District 3131, under the leadership of DG Abhay Gadgil and Vaishali Bhagwat, District Literacy Committee Chair and advocate by profession, has forged a partnership with the Family Court in Pune to execute an innovative project to skill and economically empower deserted wives and divorced women.
This scheme is the brainchild of Family Court Judge Swati Chavan, who incidentally, is a Rotary Peace Scholar, who had done her Masters in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from the Bradford University in 2013–14. She explained that very often the courts are quick to grant relief to deserted women or those undergoing divorce, through an order for maintenance, but the men simply refuse to part with the money. The result is the desperate women spending long hours in the corridors of the court in order to get the money that has been judicially granted to them.
Vaishali explained that while the courts have consistently upheld the right of a woman or a child to be maintained in the same comfort level or lifestyle to which they were used to while the marital relationship was intact, “the burden of proof, when it comes to proving the husband’s income, lies with the woman, and the men use several tactics to conceal their income and want to pay as little as possible.”
It is easy for courts to pronounce the maintenance award but difficult to get it implemented. Men are ready to go to jail, but they don’t want to pay the money.
– Principal Judge Shailaja Sawant
And once a court spells out a maintenance amount, the man invariably disputes it and moves a higher court and the woman, often with one or more children to maintain, is left high and dry and totally dependent on her siblings or parents. “In such cases a woman can end up spending anywhere from three to even as many as 20 years, to get through the litigation,” says Vaishali.
As Judge Swati explained at the inaugural of the event organised to give certificates to the qualified women, after seeing the hardships suffered by such women, along with Court Counsellor Smita Joshi, she had decided to start Swayam Siddha, a programme to skill such women, so that instead of running after the maintenance amount, which might or might not come, these women could be economically empowered. “Otherwise their lives are stuck in the corridors of the courts for long years.” Several NGOs were involved in this initiative to train the women in tailoring, fashion designing, packing, beauty care, jewellery making etc.
But the programme was done in an “informal setting” till Vaishali read about this initiative in a local newspaper. “As skill development is an additional vertical in our TEACH programme, along with District 3131 DG Abhay Gadgil we decided to partner with the Family Court to strengthen this programme, and benefit more women,” she says.
The beneficiaries were selected on the basis of their economic status, educational qualifications and some other parameters.
In the courtroom the women who had successfully completed various training courses had turned up to receive their certificates from the dignitaries. They were neatly and nattily dressed, wearing vibrantly coloured sarees with glittering borders and pallus. But more than the attire, the confident smiles they flashed added a special vibration and air of celebration to the spanking clean court room. Past RI President Kalyan Banerjee, who presided over the event, complimented the judges, saying he had “never seen a courtroom as clean as this one anywhere in India.”
There was more than one comment on how there was a sea change in the confidence levels of the women after the training.
As a former TRF Trustee, the peace programme was an idea I had participated in many years ago. I am delighted to see a peace scholar like Judge Swati Chavan putting our concept into practice and changing lives.
– PRIP Kalyan Banerjee
Vaishali thanked Judged Swati Chavan for totally supporting the project and “guiding us on how it can be done. We participated in mentoring and motivating the women, who were little reluctant at first to apply for a course like this but came in after we ensured them that we will handhold each of the participants to sort out problems.”
Family Court Principal Judge Shailaja Sawant, thanked Rotary for partnering with the court to help these women. She said last year when her colleague (Swati Chavan) had put forth this idea to her, “initially I was doubtful but changed my mind after she prepared the plan for implementation of this project. Finance is always required for any project or else ideas remain ideas. But when Rotary came forward to help, it became a reality.”
She said that it is easy for courts to pronounce the maintenance award “but very difficult to get it implemented. Men are ready even to go to jail, but they don’t want to pay the amount. So the idea was to help and empower these women to earn their own livelihood and 50 women have benefitted. I hope this will be implemented all over Maharashtra.”
Addressing the meeting PRIP Banerjee congratulated District 3131 for partnering with the Family Court in Pune to do this project. “I am delighted to see the confidence and smiles on the faces of the beneficiaries and hope that Rotary clubs across India will implement this wonderful project.”
He added that he was particularly delighted to meet a Rotary Peace Scholar in Judge Swati, “because as a former TRF Trustee, the peace programme was one of the ideas I had participated in many years ago. When I see a peace scholar like you putting our concept into practice and really changing lives, it really enthuses me.”
A couple of beneficiaries recounted how this programme had helped them come out from a life of abject dependence and uncertainty to one where they made a decent income and could now support their children. DG Abhay Gadgil thanked the judges for choosing Rotary as a partner and Pallavi Deshpande, President of RC Pune University, which supports the project, welcomed the gathering.
Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat