The Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India, is one of the largest in the world and is home to between 300,000 and 1 million people. Violence against women, such as domestic violence, honour killings, and rape, is common, usually occurring at the hands of family members. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 43.6% of all crimes against women in India are committed by husbands and relatives. In Dharavi, gender-based violence is exacerbated by poor education and poverty.
Frustrations associated with unhygienic and insecure living conditions, malnutrition, and disease can often result in the abuse of vulnerable populations such as women and children. In 2014, the Society for Nutrition, Education, & Health Action (SNEHA), an NGO working in India’s urban slums, launched the Little Sister Project to address gender-based violence in Dharavi.
The Little Sister project has trained 160 local women, known as sanginis, to identify and report gender-based violence using an Android app called EyeWatch. EyeWatch was developed by Indianeye Security and is a mobile platform that allows sanginis to record and track incidents of violence. Once the app has been activated and an alert has been raised, a call is placed to a SNEHA employee who offers assistance. The identity of the victim is kept private.
The use of the app has greatly improved the speed and reliability of data collection, as sanginis previously recorded information by hand. The technology helps to track cases of repeat violence and understand more about the prevalence of violence in Dharavi, a first step in preventing its reoccurrence. Sanginis are trained for five or six years. They are well known to community members and their connection to SNEHA is well established. If women wish, they can contact a sangini at any time to receive assistance, not just when an incident occurs.
The EyeWatch app allows for increased reporting of violence, lets women know what assistance is available, and helps SNEHA to understand more about the prevalence of gender-based violence in Dharavi. However, SNEHA also recognized that tracking and reporting violence is only the beginning; getting other responders to act is a major challenge. SNEHA’s data shows that of 345 cases recorded in 2014, only 19% were reported. Police are often reluctant to file a case, believing that the issue should be resolved at home. When cases are reported, conviction rates are very low.
Lack of understanding about women’s issues and prevailing cultural views about women often mean cases are not taken seriously by police, lawyers, and judges. That’s why SNEHA’s program has also trained 4,500 police officers and more than 2,100 public hospital staff in Mumbai about identifying and reporting evidence of violence against women.
SNEHA’s sanginis say that the mobile phones have caused a change in how they are perceived in Dharavi. “When they see us hold up the phone, they start behaving properly,” they say. Throughout their early work in Dharavi, SNEHA found that while they helped raise awareness and made assistance available, solutions that came from women and men in the community were often the best ones. Hence, sanginis are there to support and mobilize women and help them deal with violence independently.
In early 2015, women in Dharavi embroidered a quilt mapping the slum and marking out areas where they had suffered violence. The quilt was showcased at an exhibition organized by SNEHA called the Dharavi Biennale. SNEHA hopes to expand the successes of the Little Sister Project in Dharavi across India in the near future.