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“My Father Would Beat Me, But My Mother Would Do Worse”

By Ishita Pasricha:

In 2007, the Ministry of Women and Child Development released a study that laid out India’s struggles with child abuse in stark terms.

Child abuse is shrouded in secrecy and there is a conspiracy of silence around the entire subject,” the report, called ‘Study on Child Abuse’, reads. “Further, certain kinds of traditional practices that are accepted across the country, knowingly or un-knowingly amount to child abuse.

For Representational Purpose Only
For Representational Purpose Only

While there are many stories that revolve around this secrecy, the future for abused children is bleak; however, it is not impossible with the existence of initiatives like Childline India Foundation, which functions as a national organization for awareness, advocacy and training on issues of child abuse.

One of these children, Rohit (name changed), 17, sits in his living room, near an industrial area on the periphery of Delhi. His family’s home sits on a narrow street, congested by cars and motorbikes. The occasional stray dog takes a nap on the hood of one of the parked cars.

It’s a diverse area,” Rohit says. “You would find all kinds of people here – of different ethnicities and religions, families, drunkards and businessmen.” However, Rohit does not plan on staying there for a long time.

Rohit’s parents’ marriage, like many arranged marriages, was unstable.

My mother often tells me how my father lied to her family to lure them into marriage,” Rohit says. “It would often lead to rows between my parents, and it is still hard to believe which version of the story is true. It would be, at times like these, when I would find my father drunk and on the verge of losing all control.

His father is a small-scale businessman, and like any other business, his work gets unstable at times. “When everything wouldn’t go right, he would look at other happy people, and feel miserable about himself. And, of course, get drunk again.
Rohit says that on occasions like these, his father, who is otherwise understanding, would get extremely drunk and beat up his mother in front of him. His mother would always fight back, and sometimes, Rohit would be the subject of their fights.

My father would beat me, but my mother would do worse,” he says. “She would ask my father to take me away from her because I was his child. I felt like there was no place I could go to.

According to him, it is situations like these which have left him resolute about the decision of moving away from his parents as soon as he attains adulthood, feeling that he would be the safest if he lives alone. But the real problem never lied in the fact that he was abused and neglected by his parents; rather, it was his inability to share these incidents with anyone.

Child abuse, in India, remains locked up inside four walls of the household or whichever institution it takes place in.

I have always been taught to believe that the image of my family that goes out in the society is the most important,” he says. “I still cannot deviate from that. I couldn’t share such private matters even with a friend with the fear of them babbling out, let alone the police.

Rohit’s case is only one of many in India where children continue to be abused and neglected physically, mentally and emotionally. Not many have the choice that Rohit has – to break away from his family. What worsens the situation is the taboo surrounding child abuse in India, where the treatment given to children is considered something that cannot have any public involvement and needs to be confined inside the household, as is exemplified by Rohit’s story.

According to National Crime Records Bureau‘s annual report from 2014, every two out of three children in India go through physical abuse, while every second child is a victim of emotional abuse or neglect.

With time, however, the hidden problem of child abuse has surfaced and has forced the government to take action.

One of these is the initiative of Childline, an emergency and long-term support phone number, 1098, that can be dialed anywhere in India in order to reach the organization to help children in distress. It is a platform that has brought together the Government of India, non-profit organizations and concerned individuals.

This phone number has emerged as a revolutionary solution for helping children like Rohit, by not only providing the aspect of supporting children with education and homes but also helping them with family counseling.

While providing a 24-hour free helpline number, Childline India Foundation works extensively in spreading awareness and pointing out child abuse in the most under-resourced and inaccessible regions of the country.

During the year of its inception, 1996, the phone number received just one call the entire year. Now, the foundation reaches out to ten million children annually.
I am glad that child abuse is finally being dealt with directly, or is at least being talked about,” Rohit says when asked about the organization. “There is nothing more comforting than to know that you can call someone when you go through abuse, especially people who are sensitized and trained to understand your issues.
After all, the most basic necessity of a child is to be heard when he or she is in distress.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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Find out more about the campaign here.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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