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Illustration with an Indian woman who symbolically breaks open a cage that has emprisoned a group of women.

A woman who breaks all stereotypes

Behind the Scenes of "I wouldn't take no for an answer: How a solidarity-based sisterhood movement spread across rural India"

There are all kind of assumptions about rural women. People imagine such women do not have much formal education and so they are ignorant. They are supposed to be weak, and dependent on their spouses and families. Women in villages are not expected to know about their rights or have the courage to stand up for them.

In the west Indian state of Maharashtra, there is a woman who flies in the face of all these prejudices: Akkatai Teli. We at Unbias the News chose her story, told by Sanket Jain, because it dismantles stereotypes, points towards solutions, and reaffirms our own activist “bias” as a feminist publication.

Akkatai is elderly, unlettered, widowed, and lives in a village. Her personal phone number, written on the wall outside her house, is a hotline for women who find themselves in violent situations. For men who misuse that number to issue death threats to her, she keeps a sickle beside her bed.

Domestic violence is not a spatial issue but a gendered one. It happens in villages, towns and cities. While a higher number of perpetrators of violence against women live in low-and lower-middle-income parts of the world, each day 137 women are killed by family members globally. During Covid-19, men across the world became even more violent in their homes, so much so that the UN termed it the “shadow pandemic”.

Akkatai and the women in her informal support and solidarity network are remarkable because they no longer wish to be counted in the data above. They are overthrowing their socially imposed identity of “married women” to reclaim their self-respect and dignity as human beings. They have stopped decrying their “fates”, and trembling under the tyranny of “what will people say”. Instead they are outraged by the idea of men’s superiority, like Akkatai is when she says: “What shocks me every time is how a man thinks he can decide everything.”

Akkatai Teli. Copyright Sanket Jain 2021.
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