Formed in 1969, as a women-led secular organisation pursuing Gandhi’s principles of non-violence, truth seeking and welfare for all, the Vasavyha Mahila Mandali (VMM) is based in Vijayawada, a sacred and fast growing city in Andhra Pradesh in south-east India. VMM focuses on empowering women and children who have suffered, or are at risk, from violence, through education and community engagement.
An IRCT survey in 2020 showed that one in five torture survivors treated by member centres around the world have suffered from gender-based violence. Working within the VMM organisation, the VRCT documents and treats survivors of torture, who are also often survivors of domestic or gender-based violence.
Dr Keerthi leads IRCT Member the Vasavya Rehabilitation Centre for Torture Victims (VRCT)
One such survivor is Dr Bollineni Keerthi, who has dedicated her life to helping women and children suffering from violence in India, and now leads VMM. Dr Keerthi says her day usually begins with a frantic phone call from a victim.
“There’s crying, chaotic sounds of violence, smashing utensils, children crying, a man loudly scolding,” said Dr Keerthi. “As a woman, I feel satisfied when I can give hope to a victim at that moment when she feels her life is nothing. Those words, ‘I am here for you’ give her a ray of hope that, yes, I too can live.”
Dr Keerthi points to recent World Health Organisation data that shows one in every three women across the world, over a billion people, will face violence - usually from a partner or family member - over the course of their lifetimes. In response, VMM is running a campaign to change mindsets about gender equality called Million Minds.
“Female leadership is essential in working with survivors of torture or domestic violence,” said Dr Keerthi. “Women leaders design strategies which are practical rather than hypothetical. They are also empathetic and committed to rehabilitation. Why? Many have inside knowledge of the problem.”
For more information
In his ground-breaking report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, wrote that, “domestic violence amounts to ill-treatment or torture whenever States acquiesce in the prohibited conduct by failing to protect victims and prohibited acts, of which they knew or should have known, in the private sphere.
States are internationally responsible for torture when they fail — by indifference, inaction or prosecutorial or judicial passivity — to exercise due diligence to protect against such violence or when they legitimize domestic violence by, for instance, allowing husbands to ‘chastize’ their wives or failing to criminalise marital rape, acts that could constitute torture.”
To read the whole report, click here.