KRISHNA ROY

India,

A leader in the women's movement in eastern India, Krishna Roy is creating a broad network of citizen "watchdogs" equipped to respond quickly to reports of violence against women and children. Her approach is especially important to victims who live in rural areas and lack access to other reporting and rescue programs.

This profile below was prepared when Krishna Roy was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.

INTRODUCTION

A leader in the women's movement in eastern India, Krishna Roy is creating a broad network of citizen "watchdogs" equipped to respond quickly to reports of violence against women and children. Her approach is especially important to victims who live in rural areas and lack access to other reporting and rescue programs.




THE NEW IDEA

Krishna sees an urgent need for Indian society to find effective solutions to the problem of violence against women and children. A cadre of engaged, trained volunteers, many of whom work for existing citizen organizations, serve as the first mechanism to ensure that instances of violence get reported. In addition, Krishna is strengthening the enforcement agencies and the court to tackle many of the problems associated with violence against women. Issues like ostracism or mistreatment of the victim, police sluggishness or reluctance to respond, and unacceptable, out-of-court settlements to avoid consequences perceived to bring shame to the victim and her family–like marrying her to the aggressor–are examples of methods that need reform.

To encourage an alert, aware, responsible society that deems acts of violence and abuse as unacceptable, Krishna recruits and trains volunteers to take quick action in reporting the violence, especially violence in rural areas beyond the reach of most programs. Her outreach model brings together a large network of victims who have suffered abuse and isolation in far-flung, marginalized communities. Krishna is also working with volunteers and staff to provide quick relief for the victims. Through these efforts, she is building a broad citizen movement with the active participation of the existing third-sector network.




THE PROBLEM

Violence against women and children is a widespread problem in much of India. While neighbors and family members often know it goes on, they do not report it, either because custom prevents their meddling in another family's affairs, or because they lack confidence that the enforcement agencies will correct the situation, punish the perpetrator, and help the victim to recovery. In urban areas, citizen organizations offer support to victims of violence, but few victims have the courage to seek help from these crisis centers. In rural areas, the situation is much worse because victims often have no recourse at all. The situation in both areas is often exacerbated when successful urban centers are not able to remain open 24-hours-a-day and when they do not have an outreach program that makes the service available to victims outside the metropolitan area.

Existing organizations that address women's issues–and even those with the specific focus on violence against women–lack a rural reporting component. As a result, their outreach efforts do not reach very far, and thousands of women and children suffer in silence, isolated from any form of help or hope of recovery.




THE STRATEGY

Krishna first attracts the attention of the public, the police, and the courts by highlighting individual cases of violence. Rather than creating a new organization, she has made use of the framework already in place, working through existing organizations in her reporting, rescue, and public education efforts.

A crucial step necessary to reach victims is having a solid network in place. Because of this, Krishna consciously engages students and other possible volunteers to follow up on the cases of domestic abuse. Once initial investigations have been conducted, the case formally reported, and psychological help provided to the victim, staff at the existing crisis centers can follow up. Krishna is working out practical ways to systematize her outreach approach to the victims through an informal activist network, transferring this shared knowledge to organizations across the region.

She is training volunteers and staff of existing organizations–both those with an exclusive focus on violence and abuse and those with a broader community-organizing function. This is important because Krishna wants to launch a campaign to mobilize public action protesting violence. For this effort to succeed, it must involve every part of society, rather than making do with the usual sectoral approach of involving only those specifically focused on violence.

The impact of Krishna's pedagogy sessions is found in the promising response from the students of the National University of Juridical Sciences. She conducted a session on intervention strategies involving the community. When the students applied these methods in their community visit, they were so encouraged by the response that the university is now considering offering such training to students who are interested in this field. This partnership is a significant leap for those working in violence and abuse since it provides exposure and sensitizes the younger generation, especially future lawyers and lawmakers.

Krishna's strategy of building an "outreach model" training has positive repercussions. While the most obvious is to bring the support services to the victims, it is also an effective approach to taking the judicial system outside the cities. This will help in decentralizing the judicial system and in making the formal judicial system more accessible to the rural population.

In the next years, Krishna will focus on designing a mobile legal aid and crisis component to reach out to groups not served by the urban networks. Her goal is also to transfer her expertise to the next generation and to engage the community in taking up the issues vigorously.




THE PERSON

Krishna has played a pivotal role in creating a string of influential women's networks. In 1983 she started the Women's Study Circle, an organization that published books and articles on female infanticide and domestic violence. She then helped to establish the Nari Nirjatan Pratirodh Mancha (Platform Against Violence Against Women), the first network of women's organizations in the region. As a prelude to the Beijing Conference in 1995, Krishna played a key role in starting Maitree, a network of women's organizations that provides an effective platform for campaigning and lobbying. As a consultant to Swayam, an organization founded by Ashoka Fellow Anuradha Kapoor, Krishna produced a handbook that documents the procedures for addressing violence against women. Her expertise and extensive field knowledge make her a much-sought-after person in the region.