Madhavi helped start Vanangana in eastern Uttar Pradesh (UP) in the 1990s, a violently feudal part of the country. Over the past two decades Vanangana has worked with muslim and dalit (“untouchable”) women to build their capacities to confront the routinized violence they have historically experienced.
In eastern UP, dalit/muslim women are subject to gendered violence within the home, often overlaid by violence meted out by a caste elite and by the state, particularly the police. Taking on patriarchy-induced violence within these three, overlapping domains has often led to a fearsome backlash, and it has taken immense courage for these rural, marginalized women to stand their ground. Vanangana has made extensive use of theatre to force discussions around such violence, within both the household and the larger community it is situated in. By building a cadre of dalit women hand-pump mechanics (to repair frequently broken down hand-pumps or water spouts), Vanangana has forced upper caste communities to allow these “untouchable” women access to water sources they would normally be barred from accessing.
Innovation, courage and persistence have been the hallmark of Vanangana’s work. These cultures of violence will not change overnight, but at least in the two districts that Vanangana works in, victims of violence have recourse to institutional and legal support, and perpetrators of violence have found it a little harder to evade responsibility. Madhavi has been an inspirational figure for the Vanangana staff, and for many other women’s organizations working on the question of violence against women. She has now moved to Santatkada, in Lucknow, in an attempt to have Vanangana managed and run by locally rooted leadership.