Research Article: Conflict, Crisis, and Abuse in Dharavi, Mumbai: Experiences from Six Years at a Centre for Vulnerable Women and Children

Date Published: July 7, 2009

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Nayreen Daruwalla, Armida Fernandez, Jenny Salam, Nikhat Shaikh, David Osrin

Abstract: Nayreen Daruwalla and colleagues describe the Centre for Vulnerable Women and Children, which serves clients coping with crisis and violence in the urban setting of Dharavi, Mumbai.

Partial Text: India’s latest National Family Health Survey reports violence against 37% of ever-married women [1]. This has now been recognised as a serious problem, but most reports have concentrated on quantifying its burden. Despite some work on rehabilitation [2],[3], and some evidence that advocacy and counselling services are effective, accounts of experience have been limited [4],[5]. The Centre for Vulnerable Women and Children has been running for six years in Dharavi, Mumbai, and we have recently reviewed our records and experiences in order to plan an expansion of activities. We took the opportunity to reflect on the challenges of developing and sustaining a crisis intervention centre in urban India.

The Centre’s activities have been shaped by the reasons that people consult us, and by the trade-off between what they want us to do, what we would like to do, and what we can do. Seven hundred and fifteen clients sought help from 2001 to 2006, the numbers increasing annually. Most were women in abusive situations on a background of conflict with their partners or families (Tables 1 and 2). Relationships were further coloured by disputes about property, earnings, or dowry [11],[12],[13], accusations of infidelity by clients or their partners, and the stresses of multiple marriages.

Reviewing our experiences, we think that three issues particularly influenced the Centre’s development: the relative invisibility of the problems with which we are trying to deal; women’s desire to meet normative expectations and to keep the family together; and a spiralling need to connect with other service providers, families, and communities.

The strongest message from our work is that the ramifications of violence and crisis are so complex that a stand-alone service will under-perform. A crisis centre requires community involvement and strategic alliances with parallel systems. We have short-term objectives—strengthening legal and police links, finding a secure and stable source of shelter—but also a more ambitious agenda to advocate citywide recognition of violence against women and children as a public concern. Sustainability will depend on partnerships. Along with legal resource strengthening, we aim to help set up a crisis cell within LTMG Hospital, and to pilot a model of alliances between NGOs, community-based organisations, and community members in Dharavi.



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