Bhanwari Devi And Her Struggle For Gender Justice And Equity
Bhanwari Devi is the woman who set the foundation for legislation that criminalised workplace sexual harassment. She deserves all the honour for her struggle for gender justice and equity. She has worked her whole life relentlessly for women’s rights and dignity. Unfortunately, she has not received the justice our law owes her. It’s been years and she has been waiting but to no avail. Let’s get into the whole story of her life from the very beginning.
Bhanwari Devi belongs to an oppressed caste of society. From a young age, she fought against the feudal, caste discrimination, and patriarchal structures of Rajasthan. Her journey started as a social worker as part of the government-run Women’s Development Project. Sadly, Bhanwari Devi was married at the age of 6. Hence, she was against child marriage and to abolish it from society, she started taking part in campaigns against child marriage in 1992.
Moreover, as a social worker, she provided counselling to women on family planning, girl education, dowry, against female foeticide, and of course child marriage. However, both she and her husband became the target of constant threats and intimidation by the upper caste men of the village. There was this incident that broke upon them both which changed her life and compelled her to the lifelong struggle of seeking justice.
A 9 years old girl child was being married off by the dominant caste family of the village. Bhanwari Devi did her best to halt the marriage. She even complained to the police about it and reached the marriage house. However, the family nevertheless married off their daughter the next day. Even though they were successful in their infant’s marriage, they were outraged by Bhanwari Devi. Bhanwari Devi, on the other hand, had no fear. After a few days after the incident when she and her husband were working in the fields, a few men from that family attacked them,
Her husband was brutally beaten up and Bhanwari Devi was gang-raped upon trying to save her husband. This incident cost her an immense amount of struggle. Nobody, literally nobody stood with her wherever she went in her way of seeking justice. From the police station to the primary health care centre, and the judiciary, she had to scream in her efforts for being listened to. But, she never gave up. No matter how much it took off her, she stood still and strong. Probably it was her strength that made her case as one of the rarest cases of caste-based sexual violence to gain national attention.
During her time, there was no legal legislation to address workplace sexual harassment. This was another heavy stone on her case and because of its a heavyweight, Bhanwari had to face the utmost difficulties just to argue her case. She and her family facing the wrath of their villagers at the same time was another thorn she had to constantly bear. After all these hardships, the Rajasthan High Court acquitted all the accusers in 1995.
The reasons for acquittal are even more horrifying. One reason states that men from the upper caste cannot rape women from a lower caste. Another reason states that a nephew cannot rape in front of his uncle. While another goes that an older man cannot rape. Luckily, after this acquittal, some feminist groups under Vishakha filed a public interest petition in the Supreme Court.
This approach was made to make the workplace safe for women. Eventually, the guidelines that Vishakha laid were translated into full fledge legislation called the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013. This legislation was a fruit that Bhanwari Devi’s struggles bore. It ultimately even paved the way for the Me Too Movement.
Sadly, she herself couldn’t get justice even after 26 years. Although it hasn’t silenced her or broken her to sit back and stop seeking justice. Even after living a life of injustice, she spent all these years courageously fighting for other women’s rights and justice. Most importantly, she has been honoured Neerja Bhanot award. She has above all also became a part of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995.
Bhanwari Devi though could not get justice, but her case has enlightened the caste-based sexual violence in India. It gave another dimension to the discourse of women’s rights in India. She has stated that awards cannot feed her, justice will. She is still seeking it, and we are with her in her struggle and demand for justice.Add to favorites