A. Three workshops each of around 50 peasant women organized by SEPAS, Potosi, Bolivia, Oct 2004

At community level the workshops in Potosi, Bolivia are of special significance. Some 150 peasant women from far away villages, traveling 13 hours by bus  through hills and valleys participated in three workshops. Local materials – iron thread, gum, wool, cotton, fibers, clothe pieces and stitching materials- were distributed. A short introduction on doll making boosted the imagination of the women. Organized into groups of 10, they narrated their experiences on family life, health, education, economic production and organization. A shared story is chosen by the group. Women together create 3-4 dolls to narrate the story.

One such poignant story of a mother is worth retelling.

‘I came to the city hospital with my very sick little girl. Doctors and nurses in the city hospital look down on us peasant women. They say we are poor, we know nothing, we are dirty, we do not pay, we are lazy etc.  I had to wait a long time till a doctor came, gave some medicine without examining the child. My little daughter died’. This tragedy has been represented in three dolls by the women of a health group

The medium of doll making helped women who never met before to express their problems, sufferings, hopes and search for solutions.
Truly by evoking one’s inner world through doll making a healing process has been initiated helping women to come to terms with their feelings of brokenness.
The method of doll making has been taken up by 3 organizations. One has organized an exhibition.

B. Workshop Vimochana, Bangalore; 1. Sadhana Mahila Gumpu, -women in prostitution-  2. Iruliga women, 3. Hakki Pikki, and Community of women of JJ Nagar, Bangalore; Jan 2010

Vimochana and the AWHRC invited me to contribute my part to the National Court of women against dowry violence and related forms of violence.

Indeed, for the past many years I have used my imagination to interact with the real world and to express my dream and longing for a better world through creating doll figures.
The invitation to be part of workshops where women would create their own dolls, telling their own stories of suffering, violence and hopes, to which I responded very happily, was a way to widen the scope and meaning of doll making. 

The first expectation is that by evoking one’s inner world through doll making a healing process would be initiated and would help women to come to terms with their feelings of brokenness. That which would be enacted on a miniature scale is believed to happen in the larger world as well. These dolls would convey a social concern and critic –here the violence on women and all forms of violence- registering a protest and projecting dreams for a humaner future.

The workshops were organized for women with whom Vimochana is involved: members of the Sadhana Mahila Gumpu, the Hakki Pikki and Iruliga women, and the community of women of JJ Nagar, BangaloreWith much eagerness and determination women started sharing their stories and decide on what to express through dolls using local materials, rags and wastes.
They very soon communicated their deepest self through the dolls they created, placing them with other miniature objects in a specific environment.
The body language of the dolls for sure evoked a story of their lives. They  became like people with lives of their own, expressing their sufferings which speak to our hearts.
The stories translated into dolls, relate to childhood experiences which brought women into prostitution, and to the violence they have been subjected to, day by day. Other stories relate to child marriage and to violence women suffer because of exorbitant dowry demands. Writing down the stories also helped women to articulate their experiences, their views and ultimate hope.

On the saying of the doll makers themselves, once absorbed in creating dolls they experienced freedom of mind letting go their daily pains and sufferings.

The doll making process has been a liberative experience because they discovered with a sense of pride their ability to create something they could admire which also has a message to convey. They experienced solidarity, mutual encouragement and at times sheer fun.
These 80 dolls expressing 10 very touching life stories and the writings going with were on display at the Christ University while the court on dowry was going on. The exhibition attracted hundreds of participants to the court, teachers, college students and others making their way through the reception hall of the college. Few of the creators were there to interact with the viewer. This has given them a sense of dignity and recognition. The many appreciations and observations on behalf of the viewer tell us how much this doll figures had an impact and touched their heart.

They expressed their admiration: “The dolls are amazing, awesome, fabulous, powerful, brilliant, inspiring, impressive, challenging, informative, thought provoking, and an eye opener”.
Strong emotions are evoked: “I am filled with anger and sadness and with many unpleasant feelings and deep sorrow. This images and stories that go with evoke emotions and feelings that hopefully will fructify into action”.
Reflections on the significance of the dolls and the way they open the eyes on the world in which we live is further proved by what viewers shared:
“This fabulous expression of creative thinking depicting the plight of women gives a real insight on the suffering and violence women face. It has the capacity to bid us to open our eyes, to launch us into reflection and action”.
The artists are congratulated by the viewer as their art evokes a response to reality: “Congrats to the artists. This is a great graphic presentation of domestic violence and an art because the dolls express more than words can say. An art that sets up resistance in order to hope and to live”.

