Monday, July 16, 2018

One woman catalyzing One Million

Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman is the founder of One Million Against Abuse, and works hard to make cities and homes safer for children. Here is her story.

The beginning
My childhood and growing years were filled with joy and happiness despite the assault I endured. Being an only child, and part of a very privileged family meant that I got the best of everything. My schooling took place at two of the country’s best educational institutes after which I decided to dedicate my life towards child abuse prevention and personal safety education. I decided that I would follow in my father’s footsteps (he went to Cambridge) only after fulfilling my dream of setting up a structure that would safeguard children from violence. 

Work wise I began at age 10, conducting workshops for small peer groups, later expanding those to include as many as 50 participants per session. In order to be able to sustain this, I went on to pursue a short-lived stint in IT, and then set up my own tattoo studio (White Star Tattoos). Business was brisk, profitable, but very time-consuming. 

One Million Against Abuse

One Million against Abuse as an idea occurred when I was sitting in my father’s hospital room, watching him waste away as cancer destroyed his body. He advised me to not give up, but to look at things from an alternate perspective. He said, “balance your idealism with pragmatism; great ideas fail because we ignore sustainability and focus only on our perspectives.” It made sense to think about the issue of child sexual abuse beyond just my perspective as a survivor. There had to be a reason behind why people only talked about it but did nothing to prevent it. There had to be some mentalities which needed to be challenged, especially when it came to education policies. 

The campaign launched in 2012, a few days before my father passed away, and is inspired by the practical advice he gave me. Our goal expanded from simply raising awareness on CSA, to demanding that age-appropriate Personal Safety Education be made a mandatory part of the Indian school curriculum. 

Making a difference
Among the significant achievements of the campaign thus far, would be the fact that it reached out to and received a response from Maneka Gandhi, who responded to a change.org petition demanding implementation of mandatory personal safety education in all ISC/CBSE affiliated schools. The petition has since garnered over 1.16 lac signatures; we hope to impact 10,00,000. 

We are in the process of completing and launching a one of a kind abuse prevention manual which will focus on actions and steps to take in order to not only prevent, but also tackle cases of abuse which may occur at home or at school. By offering a layperson-friendly process which simplifies otherwise convoluted legal terminology we hope to increase reporting of abuse and promote responsible and sensitive handling of survivors. I would consider this collaborative effort (with iProbono) to be one of our most significant milestones. 

We also launched an online and telephone helpline for survivors of abuse that will enable survivors with internet and/or phone access to reach out if they are in trouble. At the least, we will offer empathy, and also referrals to lawyers, doctors, police, and others who may be able to intervene. Our support network is pan-India and is constantly expanding as people are coming forward to be included on the list. We are also doing our best to reduce fees for certain services in order to make support more accessible to the student community. 

Another milestone which will be launched this November on Child Abuse Prevention Day, involves an income-generation program for sexual assault survivors. It is part of a social enterprise that is dedicated towards the social and economic development of Middle India. 

Crossing hurdles

The biggest challenge I face involves the fact that most people just talk about abuse, complain about the government, and rant on social media. While all these behaviours are valid, they will not challenge the mentality and apathy which shrouds sexual violence against children. Getting people off their chairs and into actual programmes where they can participate and facilitate on-ground activities, is a backbreaking task. We have had a few successes here, and have managed to ally with a few organisations and individuals. The conversion success rate for your average keyboard warrior is slowly increasing. 

Government apathy is also a cause for concern. If current text books are being modified to suit other agendas, but not one relating to personal safety, that is a huge problem which needs to be highlighted. It is my ardent hope that we will soon have an opportunity to present our tried and tested curriculum to the MWCD and MHRD, among others. 

Work for all of us

The first step we must take as a country is to acknowledge the gravity and prevalence of the issue. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. Unless we disempower and dismantle these toxic attitudes and behaviours, our efforts will remain fruitless. The present government must take active steps to implement not only personal safety education, but must ensure that the legal framework becomes more survivor-friendly. Over 80% of cases lodged under POCSO remain ignored, and the need to shift from victim blaming and shaming must end so that the survivor, not the perpetrator, is protected. 

As a society we too, have a lot of unlearning to do when it comes to how we perceive sex, sexuality, and gender. Teaching our children to say “No”, and believing them, and listening to them when they talk to us, is of primary importance. We cannot hide behind “log kya kahengey” when it comes to sexual abuse, we cannot blame a child for enduring this horror. Once the attitude shifts, we can and will be a safer nation, and a nurturing space for future generations to flourish in.