectiveness, Anuradha is partnering with corporate and professional organizations in Calcutta to facilitate job placement for her clients, to draw funding support and to build markets for the Swayam line of products.

An inclusive strategist, Anuradha has moved her work to sensitize government officials and law-enforcement agencies forward through the combined strength of "Maitreyee," a network of 40 advocacy groups for women in West Bengal. Together they organize referral services, demonstrations, press conferences and meetings with those in high ministerial positions when gender crimes or discriminatory policies arise. On International Women's Day in 1996, Maitreyee initiated its alliance by presenting a Charter of Demands to the government in a program held in Curzon Park, opposite the Governor's House in Calcutta: the Charter examined implicit biases in the provisions of the Indian Constitution that relate to women, identified patterns in which Indian society condones violence against women and proffered remedies. Maitreyee has been instrumental in drawing media attention to wrongs against women that would otherwise have been inconsequential news, dismissed as private or family matters. In collaboration with another member of Maitreyee, Swayam is compiling and publishing a directory of organizations that lists their specializations and provides information about support services. Through the Maitreyee network, Anuradha is training her clients and other organizations in the field about how to deal with law enforcement agencies more effectively, practical information that is not easily available to women and thus the cause of many mishandled cases. Maitreyee will amplify the impact of Anuradha's project and facilitate the replication of similar centers.


"Since childhood, I have been aware of the discrimination against women. Earlier, it was small things like why should I make tea while my brothers sat around. Later, I grew up acutely conscious of the emotional and physical abuse that women face, simply from looking at my circle of family and friends," says Anuradha. Such feelings convinced Anuradha that she should do something to improve the situation of women. Hailing from a well to do family of successful business entrepreneurs, she went through a privileged and protected childhood. After she completed an elite education in Calcutta schools and graduated from university in Delhi, Anuradha came to a point in her life where she wanted to work, even though this was much against the wishes of her father. She took a job with Seagull Books, a publishing house. Apart from being involved in all aspects of management, Anuradha was the key entrepreneur for over ten years, spreading the reach of the firm internationally, while completing much of her social entrepreneurial "apprenticeship" stage during this time.

Anuradha feels that Seagull was not just a job for her. It opened up a whole new world, full of opportunity, challenges and creativity. She enjoyed fostering the business, but as soon as work got more routine, she realized that she was still far from her goal. She began to volunteer with CINI Asha, an organization that works for child welfare and with street children. She discovered another whole world of which she knew nothing. "It shocked me into awareness. Though I was born and brought up in Calcutta–I didn't even know these areas existed," says Anuradha. CINI Asha introduced her to the Association for Social Health (ASHI) where she volunteered to help women living in a short-stay home, work that included counseling, researching and formulating income-generation schemes for them.

This experience helped her chart a course that would ultimately give shape to Swayam. She sought greater exposure to methods and techniques of dealing with problems related to women. In September 1994, she was sponsored by the Calcutta Foundation and the USIS to visit the United States and the United Kingdom, where she met representatives of over 30 organizations dealing with women victims of violence. The pervasive culture of voluntarism in the US had a deep impact on Anuradha.

She is married and her husband, Naveen Kishore, is a social entrepreneur himself, working in the field of arts and theater.