A mobile application "Chuppi Tod" (break your silence) was launched in Patna on Wednesday to fight the rampant social evil of child marriage and sexual harassment.
Launched by noted women rights campaigner Prashanti Tiwari, the application will educate women and girls on the evils of sexual harassment and child marriage, besides offering innovative provisions for them to share their experiences, either confidentially or anonymously.
Coming close on the heels of the MeToo movement in India, the initiative is aimed at building a 10,000-strong cadre of adolescent girls as community journalists under a socio-economic enterprise model in partnership with media houses and skill training institutes.
The app will provide a platform where the victims' voices will be heard and their stories shared. It has a Chuppi Tod button through which instant alerts can be sent by women and girls.
The initiave has been lauded by eminent people from various walks of life. Among them are Paula Donovan, renowned international gender rights activist, Sharanya Kanikkannan of Code Blue Campaign of New York that tracks the sexual abuse worldwide, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the first openly gay prince in India, Sushma Sahu, ex-member of the National Commission of Women and legal and judicial experts. They said that by breaking their silence, the victims will get justice besides providing momentum to the movement.
On the eve of the launch, seven girls came forward to narrate their experiences on sexual harassment.
As the country marks the sixth death anniversary of the brutal rape victim Nirbhaya, Prashanti Tiwari, a sex abuse survivor, reinitated Gender Alliance. Tiwari's team had been lauded in 2017 for launching the helpline app, Bandhan Tod (freedom from bondage), as part of UNFPA's Gender Alliance project against child marriage.
Within a year, the survivor Prashanti, whose cry for justice and voice against the abuse of diplomatic immunity attracted support internationally, came up with Chuppi Tod.
"Prashanti is a role model for millions of women in India and abroad. Her strength, courage and conviction to work for empowerment of girls has already been acknowledged internationally", said Paula Donovan.
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, the first openly gay prince in India, also lauded the Chuppi Tod strategy, and said that he missed the much needed safe space being provided by Chuppi Tod during his struggle for the rights of LGBT communities.
In her moving address at the gathering, Prashanti, the President of Gender Alliance Trust, placed her initiative as a strategy to strengthen India's democracy and governance system.
"Democracy where majority of citizens are passive recipients is not a democracy but an electoral gimmick and populism. Only the language and rituals are democratic", said Tiwari. She further said, "The question before India is not how to get sensitive people to power. Rather the question is how to create structures and people's movement that force governance to be sensitive".
Tiwari refused to respond to questions regarding her criminal complaint against UNFPA officials, saying its was not the right forum.
Surprisingly, UNFPA Bihar chief Nadeem Noor who mentored Gender Alliance was present on the occasion but refused to talk to the media. Noor, a well-respected official in Bihar, has not answered any media query in the past many months regarding the criminal case against his superiors.
Bihar has one of the highest incidences of under 18 marriages of young girls in the country at 40 per cent. However, despite the growing incidences of sexual assault against women, Bihar continues to register very few criminal cases.
Out of 84,746 cases of sexual assault in the country in 2016, only 324 were registered in Bihar with a rate of 0.6 as per the National Crimes Record Bureau 2016. Out of 324 cases in Bihar in 2016, only 124 were against sexual harassment, seven against voyeurism and four against stalking. This implies that Bihar registered just 0.3 per cent of cases against sexual assault in 2016.
The Chuppi Tod campaign is likely to help empower women, who have been forcibly silenced and or their voices drowned out. At a time, when central as well as state governments are taking measures for women empowerment, their silence is proving costly to achieve the overall goal.
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