Before entering the programme, I was pretty anxious and also curious to go into the field as I knew that this step that I have taken is very much out of my comfort zone. I wanted to see if I would be able to overcome the challenge, I made with myself. From the moment I stepped onto the train to Mathura junction, I promised myself to go to Vrindavan with an open mind.
Even so, I still made strategies in my head on how to interact with the Rajpur village residents, how to handle a class full of students, tried to form sentences in my head to say, so that the students can’t see how nervous didi actually is. But when I finally reached the field, I realized that it was the kids who ran the show and the model of planning, implementing and execution was not their forte. This meant that I had to be spontaneous; I had to be far more gripping than I thought. I needed to find the perfect balance of firm yet easy-going and approachable to come to par with their level of energy.
The Delta Meghwal Child Protection Programme focus was that the child in the direction of letting parents, children and the villagers know what child sexual abuse is, how to identify it and to provide all with the confidence to intervene. The emphasis was on valuing the safety and health of the child, and challenging the shameful silence; to make sure that all come to know that the child is never guilty but it is rather the perpetrator.
Putting such notions out in the society did not come without its challenges. Even though we were welcomed in the houses with a lot of warmth, we faced a few challenges trying to explain these ideas. In this community, the caste hierarchy and the sensitivity around touch were like very fine beads among sand nonetheless quite visible.
Throughout the 15 days, we sang and enacted poems with students which were based on various themes such as self-care, safety bubble and so on. We began with a poem focused on self-esteem with lines such as Apne jaisa har ek bacha…har ek bacha sundar sacha…har mein ek baat nirali, na koi badha, na koi mawali…. With the help of this poem, we instilled the idea that every child is special. We recited another one titled taak lagakar daudo daudo, through which we made sure that the kids knew what needed to be done if someone touches them wrongfully: Naa-naa kar k shor machao, bhago itna hath naa aao is one such line. We also did one that addressed the caste hierarchy Chalo Khele, which had rhymes such as khelenge bhai khelenge, bas jaat ka khel naa khelenge…ismein aata nahi mazza, bas bhed bhao aur buri sazza. At the end of 15 days, the students knew every word and the meaning behind the poems which was very rewarding for our team. In the classrooms as well, we did self-esteem & self-confidence building exercises. Many a time in the school, we saw kids learning at a very young age and starting to model and inhibit the attitudes towards caste.
The parents of the students were very receptive and listened very carefully when we informed them about CSA. It was very reassuring to see that the parent above else cared the most about their children’s safety, however, there were instances when adults of the village assumed child’s responsibility in participating in the abuse, thus it was not even considered abuse. However, whenever we stroked up conversations around consent, we conveyed that in sexual relations between a child and an adult, the child is not a consenting adult and therefore it is wrong. To this very often parents replied saying that kids cannot consent to the act. I initially thought that there would be a lot of resistance to this kind of a conversation from the parents but their amenableness left me rather relieved and content, as it gave me a sense that the vigilance and awareness that this conversation has created would keep the child safe. We also made a note to talk to parents about opening up to their children and having daily conversations, wherein they ask them what happened in school, or how the play was and how was their time at the tuition etc. We explained that asking questions about their day, friends, people and environment around would help the child open up to them (the parents) which in turn would mean that they would report any wrongful event to parents immediately.
Whilst the tête-à-tête with the parents was “conversational”, I faced a mental obstacle thinking about how I would relay these particulars to students. With the kids I had to start from the basics, I wondered if it would be hard for me to convey that someone, anyone can touch you in an extremely wrong way. As I was struggling with this, I realized I had picked a very difficult bunch of students. Was it subconsciously that I did so to challenge myself, to throw myself out of my comfort zone?
The class was full of high energy, yet very reserved and shy kids. It was full of dichotomies, whether between caste, religions or age groups. But the students were quite aware of their dichotomies which in their mind separated them starkly; also made them lack solidarity. That scenario made me awfully gloomy because they were just a bunch of 10-13-year-olds. To shake off the troubles that I started to face I stretched a hand towards the team, I asked for help which I was neglectful of doing as I thought it may come across as lacking control but it was high time and I needed help so I asked for it. And everyone came to my rescue; fellow-volunteers and the programme coordinators. They suggested to me what and how to do it. They helped me conduct my sessions with my class. And finally, with the teams help I was able to convey all the necessary, relevant and crucial information to the class. Having done that made me feel braver than when I did cliff jumping. Contributing to their wisdom gave so much more satisfaction than a pizza or a good grade has ever given me.
During the internship, I realized the real value of words, the politics of hierarchy and its hold on the human beings consciousness, which rather made me aware of tons of my privilege. I learned to work professionally and with ethics without losing even an ounce of fun. I learned the requirement and the amount of energy it takes for one to be able to detach themselves from the field (for their own mental health). I learned that forming a bond takes effort that has to come from within oneself if you proceed with doubt and judgment it would seem difficult and impossible as it happened with me, until I arrived here.
I expected this to be yet another internship, I knew I would learn new things but seeing the ethos and dedication that comes from Nirmal Initiative for the cause and how us, interns were given freedom to choose our battles and were helped along whichever one we picked, it for me became a wonderful journey. I am grateful for having been on this journey and I hope to continue to work with the initiative.