Talat is showing her community what resilience looks like. Almost a decade after escaping violence, Talat has joined a team of women volunteers at the Gauravi Centre leading a city-wide response to COVID-19.
At the age of 17, Talat entered an arranged marriage which soon descended into a cycle of violence. After enduring five months of domestic abuse, Talat made the courageous decision to leave her husband with her mother’s support.
Encouraged by her mother, Talat reached out to a lawyer at the Gauravi One-Stop Crisis Centre. Established in 2014 and supported by ActionAid, the centre helps women who have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault to recover from their trauma, and achieve the justice they deserve.
There, Talat was able to access medical treatment, legal aid and psychosocial counselling. She was also offered training in new skills to earn an income. She chose to learn to drive an auto-rickshaw.
“Each time I used to see auto drivers on roads, I used to think, ‘why is it just men driving autos?’ So, when this opportunity came to me to learn how to drive, I chose it because I wanted to learn something different and be a woman auto driver.
“When I first went behind the wheel, I was a little under-confident, but once I started to get trained and started to drive I gained the confidence and today, I can drive my auto confidently. And I feel really happy about it.”
Undeterred by criticism from her male colleagues who openly doubted whether she would be able to drive, let alone make a living from it, Talat now drives customers across the city for her main source of income.
When coronavirus began to spread through Bhopal in April, Talat decided to use her driving skills to volunteer at the Gauravi centre which rapidly mobilised and organised the distribution of ration kits across the city.
Talat spends between six and eight hours every day weaving through the city streets, delivering hundreds of food packages to the most vulnerable members of society; including survivors of violence, transgender people, homeless individuals, poor Muslim minority families and migrant labourers. Alongside 17 other local grassroots organisations, they deliver between 5,000 and 7,000 rations packages every day.
Talat says she was inspired to volunteer with the Gauravi Centre’s coronavirus response so that she could help others, just as she herself had been helped.
“ActionAid and Gauravi have been very important in my life. When I needed support in my life they were there. Today, whatever I am doing is because of the confidence and support they gave me,” she says.
Her story demonstrates the power local women can have in times of crisis. After her own experience of domestic abuse, Talat was supported to access resources and training to gain financial independence and a skillset that she can now use to help her wider community during a health pandemic.
“My message to other girls who have experienced similar things is that they should never lose confidence in themselves and we should ensure that they are on their feet and empowered enough so that nobody can shake them.”
In the face of an unprecedented health crisis, women like Talat are protecting their communities through local, women-led initiatives; it is vital that we support their efforts today. Learn more about how you can support inspiring women like Talat today.