Fighting hard, fighting fair

Kondaveeti Satyavati's Bhumika Women's Collective has come to the rescue of many women in distress.

Kondaveeti Satyavati was born in a tiny village in West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Though she hailed from a family of non-literate farmers, she wanted to affect change in society from a young age. As the years went by, she involved herself in many women’s rights campaigns. Now, at 63, Satyavati is adored by thousands of people and respected by the police force for the work she has done through the Bhumika Women’s Collective, her organisation, which fights for women’s rights.

Bhumika started off as a publication initially. “In the late 80s, there was a lot of discussion about feminism in India. Soon, Telugu papers also started running stories on these subjects but they were limited to only a column. Along with a few other like-minded people, I thought why not dedicate a whole magazine to it,” says Satyavati, who has been the founder editor of the magazine since its inception in 1993.

The magazine’s popularity changed the course of Bhumika. “Soon, we started getting calls from women asking us to help them or rescue them from cases of domestic violence. Some would even come to the office asking for help. Around this time, the news of the suicide of a senior high court advocate, due to her husband’s harassment, surfaced. If a lawyer took her life because of this, I wondered what would happen to ordinary women. We then decided to start a helpline for women with such problems,” she says.

The 24-hour helpline receives an average of 30 calls per day, 80 per cent of which are related to domestic violence. Through phone and personal counselling, the organisation has helped thousands of families.

One such centre is also run in a women’s prison. “Once they are in prison, even their families don’t want them back. Some families don’t even know they can get bail for their relative for a minimal amount, so these women continue to stay in jail. We facilitate legal aid and contact with the family” she says, adding, “One woman’s family thought she died and had even performed her last rites. They got to know that she was alive only after we approached them.”

Fighting a crime like domestic violence cannot be easy. The founder reveals, “Yes, we have got death threats. But luckily, the police have been very helpful.”

Funding has been another challenge for her. At one point, she even considered shutting down the organisation. However, today, the organisation runs on consistent CSR funds.

Shouldering so much responsibility can be exhausting. Satyavati makes sure to take care of herself so she can take care of others. She enjoys going away on solo drives over weekends. This gives her the enthusiasm to face new challenges and take on the world.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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