The viewer offered a critic of society and a call for change, pointing to some causes of suffering. The message in brief is that there is much in our world and society that is promising and beautiful while what is stagnant, stunting and corrosive must be discerned and eliminated through solidarity and humanizing interventions: “Grandmothers, mothers, sisters and wives, are implored to please liberate and  save the world and the humanity."
"May all harassment against women be banned, women be treated equal to men  and their rights be upheld in all communities."
"All girls should be educated and sent to school and learn to face situations bravely. I want to give women all support and love, and walk on the road of hope and solidarity and one day we shall sit together and find peace."

May we hope that this message be circulated and awakening happens.

A word is addressed to the doll makers:
“They are wonderful and courageous. May they be empowered and keep the fire burning”. “I also thank wholeheartedly Vimochana for inviting me to contribute to this workshops with wonderful women from whom I received so much”.

~ Francoise

SAMPIGE ….. A Journey by SADHANA MAHILA GUMPU, Bangalore

Childhood… and early marriage…

She was sent to work in the fields when she was 10, but she longed to go to school like her brother did…. No time for toys, no place for simple joys of childhood…

She was married at 12, -before she knew what marriage was- so that her parents need not spend much money as dowry if she married after the age of puberty. 
She thought her husband would bring her flowers every night as she had heard the older girls whisper and giggle in her marriage – but all he showered every night were blows and torture…. 

Each day was an ordeal of hard labor…. Each night was a nightmare of torture….

“There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.”  ~Deepak Chopra

What door did Sampige open to step in to this future?

At sixteen, away from her mother and away from the child she had been, she began to search for a gate out of this hell …

Battered and defeated, she grasped the straw of hope in her dark life … He worked in the city and painted a glorious future…. a job where she would earn hard cash, a home which was hers to enjoy and companionship… After all, he also was much liked by the village chairman…  How could she not grab this chance?

She left her life behind, took the bus to the city, her heart singing with hope and excitement….
The city, colorful and gigantic, filled with all kinds of possibilities beckoned her.

Days passed before she woke up to the reality, a frightening and terrifying one – she was sold, sold like an animal …

Here she faced not one but scores of men each night… while
Her owners made cash out of her sexual labor, her energy and her youth drained… no time to dream… no shame to feel anymore…

Not a dream but a determination drove her to get away…. Get away she did… with no illusions of job or of domestic bliss, she set herself up on the street, joining hundreds of women there… strangers and yet a shared experience of abuse, she felt this was her destiny…

Sampige’s life on the street…
Years on the street, she has learnt many lessons –
that she was her security and her sole reference in life…

that her parents who could not help her in her husband’s home now willingly looked after her children. The money that she sent for their upkeep of course helped…
that on the street, she can offer sex without “selling” herself…
that she needed a partner – not a husband, to keep a fa├žade of respectability in the neighbourhood where she lived… for, a lone woman would always be suspect!
that keeping him meant giving him daily a large share of her earnings,  pandering to his every demand even when in her heart she knew that one day he would leave her when he found another woman to earn for him…

that every rupee she earned was not hers alone. Many people fed off it – the police who regularly demanded huge sums to keep her away from their beatings, the auto driver who drove her daily and brought her back safely, the corner panshopwala whom she depended on for keeping safe her earnings of the day till she was ready to go home, the woman in the public toilet, where she used to clean herself and to renew her makeup, the gang of local rowdies who collected money weekly and were protected by the local politician and of course, her partner!

That safety did not mean total absence of violence… either from the police man who beat her in the evening and came after her for free sex in the night, the haunting fear of being kidnapped for gang rape and clients who could be most brutal…. 

That children of women who grow up amidst the horrors of the street and would grow up to lead miserable lives in the street… unless the woman had an aunt or a mother to support….
That the street that fed her could not care less if she fell ill or if she contracted a communicable disease… To the doctors and nurses in the hospitals, they were “fallen” women and hence their lives were dispensible…
In the law as per the police she was a “criminal” – she could not understand how, when she worked so hard and offered so much to the men who came to her, interfered in no one’s affairs, could she be a criminal… Was she a thief or a murderer?
That even if she did not go after any one, people came to her, and more often than not, seeked her out of the shadows she lived in even while they despised the likes of her! Would they acknowledge her if they met in public, or would they avoid her? 

That the police would take her to the court from time to time, not because they caught her doing anything criminal, but because if they did not, their bosses would think that no work was being done to “clean” the streets….  If she was dirty, then how much more filthy must be the pickpocketers, the extortionists, the child molesters, the men who molests women…. They are all in plenty on the street!

