How community Radio is fighting India’s domestic violence crisis


Domestic violence poses a grave public health threat in India, as underscored by the 2019-2021 National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Disturbingly, 29.3% of married Indian women aged 18 to 49 have faced domestic or sexual violence. Even more alarming, 3.1% of pregnant women in the same age group have suffered physical violence during pregnancy, endangering […]

Domestic violence poses a grave public health threat in India, as underscored by the 2019-2021 National Family Health Survey (NFHS). Disturbingly, 29.3% of married Indian women aged 18 to 49 have faced domestic or sexual violence. Even more alarming, 3.1% of pregnant women in the same age group have suffered physical violence during pregnancy, endangering both mother and child.  The consequences can be devastating: increased risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and lasting physical and psychological trauma for both.

Despite the overwhelming evidence of harm, domestic violence remains shrouded in silence, allowing it to persist. Patriarchy compounds the problem, denying women economic independence and trapping them in dangerous situations.  While progress is being made towards women’s rights, urgent community-level action is needed to help the most vulnerable. Interventions that challenge harmful beliefs, empower women, and create supportive networks are vital.

The Delhi-based NGO SMART is tackling this crisis head-on with an innovative communication strategy. They harness the power of community radio and grassroots networks to raise awareness about the devastating impact of domestic violence.  Their flagship radio program, “Hinsa Ko No” (“Say No to Violence”), offers relatable content focused on combating violence. This sustained broadcasting model is shifting attitudes in conservative communities, empowering women to stand up for themselves.

Farheen, of Radio Mewat, interacting with a local woman in Nuh, Haryana. Photo: SMART

Farheen, of Radio Mewat, observes a profound change: “When we started ‘Hinsa Ko No’, women didn’t even understand the meaning of ‘hinsa’.  Now, they recognize that it encompasses not just physical abuse, but also the mental and emotional toll of violence.” Women who once attributed health issues to ‘gas’ are recognizing them as stress-related symptoms caused by abuse.

In places like Mewat, Haryana, domestic violence is sadly normalized. “If a woman is beaten, it is assumed she deserves it,” says Astha Singh, Program Manager of “Hinsa Ko No”. SMART’s success lies in the trust built by their sister station, Radio Mewat, which has served the community for decades.

Using their community radio cadre, along with local Anganwadi and ASHA workers, SMART establishes Women’s Groups – spaces of self-expression often unavailable in traditional households. Importantly, their grassroots network overcomes the lack of access to phones and technology that many rural women face.

Even with built-in trust within the community, SMART employs a careful process of long-term engagement to encourage women to share their stories. “We encounter denial when talking about domestic violence. There is a lot of resistance,” explains Singh. Instead, they begin by addressing gender inequity. Once women recognize this systemic bias, they open up, first acknowledging that violence is widespread, then accepting their own victimization.  This journey of self-awareness can culminate in women seeking help, including legal recourse at One Stop Centers.

Radio Madhuban, Sirohi Rajasthan. Photo: SMART

Sumaiya, 23, is one such example. Tortured by her husband and in-laws after giving birth, she contemplated suicide. Through Radio Mewat and SMART, she discovered the term ‘domestic violence’ and found support. However, Singh notes that India’s One Stop Centers often fall short, and entrenched patriarchal beliefs remain obstacles.

Despite these challenges, the “Hinsa Ko No” model is spreading. Some of the tangible outcomes of their intervention in Mewat include adding 1350 women across 60 Mewat villages in Women’s Group, providing vital education about domestic violence (DV) and women’s legal rights. SMART’s field workers have documented over 300 cases in Nuh alone, guiding victims towards support services and the pursuit of justice. Crucially, SMART trains stakeholders like Panchayat members, police, WCD officials, media, NGO personnel, and lawyers, creating a more responsive system. They have educated over 600 students, planting the seeds of change for future generations.

Radio Vishwas, Nashik, Maharashtra. Photo: SMART

The successful combination of radio programming and community outreach through training and capacity building is now being replicated in 12 districts across seven states – Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh Bihar, Haryana, and Chhattisgarh.

“The next step is forming men’s groups. We are already encountering a lot of resistance in these groups” says Singh, recognizing that fully eradicating violence requires engaging men. While it’s a long road, her determination is evident.