Azad means to be free. It is a state of mind. It means freedom from boundaries, from shackles, from pain, from violence, and from terror. That’s why the Azad Foundation is titled aptly so as it plays the roles of rescuing battered women across India.
India is a patriarchal society. Girls in rural and urban India are conditioned to be submissive, to prioritize household chores and skills over education and employment. Everything they do or say is a reflection on their character and their marriage eligibility. Their ambitions and dreams are thwarted so they can marry a man and bear his children. They live a life of financial and emotional dependence on their husbands and children. A woman’s worth is only as a wife, mother, and home-maker. Most of these women spiral into depression or emotional instability as they start to lose their sense of identities. The unlucky women among these housewives are physically and emotionally abused.
It is easier for the urban, educated and empowered men and women to suggest that an abused woman should leave her abuser and end the relationship. What we seem to forget that it is a matter of life and death. The husband or the partner can feel threatened if she chooses to leave and he counts on her lack of skills and education to bind her to him. Where are these women supposed to go and what are they supposed to do? Contacting the local authorities is out of the question as they will eventually send her back to the husband. Her parents may not always be around or can afford to host her. It is between the rock and a hard place for a battered and abused woman.
Launched in 2008 to achieve gender equality and justice, Azad Foundation is a shining ray of hope. Based in Delhi, the civil organization wants to help women in need by teaching them how to survive on their own. Most of these women go from their parent’s house to their husband’s house. They don’t know anything about being independent or survival. And the chances of them having a safe and better life are higher if they learn an employable skill. With money, they can live on their own and even support their children if the need arises. The rural areas were where Azad felt the need for aid and support was the highest due to the prevalence of child marriage and illiteracy in those areas.
The biggest hurdle in Azad Foundation’s goal was the women and their lack of education. It was too late to educate them so they had to come up with another employable skill or market. This achieves another objective of breaking into male-dominated industries and jobs. Azad Foundation decided to teach the women how to drive and ferry cabs. A relatively high return job, this allowed them the freedom of choosing their own working hours and area. They formed a partnership with Sakha Wings Consulting Ltd to train women as cab drivers and offer them jobs. Sakha Wings runs the country’s first all-female cab service.
Azad Foundation also offers English speaking classes to these women. Self-defense classes are held regularly so that the drivers can handle themselves on the job if the need arises. Grooming, communicating, and learning the roads and routes are few other things they teach the women. It helps them succeed at their job and gives them a sense of power and independence. Till date, Azad has taught driving to 1000 women and 400 of them are already employed as professional drivers. The organization is expanding its wings slowly with 4 training centers in Delhi, an office in Jaipur and another office in Kolkata. Aamir Khan did an episode about Azad on his television show Satyamev Jayate. Children and women felt liberated after seeing women like them escaping from the clutches of physical abuse and drudgery. The show which allows viewers to contribute to the causes managed to raise Rs 62 lakhs for the Azad Foundation to support their honorable cause.
Photo by public.resource.org