the-south-asian.com February 2003
FEBRUARY 2003 Contents
Incest - the most common form of child abuse
- Anuja Gupta & RAHI
Incest in middle and upper class South Asian households is a glaring reality. Sociologists in India and Pakistan have disturbing statistics about the incidence and prevalence of incest.
For all those who scoffed at the hint of incest in an upper class Indian family in Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, here are a some sobering statistics. Social scientists are now coming to believe that sexual abuse of children in India is far more prevalent than most people realise. The enormity of the problem can be realized by the fact that in India alone, at least 25 percent of the adult population has been molested before the age of 16. At least 27 million females are adult survivors of child sexual abuse. Incest is the most common form of child abuse. This and many more factors inspired Anuja Gupta to set up an NGO called Recovering and Healing from Incest or RAHI.
" I was just leading a normal life teaching French in an institute. However, I began to realise that there was more to me that needed to be tapped. Around that time I got a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and that really got the ball rolling and set me on the path of RAHI," says Anuja.
But why an NGO for incest victims? " That's a story in itself. I was shocked to find out that a lot of friends and colleagues had at some point of time been abused by either a family member or someone very close to the family. They had no where to go and no one to talk to. The pain within them was tremendous and they needed a safe space for a catharsis for their anger. That's when I decided to start RAHI." Today the NGO is also supported by the Ford Foundation.
To start with, Anuja gets women to express themselves, unleash their anger and get rid of the guilt surrounding the issue. "I call it breaking the silence," explains Anuja. " We are the first ones to start looking at the long time impact of adult women survivors, and till date there is no other organisation looking into incest."
Anuja addresses the women who come to her as survivors and not victims. This in an attempt to provide them a sense of reliance because she feels the language one uses helps immensely in building trust.
" Victim is usually someone who thinks she is helpless and fails to tap the different kinds of resources available to her as an adult," is her strong feeling. After the stage of survivor comes the `thriver’. Someone who has conquered the ill feelings connected to being abused.
RAHI's focus has remained on urban middle and upper middle class women. " There are plenty of NGOs targeting slums. But what we are looking at are women one meets everyday, the educated, financially secure kind who hardly have anyone to share their feelings with," says Anuja.
But she says she is not neglecting the slums either. For NGOs working in slum areas, Anuja has a training team that guides them to work with children and women who are abused. The team is also trained on the kind of signs and symptoms to look out for. At the end of it all, she wants to research and build up expertise on the issue of incest and then pass it onto other people who are already working in different areas.
A general denial by the people from so called `respectable’ families that incest does not happen in their families was the first obstacle Anuja faced when she started off. It is only after so many years of effort, that people are beginning to see that it is not restricted to the lower classes alone.
Another major hurdle was to motivate women who have been abused to open up and realise all the bottled up anger within them. "It is very difficult to motivate a woman to pick up the phone, speak to us, take an appointment and stick to it. All this means she has to exhibit a high level of motivation to come out in the open," says Anuja.
Women who come to her are at different stages of tackling the abuse, depending primarily on who the abuser was and also on how many abusers they've come across. All this past hurt results in guilt, problems with intimacy and trust, tiffs with spouse, frigidity, anxiety, food related problems, panic attacks and mental unrest.
RAHI also conducts and organises workshops on incest and sexual abuse and provides training for counsellors, individuals and organisations working with women, children and men. Research and documentation is another area it specialises in. Its publication The House I Grew Up In is a first-ever record of experiences of those who survived abuse and incest in ‘well-knit Indian homes’. It is the sordid experiences of five Indian women of childhood incest and its impact on their lives.
Information on incest and related issues is made available through brochures, books, articles, newsletters, audio and video cassettes. Another interesting medium chosen by RAHI is the staging of plays. One such play Thirty Days In September garnered fabulous response. Written by Mahesh Datani, the play was directed by Lillete Dubey. It is through all these sources of communication that RAHI is spreading the message and helping women overcome a trauma inflicted on them by one of their family.
Though the funds are pouring in, Anuja Gupta knows it is a long trek ahead even as every day brings in more woman who have been victims---or survivors as she calls them---of a heinous act. Her task is clear---apply the soothing balm and help these women live a normal life.
TEAM AND VOLUNTEERS
Anuja Gupta has always been working with a small team of people who are both motivated and inspiring. They mostly work through networking and take the help from volunteers as well as resource people.
Volunteers are mostly students who come as a result of awareness programmes which are a series of lectures that are conducted by Anuja in many women's colleges. The volunteers are expected to help out with organising programmes, developing material, and coming out with fresh ideas for slogans and research.
Future plans include the implementation of a young adult programme which is in full swing. It will be a massive public awareness campaign and could be anything from book reading to rallies, to the staging of plays.
RAHI in Hindi means a traveller. After six years, the journey has only just begun for Anuja Gupta.
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