Hinsa ko No: Unveiling the Shadows in Panchayats, Empowering Voices for Change

Patriarchy in panchayats is a well-known fact. But how deep entrenched it is, I only realised when I started interacting with them in Nuh.

Patriarchy in panchayats is a well-known fact. But how deep entrenched it is, I only realised when I started interacting with them in Nuh. As part of the Hinsa ko No project, of SMART, it was my job to train the panchayats on domestic violence, and help strengthen their role as the first responders. I was hoping to make them understand the DV Act 2005 better, but also look at violence from a gender lens.

However, after immersing myself in the depths of the Panchayats, it quickly became glaringly apparent how limited the panchayat member’s understanding of Domestic Violence was and how archaic and regressive that knowledge could be. Given that Panchayats, as the third tier of governance, play a pivotal role in strengthening grassroots democracy, they have the potential to contribute significantly to the safety and security of women and their inclusion in decision-making processes.

Recognizing the critical role of Panchayats in addressing Violence Against Women (VAW), the initial round of training was conducted in February and March of 2022. A total of 306 members from 26 Panchayats participated in these training sessions.

To get the Panchayat members for a training on the subject of Domestic Violence was a herculean task. They were always busy! Even when they came- as soon as I would start taking about the purpose of the workshop they always had pressing appointments to keep. With much difficult and several dates and cancellations- the training sessions commenced. The first session was an exercise involving scenarios that highlighted common instances of domestic violence. Participants’ responses were a reflection of their lack of awareness and knowledge on the subject. The normalisation of violence and the rights of the male members- husband, father-in-law, brother -in law- were clear in their mind. The women were owned by them. How they treat them is an internal matter. And ofcourse, if they make a mistake- a lesson has to be taught.

The common refrains were:
With is mindset, it was so easy to shift blame onto women, not only because their actions deserved a violent response but also the belief that if at all women lodged complaints they were filing false cases to gain sympathy or financial benefits, and asserting that men could do no wrong.

Taali dono hatho se bajti hai… aurton
ki bhi galti hoti hai tabhi unke saath
maar-pit hoti hai (without any mistake
a man will never beat his

Koi bhi purush mahila ke sath galat
harkat nhi karta jab tak mahila koi
ishara na de (No will ever harm a
woman until and unless the woman
asks for it

What further came to light was that none of the 26 Panchayats, that I hosted training workshops with, had any knowledge of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. Nevertheless, the positive aspect of these sessions was the interest shown by the women members of the Panchayat. Notwithstanding the fact that even the women sarpanches were only symbolic
heads- the actual control over all decisions was on the male member.

Despite the challenges encountered during these Panchayat training sessions, with both male and female members, a historic occurrence took place in Nuh. For the first time, in one of the trainings, a public debate ensued around the issue of women facing violence. Women panchayat members began speaking up for themselves, holding men accountable for discrimination, gender inequality, and the subjugation of women. Men, in turn, were suddenly on their backfoot, and resorted to blaming me for empowering the women and disrupting the households because eof the information being given on women’s rights. Before I could react- the women stood up and said’Agar ghar todna hota to kabka tod dete, lekin ab hinsa bardaasht nahin karenge. Waqt aa gaya hai hinsa ko na
bolne ka- If we had to disrupt our homes we would have walked away long back. But now we will not tolerate violence. It is time to say Hinsa ko No’.

I was happy to be the silent spectator and witness the growth in women’s agency, developed over the past two years, enabling them to speak up for themselves. The flood gates had opened. Though it took us two years of hard labour, patience and perseverance, it was gratifying to see women question the Panchayat members about a case, in which the Panchayat had previously sided with the other party and blamed the survivor. The decision taken by the Panchayat would not be reversed, but just flagging the bias and questioning their collective ruling marked a significant step forward.

My own understanding is that the Panchayats are in denial of domestic violence, insisting that the matter was strictly between the man and woman and their respective families. Overcoming this resistance and making them understand that there is a criminality involved in acts of violence is a formidable challenge.