That as per the charges read out to her in the court, she had been caught displaying her body indecently….  What about the many huge advertisements that show almost nude men and women to sell goods and services of all kinds. How much more indecent are they, when she in her sari is told to be indecent? Who asks them or their creators about indecency?

That she was often accused as “corrupting” the society … if what she did was “corruption”, then what should be the bribe-taking by small to high officers in any office or what should the money laundering and lavish lifestyles of politicians be called?

She has seen some women who stood with her for years, becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs to avoid facing lives of rejection after being continually cheated….
She has seen her sisters on the street reduced to destitution and despair after losing all their savings to greedy cheating pretenders who come into their lives professing love and leave them penniless…. 

She has seen women afflicted by disease dying in the street and after death, disposed as   
unclaimed bodies…. No health workers or good Samaritans, or no people they fed in  their earning days to care for them in their last moments….

Sampige who has seen it all and is asked if she would leave this life, says No….  not because she does not harbor in some remote corner of her heart, a dream almost forgotten of quiet joy, but because she knows that “leaving” dhanda does not guarantee her a life free of the stigma of a “fallen”, an “immoral” woman or the abuse that goes with the stigma…

Is this life then her “choice’?

                                        I am a universe in a handful of dirt,
whole when fully demolished.
Talk about choices does not apply to me.  
while intelligence considers options,
I am somewhere lost in the wind…
                 - Jalaluddin Rumi


Harassment by Alcoholic Husbands - By Women of JJ Nagar

This is happening in one of the  slums in Bangalore City. As usual most of the people here are uneducated.  Most of the men never go to work; women work as housemaids, agarbathi, beedi workers, rag pickers  and earn their little livelihood. Men are drunkards and never take care of their families. They would not sent the children to school. Boys will be sent to work in garages, cycle shops, scrap shops etc., and the girls when they attain 13-14 years of age would be married off.

Men would have multiple wives. Their huts are full of children… nobody would be taken care off properly. 

Drunken husbands harass and torture their wives everyday… children witnesses these inhuman scenes all the time… no end to these violence and no peace in the houses… women live everyday hell… but still they seems never raised up….

Why don’t we, the conscious mass and neighbours stand in support of these women and help them to get released from their everyday trauma….! Or shall we remain closed on ourselves like unconcerned inhumans…? 


Women's Lives are a Continuum of Violence - By Women of Ulsoor

Sundaramma is 66, a battered wife with an alcoholic husband. She has worked as a domestic help all her life.  She hoped to sit back in her old age when her son grew up but her son is also an alcoholic.  She blames herself for her son’s addiction because she feels that her work did not allow her to give him the attention he needed in his growing years.

She thought his marriage would bring some changes for the better.  But, now she sees her daughter in law is living the same hell night after night just like herself.  Just like his father once drunk, her son turns in to a sadist, beating his wife black and blue when she does not give him money to drink.

Day and night, her major worry is how to change her daughter in law’s life for the better.  Her son has one son and three little girls.  Her grandson is sent to school but her eldest grand daughter goes to work at an age of 13.  The younger girls are not sent to school.

She and her daughter in law finally rebelled and sent the younger girls to school.  To support their studies, both women work in three different houses for more than 10 hours each daily.  Because they believe that if the girls are educated at least up to school level, they will not have to live the life mother and daughter in law lived!

Is education of girls the answer to this problem, that haunts many marriages?
Is it only the poor women that experience violence from alcoholic husbands / partners?

Is alcohol the main reason for domestic violence against women?


Aur Yeh Hai  Ek Ladli  Beti Ki Kahaani

There lived a happy family in a small town. It’s a big family of five daughters and one son; This is the story of the last daughter Tanu. 

Tanu lost her father when she was three years. Her mother struggled a lot to take care of the family and educate her six children. Tanu was the last and was dear to all the members in the family; added to that she was very pretty too…

Her happy childhood abruptly interrupted, because she was sixteen, a marriageable age.  She gave up her dreams of studying and becoming a Doctor. She bowed to her family’s wishes…

Rihan was the boy who offered marriage but her family rejected him… He was adamant and threatened her mother. He knew that there was no elder man in the family. Tanu was married to Rihan but not before Rihan demanded dowry.  The family gave him whatever they could muster, in the marriage. 

From the first day, verbal and physical abuse of Tanu began, for not fulfilling the demands… her jewelry and gifts she received were sold, she was battered daily for her inability to bring more money…. Her husband’s limitless greed had blinded him to his own brutality… In two years she bore two children but could not enjoy her motherhood because the children too faced the deprivation and harassment she faced…    

One fateful day, battered and her spirit totally shattered and goaded by her husband to take her life and give him a chance to marry a richer wife, Tanu took the ultimate step to get out of the living hell that was her marriage, and consumed poison….

