NB: This post is my contribution to the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month that is running across the Indian blogosphere all through April 2011.
Long-time followers of this blog would know that I have been associated with an organization called RAHI Foundation for several years now. Those of you who know me personally will also know how ironic this is, but never mind that.
I first heard of RAHI during my second year in college. They had come to conduct a workshop for my seniors, and I remember we felt distinctly left out. We then heard they were looking for Peer Educators, who would participate in a 3-day workshop in the upcoming October break, and then work with them as PEs.
I worked with RAHI as a Peer Educator for nearly a year, along with 30 other girls from various colleges in Delhi. We brainstormed together, came up with ways to raise awareness about child sexual abuse in our colleges, ran competitions, organized talks and workshops, started e-groups and discussion forums, distributed bookmarks and leaflets - everything that a bunch of 19- to 21-year olds could possibly think of.
The summer after our second year, RAHI asked 7-8 of us Peer Educators to work with them as Peer Leaders. For most of us, it was the first time we worked in an "office". We did paperwork, brainstormed some more, and helped design the training workshop for the second batch of Peer Educators. We managed the behind-the-scenes action of the workshop, us Peer Leaders, and watched from the sidelines as the new batch brainstormed and came up with their ways of spreading awareness about CSA.
I stopped working with RAHI soon after the new batch got cracking on things - the father was a little insistent that in my final year, at least, I pay some attention to my studies. But I've tried to keep in touch with RAHI over the years, and tried to work with them as and when, be it by going in to help with workshops or bombarding you folks with tweets and blog posts about raising money for them by running in the Great Delhi Run.
RAHI's done some brilliant work over the years. As the first organization in India that ever paid attention to the issue of child sexual abuse, they've pretty much done the groundwork in terms of research, offering counselling, and leading the way for creating awareness. I've seen Anuja and Ashwini keep at it, year after year, with the same passion and credibility that they had ever since I've known them. I've seen them give up on some pet projects due to the lack of funds, and seen them inspire numerous young women to do some good in their lives.
At the end of that first year of being a Peer Educator, we had organized a seminar on CSA and incest, titled Breaking the Silence. Family, friends, professors, and everyone else we knew were cajoled into coming. At the end of the seminar, we handed out balloons to everyone, and asked them to burst the balloons at the same time, symbolizing the breaking of silence. I remember embarrassing myself completely by gleefully jumping up and down like a maniac when that happened.
Because, that more than anything else, was the struggle we faced in our attempts to talk to people about child sexual abuse: the silence we would meet. The denial that this could be a problem. The comments along the lines of "tumhare ghar mein hota hoga yeh sab, humareghar mein nahi hota". The assumption, very often, that the only reason I could possibly want to work for a cause like this was because I had perhaps been a victim.
There were no victims among us Peer Educators. Survivors, yes. Several, in fact. Strong, amazing women who had been through experiences I can't begin to imagine, and survived. That distinction in nomenclatures is important.
Which is why I am so, so glad about this initiative that is running. And I know the folks at RAHI are delighted too. Because it's not enough to make sympathetic faces and retweet the one-off articles you come across about CSA and incest. Talk about it. Recognize that it exists. Tell people to stop brushing it under the carpet. Be aware. Make others aware.
It will help.