CHENNAI: "Why doesn’t she just leave?" Because she does not have a support system. Because she is financially dependent on her abuser. Because she may be unable to support her children. These are some reasons, among others, that Women’s Aid Organisation UK lists to respond to the question often thrown at domestic violence survivors by society.
Leaving an abusive relationship for many, unfortunately, means starting from scratch. And this requires help from not just loved ones but society as well. To support survivors of gender-based violence on their journey, PCVC International Foundation for Crime Prevention & Victim Care inaugurated a one-of-a-kind thrift store ‘Nool - Weave Your Future’ in Prem Vihar Building, Madras Seva Sadan, on August 25.
"To live a life (of dignity) is everyone’s right and to uphold that right, lots of support is required; lots of communities need to come together. There is a collective responsibility on all of us to ensure that we stand by their choice,” shared Swetha Shankar, senior director of programmes at PCVC in a video at the launch. The event featured a welcome address by Prasanna Gettu, co-founder and managing trustee, PCVC, and an inaugural address by Rajasekar Yesudoss, HR director, Padmanabhan Karthikeyan, finance director and Jitesh Hassani, company secretary of Husky Injection Systems (that contributed to the project under their CSR), and Krithika Kumar Quintal, honorary general secretary of The Madras Seva Sadan.
A life of dignity…
Nool is an assemblage of pre-owned and gently loved items but it is made clear at the inauguration that it is not a charity, but rather a space for everyone in the community to share their belongings and shift the concept of giving from donating things that are worn out and useless to sharing resources and privileges, as Prasanna put it. “Everyone loves gifts. We wait for festivals and birthdays to receive them. But it is not the same while leaving home with none of your things when you are abused by someone who is supposed to love you, and coming to a shelter to reach out for clothes and basic things.
Some have cried when we give shelter kits or take them shopping for inner wear. Tears of pain, remembering how they were forced to (take) their partners even to buy necessities. And tears of joy that come from witnessing care and compassion. Nool is not just a store but offers a plethora of benefits over just handing kits or items. (Survivors will) experience dignity, respect and learn to prioritise according to the situation, budgeting,” she said.
…and of choice
At first glance, one may notice the serene ambience of Nool, or the handpainted murals adorning the walls, or even the neatly laid out clothes (for adults and children) and household items (utensils, cutlery) in sections. However, I gravitated toward the artworks, the showpieces and the kids’ toys and books that were on display; the vast choice and selection of products. I was reminded of what Swetha had mentioned in the video. She said, “For us, it was really important that they (survivors) have a place to come and choose what they like, and it is not just about essential needs but also aspirational ones.
This is an aspect of the store we have focussed on. When survivors come to the store and shop for themselves and their children, they get to choose what they wear and how they can keep their homes. These are trivial things but, for example, many survivors may not have been able to choose what they wear daily. When they can make that choice again, it is an empowering phase to be in. At every stage — the support is there but — it is your choice to do what you want. We established the store for that self-affirmation and validation, just as much as there is external validation.”
And to let survivors enjoy their shopping experience with dignity, the store has enforced certain rules on their collection. Any stained or damaged clothing and goods, used beauty and hygiene products, obsolete CD players or VCRs, and potentially harmful products will not be accepted. To contribute in a way that also respects the user, people can share their gently-used clothing, bags, shoes, electrical goods, homeware, appliances, kitchenware, small furniture, and baby items.
The store will accept the products on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10.00 am to 2.00 pm and will schedule pickups for Friday within Chennai, depending on availability. To bring more people into the movement, Nool also encourages people to organise collection drives in their communities as this would allow them to ensure the first level of quality checks as well.
A noble cause would be supported by sharing one’s wealth but at the end of the day, a certain line said during the inauguration stands true: “It (the products) is not something we are giving them, it is their right.” A right to a fresh start and a better life.
To contribute, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 6379970690
If you or someone you know is facing violence, seek help at the following helplines
Dhwani National Domestic Violence Hotline: 18001027282
National Commission for Women Helpline: 7827170170
Aks Crisis Line: 8793088814