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Sharnas Muthu: What taking on atrocities against women entails

When a Delhi girl, later named Nirbhaya was brutally gang-raped and murdered in 2012, a Kerala girl pursuing PhD in Jamia Millia also was deeply disturbed like thousands of others in the capital city. However, instead of letting the disturbance die deep inside her with the passage of time, this Keralite student decided to put a creative turn to her agony and move forward to create a bright future for the girls and women around. That's Sharnas Muthu, a champion fighting atrocity against women, with her team of Women's Manifesto.

Hailing from Vengara in Malappuram district, Kerala, 39-year-old Muthu is one of the founders of the Women's Manifesto, a national-level organisation for students studying in various central universities in Delhi. Founded in 2014, the body focuses on areas such as counselling and guidance, socio-economic support, health, relief and rehabilitation, research and advocacy, skill development etc. The NGO has held campaigns on violence against women in general, and specifically on child sexual abuse. It also provides online counselling for women who have been victimised. Moreover, it guides and connects them with the existing systems for various types of assistance such as free legal aid, police services etc.

After graduating in English Literature from PSMO College Tirurangadi and completing postgraduation in MSW from Kaladi Sanskrit University, both in Kerala, Muthu worked with the Kishorishakti Yojna project under the Social Welfare Department. As the adolescent counsellor at a higher secondary school in the coastal area of Tanur, she had to deal mainly with the issue of early marriage and associated problems. "It was at that time that I began to feel that my interest lay in the field of women's welfare," said Muthu to Madhyamam.

Soon after completing MSW, Muthu got married to Noufal PK who now works as the CEO of the Human Welfare Foundation based in Delhi. She went on to pursue PhD from the Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi on the topic of 'The role of legislation and justice delivery system in safeguarding the dignity of women'. It specifically aimed to understand how the system, be it police, judiciary, NGOs, medical system etc, worked to support the victims of rape and domestic violence.

Students including girls from different parts of the country used to study at the three central universities in Delhi. When the Nirbhaya incident took place, the media's portrayal of the city as the rape capital of the country created fear and tension, especially for parents, who then hesitated to send their daughters to study at these top universities. This environment triggered the formation of 'Pathfinder', a collective started by Muthu and her friends Swaliha and Fathima Adila Thadbeer, who were also studying at different universities in Delhi. The collective provided a supportive environment for girls, giving them guidance and accommodation facilities etc.

The Delhi gangrape incident as well as her PhD research related to it brought Muthu to a realisation that ensuring justice for a victim is perhaps the most difficult thing in the circumstances prevailing in the country. But providing a supportive environment to women at the preventive level would be easier and more effective. This thought led to the formation of the Women's Manifesto. It had 12 members from different parts of the country (five from Kerala, Shabnam Saifi from Delhi, Nilofar Naheed from West Bengal, Sana Parveen from UP, Rizwana from Maharashtra, Anita Rani from Haryana, and Nikhat Shama from Bihar), and nearly 100 students as associate members from various universities.

The organisation could collaborate with the Delhi Police through several programmes since its beginning. As part of the 'She to Shakti' programme of the Delhi Police, the organisation carried out an adolescent counselling programme for students in government schools. It was implemented based on a module covering various aspects such as the academic excellence of students, facing violence and related issues, goal-setting and career guidance, rights, stress release, self-defence training etc. "Nearly 25000 students were beneficiaries of that programme", said Muthu.

The organisation holds a conference of women every year, where the Women's Manifesto Awards are given away. The award is presented to a woman of excellence in fields such as entrepreneurship, media, art and culture, academics, sports, literature and social service. The Women Summit of this year will be held at the Indian Social Institute, Delhi, on December 10. The new campaign of the NGO on 'sexual harassment against women', to be held till Women's Day on March 8, will also be announced at the conclave.

(Sharnas Muthu is the eldest of the five children of businessman Beerankutty TT and home-maker Mumthaz PA at Vengara. She now lives in Delhi with husband Noufal PK and a four-year-old daughter. Najiya O is an independent journalist based in Calicut and contributes to different news portals.)

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TAGS:Nirbhaya incident women feeling insecurity in Delhi parents' not sending daughters to Delhi Sharnas Muthu Women's Manifesto 
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