By Oliva Kerketta
Jharsuguda: The Odisha Forum for Social Action organized three-day training programme to develop a gender, child protection and sexual harassment policy for the diocese of Sambalpur.
“Every person should feel safe and secure wherever one is,” Bishop Niranjan Sual Singh of Sambalpur said in his opening remarks.
“Catholic Church is to provide safe places for women and children. Their protection, well being and growth are our responsibility. Children should grow well physically, emotionally. We need to work for their overall welfare, safety, security and rightful way to live in society,” he added.
Men and women need to experience and enjoy equality of gender, sharing of responsibility and understanding with equal right and opportunity to grow well. To this direction, it is imperative to develop a policy for a positive relationship between men and women with the Christian value, the prelate stressed.
“Some individual institutions feel that it is risky and will try to hide incidents of violence against women and children. So, we should develop a structure in our Diocese which will help people and institution to handle such cases. It is worth taking a risk. I do encourage in what way we will take the risk otherwise accused may become powerful and could do more harm to the institution,” Sual Singh said.
Two eminent speakers Ms. Virginia Saldanha, from Mumbai, an expert on gender and Mrs. Audrey D’mello, an expert on legal facilitated the programme.
The session began with the Biblical reference that, “God made human being man and women in the image and likeness of God” (Genesis: 1:27).
“We are called to be Priest, Prophet and Leader of the Church. There are Temple power and the Spiritual power, however, Jesus’ teaching was lead by the examples. Jesus empowered women. Even though we are in the postmodern world, our attitude is still ancient,” said Saldanha.
The class, caste and gender even captured Christians. Church maintains structure and ritualistic practices based on patriarchy. She emphasized the importance of attitude, culture and the value.
Saldanha also made participants to reflect a situation of women in Sambalpur diocese especially: women in family and education, health and violence against them, girl child and women discrimination in different circumstances, Dalit and Tribal women and women in Church.
“What we need to do to bring holistic change and transformation for women and girl with the cooperation of men. Our students, staffs, teachers and women staff in Christian institution should be safe. It is our primary tasks to protect them,” she added.
In her talk, D’mello said, “Law does not help us to get our rights but it looks good in the paper. The violence against girl children is taking place everywhere but due to the stigma attached to it is not heard most of the time unless the victim is pregnant and becomes a talk of the town.
Speaking of sexual harassment at workplace, she added that there are so many organizations working on these issues still they exist in society. She also urged all to create a safe environment for children.
She also delineated laws and legislative measures related to children, Juvenile Justice Act, Protection Of Children from Sexual Offence, Right to Education, Child labour Prohibition and Regulation Act, Child protection policy, Child Abuse monitoring Committee, abuses the children face and role of management, sexual harassment at workplace (Prevention, Protection and Redressal).
Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh, director of Odisha Forum for Social Action, described briefly the status of women in society, particularly the Dalit and Adivasi women, who are not even considered as human beings due to the caste system and age-old rituals. The Brahminical mindsets get reflected in violence. Adivasi girls are sexually harassed in government-run schools by the dominant caste teachers and staff. Upper caste people are doing false promise of marriage to Dalit and Adivasi but they are not giving the status of wife and keeping them as mistresses.
“Therefore to protect and promote our women and children renewed the structures and initiatives should be taken diocese, society and by us so that our children and women should be safe. We are duty bound towards our co-workers. There should be structure and system for our institutions, schools and colleges,” Singh said.
Participants also shared about incidences of sexual abuses in schools and violence against women in society.
A committee has been formed to finalize the gender and child policy to prevent violence against women and girl children. Father Basil Kullu and Sr. Bibiana Barla have been chosen as conveners.
The November 15-17 event that took place at Utkal Jyoti Pastoral Centre, Jharsuguda,
There were 64 participants from different diocesan commissions, principles and school representatives participated in the programme.