There are social activists and there is Subhashree Das. For last 25 years, she has been tirelessly working to empower women in all spheres of life. Hers is a story of quiet and relentless endeavour for the cause she stands up to. Although she has been awarded by many organisations and forums for her work, she believes she still has a long way to go.
Excerpts from an interview:
Tell us something about your family and your childhood?
I belong to a middle class family and we are three sisters and one brother. I am the youngest of all. In my family, most members are working in the police department. I believe policing is also a part of social work as police officers have to deal with all problems of the society. So since childhood, since my family members, I was inspired to work for the society and serve people.
How could you join this field at such an early age?
As I said, I was always inclined to work for the society but my family did not allow me to join the police department. They wanted me to get married early and choose a profession with their permission. But since I was determined, I decided to do my masters in social work after my graduation. During that period, I came across many social problems around me while doing field work. Although I had not decided to be a social activist then, after completing my course, I kept working in the field for a long time. During 1999, at the time of cyclone, I was working to rehabilitate cyclone affected victims mostly women and then I realised that there were many issues related to women. Many were being exploited while others were being sold off in red light areas. That was like an eye-opener for me and that forced me to work for women. I haven’t looked back since then.
What are the challenges you had to face during initial days in this field?
During initial days, I faced lots of problems as I had no experience in this sector. To work within a system and arrange for funds were the biggest challenges. But gradually, I was able to cope with the system and get some donors as previously I had worked with them. But till date, I face challenges in this profession. Dealing with ground level women or poor women is not as difficult as dealing with high profile cases. In high profile cases, the accused use all their power to manipulate victims. So it gets difficult fighting for justice.
Is there any case or issue that you have resolved and which is still afresh in your mind?
There are many such cases, in fact. But there are also many unresolved cases which have left a huge impact on me. Like in 1997, there was this unwed mother, who was asked to leave the village and so to rescue the girl and her kid, we reached her village. We did our best to counsel her parents and the villagers but instead of listening or talking to us, they started attacking us with weapons. And, we were forced to leave the village without being able to resolve the issue. Such cases where I fail to come to the rescue of the victims also affect me a lot.
With every passing day, crime against women is increasing in our state. What could be the reason behind it?
The main reason of violence against women is our upbringing. A girl is taught from the very beginning to stay silent and not to raise her voice. So people take advantage of it. The other reason is lack of legal awareness among the women in our state, not just the uneducated ones but also the educated masses. As a result, these women do not find a proper forum to voice their grievances and ensure that appropriate action is taken against the culprits.
Do you think our legal system is competent enough to provide justice to women?
Although there are a number of laws to provide justice to all, the process is too lengthy and time-taking . There are several laws to protect women but the implementation rate is poor. Besides, no strong punishment is given in cases when women are exploited. That leaves a negative impact on the society,
Tell us about your combined project with Commissionerate Police and how is helping the women in our society?
We got connected with Commissionerate Police with a new concept called ‘Madhyam’ to support women. ’Madhyam’ has been functioning as a counselling centre for women who have been victims of violence since 2012. Through Madhyam, we have been able to address many issues without registering a case and have also been successful in providing justice to the victims.
You have been working in this field since long. What are the changes you have noticed over the years?
Yes, there have been many changes over the years. Before 10 years, we were dealing mostly with dowry cases but these days, there are very few cases related to dowry torture which is a good thing. But the bad part is that there are uglier crime cases that are increasing in the society today, be it related to cyber crime, molestation and eve-teasing or fraud cases.
How have you managed both professional and personal life?
It has been possible only because of the support from my family and my colleagues. As my husband is a senior advocate, he has helped and guided me in my profession. My in-laws too have been very supportive. But I have to say there are times when it gets difficult to strike a balance but I never compromise with my work. That means the world to me.