Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Varsha breaks the silence

"Hi, I am Varsha. Three days after I was married, my husband beat me unconscious."
Not a conventional opening line -- but then, Varsha is not a conventional reporter.

A correspondent for IndiaUnheard, India's first ever community news service, Varsha is a woman whose brings her own experience of violence to every story she writes.
Varsha writes on a single issue -- domestic violence.

"I represent those women who are being victimized by domestic violence every day of their life... my community is not the one I was born into, but the one I identify with," she says.
Born in a well-to-do family in Pune, 31-year old Varsha had her first brush with cruelty when her father refused to even look at his newborn daughter and kept away from her for eight months because he had wanted a son.

The neglect continued as she grew up. "Every single day of my life, someone always reminded me that I was a girl child, the unwanted one. And that someone was from within my own family," she recalls.

It was sheer grit that kept Varsha going.

Fortunately, her family did not deny her an education. After getting her university degree, Varsha joined a human rights organization in Pune.

Marriage followed soon after. "I was happy, finally, to have a job and to be starting a new life, with someone who liked me. The fact that he was a fellow human rights activist gave me hope for my future."

But her hopes were shattered on the third day after her marriage, when her activist-husband beat her till she fell unconscious.

"First, I was shocked. Then hurt and scared. For everything I said, for every word of protest I uttered, I got a blow on my face. But then came the day when I told myself -- there is something wrong. Either I am not speaking out loud enough, or I am thinking of myself as a lone individual. The truth is, there are many others like me."

It was this realisation that finally brought Varsha to IndiaUnheard.

An initiative of Video Volunteers, IndiaUnheard was launched on May 3 -- World Press Freedom Day -- this year, with a team of 31 correspondents from 24 states. Like Varsha, each of these correspondents has experienced discrimination, violence and neglect in her own life and is committed to reporting on issues that remain largely untouched by the mainstream media.
(Video Volunteers is a media and human rights NGO founded in 2003 that promotes community media to enable citizen participation in marginalized and poor communities.)

Varsha completed a training camp organised for IndiaUnheard correspondents, despite breaking her leg in an accident. It was painful, but Varsha was determined to finish the training. "I have had fractures several times before," she says.

"Once, during the hearing of my divorce case, I was beaten by my husband in the court and left with several broken ribs and a dislocated... injuries do not bother me anymore. In fact, this is the first time in years that I have got an injury which is not the result of a beating."

Based in Danapur -- a satellite town of Patna in Bihar -- Varsha now shoots news videos on women who have been victims of sexual violence at home.

She plans to cover Danapur and Patna, where she says domestic violence is practically a way of life. "India still doesn't have a law against marital rape -- people do not see sexual assault by the husband as a crime," says Varsha.

Domestic violence is an ugly reality for lakhs of Indian women but is still shrouded in denial and silence -- a silence that Varsha is determined to break.

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