Tanu did not die. Alerted by neighbors, her mother rushed to take her to the hospital…. This was the breaking point when she decided no more – no more would she bear inhuman brutality, no more would she bring her children up as part of his corrupt life…
Tanu lives today, an independent woman with two beautiful children and a source of strength to other women in their darkest moments…

There are scores of other Tanus who do not survive…. Their deaths, written off as “Unnatural” deaths, or as suicides, end up as statistics in dusty files – when in fact being forced to take your own life is no less than being killed by another… our laws have no ways to guarantee women’s safety within the four walls of her home…  Do married women in our society have a right to live? Who should protect this right? Who should guarantee it?


Hakki Pikki Tribal Community

Hakki Pikki tribal colony at the edge of Bannerghatta national park houses over 100 families of Hakki Pikki and Iruliga tribals who come from a tradition of hunting and forest produce gatherers but are now grappling to find their place in the modern city of Bangalore.
The women make household handicraft items and sell them in the City. They are the main earners in the family.  They are skilled at making useful nick knacks with scrap. A traditional practice of the community has been child marriage. Women have the right to give up their marriage and take another husband in a simple ceremony of returning the bride price received from the husband.

While the practice originated in the community as a means of protecting girls in their nomadic life style, in the modern days the practice continues even though they are settled in the colony. The nomad lifestyle in the colony is an exception rather than a rule.

Their traditional marriage practices that protected women’s freedom and rights in marriage have in the modern age of the market economy, become a means of controlling women. Deserting wives with dependant children has become a common affliction. 

Here, the child marriage ceremony is depicted after having negotiated the bride price. 


JAW - Jesuit Artists' Workshop at Sameeksha, Kallady, Kerala - July 2006



JAW - Jesuit Artists' Workshop at Patna, Bihar - July 2007


Workshop at Kleinmond in South Africa - March, 2013


Workshop at Durban in South Africa - April, 2013


Workshop at Visthar with Northern Sri Lankan Women - August, 2013


Workshop at Visthar, Koppal, September, 2013

Akshaya tells us her sad story. “My parents, my younger sister and myself were having a happy life. I was studying in the 4th standard and my little sister Jaya was in the 2nd standard. Though very brilliant, she was scared of the teachers who now and then would beat her with a stick. That’s why she often came and sat next to me in my class. Jaya used to help me solve my problems. I used to think my mother is like god but Jaya used to think my aunt is more than anybody else in the world. We had the same goal: to become a doctor. We used to wear the same colored clothes and walk around the village hand in hand. A half completed construction work was on a stand-still because a belief had spread among the villagers that the place was auspicious. No one would pass that way except innocent children happy to play around. Jaya and myself were passing that way. It was dark. Suddenly she fell in a non-protected tank at the construction site. I shouted, I screamed, I begged, but people wouldn’t listen. Those who came wouldn’t do anything: the place is auspicious! My little sister was drown. I was in deep chock unable to speak. Today I still can hear her voice and I feel she is around me. Her memories are still fresh in my mind: going together to school, playing together. I am sure, she will be born again and fulfill our shared wish and goal”. 

Durga narrates her painful story. “I come from a very poor family, having not enough food to eat and clothes to wear. My mother was working in a landlord’s house. One day she asked the landlord some advance money to buy groceries and clothes. Two years later the landlord came to our house and asked my mother to return the 2000 Rs taken on loan. My mother did not have money. The landlord got furious with my mother and insisted: ‘Bring your daughter to my house for work from tomorrow on’. Next day I was brought to the landlord’s house to work as a bonded laborer. I used to graze the cows. The summer season was extremely hot and I would have severe headache. I had no proper clothes and slippers. I used to wash clothes, utensils and whatever work I was asked to do. The workload was so heavy and never ending. I used to get back pain and still I did not stop working. Village people and friends would scold me for not going to school and instead doing this work. Did they ever could guess the nightmare I went through? I was a bonded laborer, a real slave worker and it would have been so till my mother would be able to return the advance money received long ago. An organization came to know about my condition. Bonder labor, child labor is totally illegal. The animators rescued me and brought me to Bandhavi were I now live with so many friends. I go to school and I am very happy. My mother did not need to return the money.


Conference-Workshop, Ecclesia of Women in Asia (EWA), Bangalore - November, 2013


Workshop on Communication for Visthar Community College students in Koppal, Jan 2015


Hibou said...

Wonderful workshops! How can i attend one of these? Thanks! :)

Francoise Bosteels said...

Thankou for your appreciation! I'll let you know when the next workshop will happen, Hibou :)