Distress Call

Distress Call

Suresh and Mamta (names changed to protect identities) fall in love. Their parents don’t approve of their marriage. They go ahead and marry anyway. After their marriage, the couple reaches Suresh’s home but his folks refuse to let them in. Rejecting their marriage, Suresh’s father (who is a judge by profession) issues a warning to his son: Either leave the girl or cut all ties with us. Suresh chooses to remain with his family and the Mamta is left in the lurch. She asks for a divorce but is refused on the grounds that there is no proof that the marriage indeed did take place.

Left with no option, Mamta seeks help from the Thane chapter of Bharatiya Mahila Federation. The Federation goes all out to extend support to Mamta. In order to garner public support and to put pressure on the Suresh and his family, the federation prints and distributes pamphlets at all the significant places. Suresh’s judge-father files a defamation case against the federation. But the federation fights back and wins the case. Mamta is granted a divorce with full honour, whereas Suresh and his family are left high and dry. Mamta marries again and lives happily with two children and a successful career too.

This is but one of the several hundred cases that are regularly taken up by the Bharatiya Mahila Federation (Thane Samiti). The federation, which is an NGO, deals with typical women’s issues such as dowry matters, physical and mental torture, extra-marital affairs, liquor addictions and problems of widows etc.

The Thane chapter of Bhartiya Mahila Federation has helped thousands of victims of social injustice since its inception in 1985 by a small group of educated middle-class women in Thane city. The federation was established with a view to spread awareness about the women’s issues and extends help to women in distress.

The federation runs a family counseling center which has been recognized by the Central Social Welfare Board, New Delhi and receives a grant in aid from the Board since 1990 in the form of salaries of the staff etc. The cases range from marital discord due to personality differences to extreme violence as a result of dowry system or alcoholic addiction of the husband etc. Meghana Mehandale, the President of the Thane center says, "A distressed woman receives moral support, patient hearing, counseling, legal advise and aid, police assistance (whenever called for), and finally even protection and shelter at a short stay home in the hour of crisis."

The Short Stay Home is run by Malati Vaidya Smriti Trust, a charitable trust working in co-ordination with the federation for rehabilitation of women caught up in severe crisis. Social worker Geeta Mahajan, who is also the secretary of the federation, related many frightening accounts of distressed women and children and how the federation has reached out to their assistance. Relating how helpful the "Short Stay Home" has been, Mahajan says, "A young girl was forced into prostitution by her own mother in Bhiwandi who was rescued and given assistance at the home. A battered wife with two young daughters could come out of the clutches of a very violent and alcoholic husband, thanks to the shelter at home. An unwed young mother from a peasant family received timely help for her and her child’s rehabilitation".

The cultural squad of the organization plays a significant role in creating awareness. It has performed a number of street plays on the themes of women’s inequality, Sati, communal riots etc. for different target groups. Activities like nursery school for slum children, literacy classes for women, women’s vigilance committees for proper functioning of public distribution system, life education for adolescent girls form part of the organizations routine work in the community. Their street-play Mulgi Zhali Ho (Oh! A girl is born) was so successful that it led many volunteers to offer their services to the organisation.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" said Martin Luther King, Jr. The federation’s fight for justice offers hope in a society that is heavily skewed against the female gender.

Readers can contact the Bhartiya Mahila Federation (Thane Samiti) on Tel. No. 25369879

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