‘A Monkey Ride’ – Mallika Narang
Looking at the complex social reality around, to be able to visualize a safe space to do away with the grave issue of child sexual abuse seems like a far-fetched dream, more of a fantasy. But here, at Nirmal Initiative, watching this space already being visualized, conceptualized and moving in the direction of ensuring safer space for children was no less than a push to not lose hope too soon for a 23 year old, who has been figuring out the how’s and when’s of what she needs to do as a person.
Before entering the program, I was pretty curious about what would these 15 days bring. I also wondered if a 15 days intervention is even required when I knew of workshops that happen over a course of 2 hours.
However, this program was not just concerned with brushing up or touching upon the topic, but instead, the focus was to build confidence within the community, make children aware of child sexual abuse, so that they could identify and make comfortable disclosure if a need arises.
The 5-6 step programme began from building a child’s self-esteem by letting them know how everybody is different from each other, and that it does not make them less important but instead special in their own ways. This further led to making them realize how every special thing is supposed to be taken care of, which meant that they were to take care of everybody around them, regardless of differences in sex, caste etc. and most importantly, their own selves. This led to discussions on emotions where the focus was to let children know and pinpoint emotions one experience in the case of sexual violence. This further opened the discussion to body parts and private body parts and touch that might be safe or unsafe, which set a stage for letting children know as to what one should do when something like that happens to lead on to a discussion on how and when can a child say ‘no’, push the perpetrator and run and share the experience with trusted adults. Finally, concluding it with a reinforcement that they are not responsible for the abuse happening to them. It is only while I was engaged with the children, I realized that something so extensive certainly required this amount of time, maybe even more.
A classroom structure where children were instructed and constantly ‘disciplined’ played a very important role for us to get established and be able to develop a rapport with the children. The prevalent way of conducting classroom was in contrast with the playful yet intensive pedagogical approach our poems/songs and the coloring books with which we interacted with the students. Talking to them in the language they understand best, through colors and music and conversations rather than lectures. The poems which were so well written held the gist of all the themes that were to be covered.
On the first day, we did a random field survey. We went around the village, met the villagers and that gave us a good insight into the space we were planning to work on. Diluting the words according to the place and people and making a survey like a conversation was a skill that I learned that day. Throughout the visits in these 15 days, the general opinions that came our way on this issue were that though child sexual abuse prevails, perpetrator could be somebody from the house itself or is somebody from a lower caste or some religious baba that would lure and pick children up, however, they deny they deny the prevalence of same in their community. A good number of people said that this happened mostly in cities and urban areas.
The houses that had heard of instances of child sexual abuse claimed to hear regarding it through news, WhatsApp or Facebook. Out of the many households, there were also a few, small in numbers who were unaware of such a thing. None of them was aware of POCSO and when asked as to what they would do, most of them said they would first try to resolve it without the involvement of authority and would go to one if needed. In this off the hook engagements, some also suggested violent methods of dealing with such a situation, others mentioned going to the police.
My journey throughout masters has been to understand and explore the time, space and reason where psychological issues begin, and end up in people getting ill or becoming criminals that become outcast and then ultimately not being understood. There certainly are political and social factors contributing to something like this, but psychologically speaking, where parents slip is when they stop ‘talking with’ the child but rather choose to ‘talk to’ the child, as if the child is a property and somebody who needs to be fit into a particular frame of a ‘good boy/girl’. This leads to the child not speaking or speaking in a desirable manner or having behavioral problems. This silence or miscommunication holds most of the future of the child and further of the society and the community. In each household, we were supposed to send out a very simple and a very important message which was to communicate ‘with’ the child and not ‘to’ the child, also, to create a space for the child to speak and be able to talk and share their mind. To let them speak and be heard so that silences or miscommunications do not become a space where most of their lives are lived and most of their self is formed.
The households I got to cover, women were house-makers or at most would stitch clothes. There were 2 households out of which in one of those a woman had a proper business as a tailor, and in another one mother wasn’t available because she had gone for some work. On asking children as to what they want to become when they grow up, most of the boys had answers and most of the girls too had answers, but a bunch of girls, whose houses too we got to go, had no idea as to what they would do after they are done with primary schooling. Households of these girls were either very poor and had single bread earners.
Going to these houses, one could also feel and sense and experience the hierarchies that had been created. There were different lanes for different castes and the houses of certain children were on the fringes, mostly isolated. In one of the households, I was offered tea which I refused and in order to convince me to have something, the lady in the house clarifies, “ye brahmano ka ghar hai apko chinta karne ki zaroorat nahni hai” (This is a Brahman household! you need not worry). This was my first direct contact with caste, coming from an urban space and a privileged caste position. The hesitation of children holding hands of some of the children, the isolation of certain children in the class from the other, the houses of people of lower caste could be identified separately even from the inside, children of lower caste not being allowed to operate the common source of water.
The last day, the closure, was a charm. Children had learned all the poems by heart. They remembered what they were taught when they were asked. The attendance of parents was a real delight to see. The collaboration with Vrinda Kunj, talking about cleaning and saving the Yamuna, was a good way to send a message that cleaning is everybody’s job, in a place where caste practices are this rampant.
In this 15 day journey, I also realized that the ability of children have to understand abstract concepts is tremendous and so under-estimated. We think children don’t understand immaterial concepts rather children of class 5th had a very clear and in-depth understanding of whatever we were trying to make them understand. They could understand the concept of a bubble, the importance of keeping one’s heart lighter by sharing their feelings and emotions, the importance of respecting their colleagues and so on. I could clearly witness that children have this very ‘in-the-moment’ stature. They don’t really understand caste but they understand not holding a child’s hand. If one of us would stand in-between them and let them be after a while they would be holding each other’s hands. Thus, a constant reinforcing is necessary when it comes to children and that’s another thing I learned from this whole program, to be able to be flexible and accepting and not very rigid with my beliefs and thoughts.
I cannot end this without being thankful and grateful for the team I got to be a part of. With such mentorship, initially from Himani and then throughout from Shweta, got me to take a lot of lessons home without being taught. The field had its own share of teachings and the house had its own. The meaning of co-existence, in terms of living with 6 strangers and 3 other different species in the house (rabbit, monkey, and squirrel), all together was an experience in itself. Working for the community would have been incomplete without really living like one. Covering each other’s voids up, getting scolded together, working as a team, supporting each other, being protective of each other and really understanding each other’s tastes and boiling points was something we could really understand about each other in just 15 days. It apparently takes a lot of time for something like this to happen, but I guess not. We were all there with good intentions and we were all mature enough to grow with each other. The director and the coordinator were no different, all worked as a team. Emphasis on having food together, leaving and being together seeming to curb freedom but when one looks past it, it actually seems like a call for living as a community with one’s own bubble game on too. This is a very small space to suffice everything I experienced and observe, and putting it all into words is also a tough task in itself.
One major thing I learned here and am taking here as a new years’ thing was to work on is that dignity is not a choice, that you are not to ‘give’ dignity to somebody or like you ‘can’ so you ‘will’ or that there’s a privilege you hold and that as a good human one ‘should’. Dignity is something you have to have for another human regardless of caste, creed, sex, gender. I realized how I was ‘giving’ people dignity from a position that I held, while it is as necessary as just being. And I learned this by feeling dignified and cared for here at this initiative through this programme. Thank you for the experience and I hope to be a part of the initiative further.
Mallika Narang worked with Nirmal Initiative in the capacity of an intern in December 2018. She is a theater artist, she is pursuing Masters of Arts in Psychology from Ambedkar University, Delhi.