Mother-daughter duo reach out to victims of domestic violence through 24x7 helpline

Pune-based Sujata Pawar* is a domestic help, who regularly faces physical abuse from her husband, an alcoholic. Recently, even her teenage son joined his father: both poured kerosene on her and tried to set her ablaze.

In her early 30s, Mumbai-based Reema Wadhwa* is well-educated and comes from a middle-class family. For the past nine years, she is being physically abused by her husband for trivial reasons such as not cooking the food properly or not paying the bills on time. However, she refuses to divorce him as he is apologetic after every such an incident and even takes her to a doctor.

Financially-independent Shubhangi Dhotre*, an educationist, has been living with her physically abusive husband for as many as 26 years.

Pawar, Wadhwa and Dhotre are from different socio-economic backgrounds, but their lives behind closed doors are much the same. Given the sensitive nature, anonymity helps women open up and talk about their problems. The 24x7 Aks FoundationHelpline (8793088814/15/16) serves the purpose as the victims need to reveal their identities only if they are convinced about doing so; the volunteers, too, do not reveal their identity. Of the 34 calls received in last three months, 32 were from victims of domestic violence.

Launched by Pune-based Barkha Bajaj and her mother Neerja Bajaj on August 15, the helpline offers free counseling to sexual and domestic abuse victims and helps them contact police, lawyers, NGOs anddoctors. "A lot of callers," says Barkha, a trained psychologist in trauma and family therapy who has worked with a crisis helpline in the US for five years, "don't open up to our volunteers immediately. The volunteers then have to draw them out into a conversation. We give the caller a follow-up call and check if they still need help." The volunteers of the foundation, a unit of NeoGandhian Aid Organisations India, do not to persuade people to take any decisions.

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