“As a social worker, I thought the fellowship would help me gain knowledge in my field of study. But I soon realised that the fellowship was going to be much more than just professional growth, and that the development sector was more than policy papers and research theses.”
–Anubha Gopal, Youth-n-Democracy Fellow, 2019-20
Anubha heard about the Youth-n-Democracy fellowship from her college professor. It piqued her interest — here was a learning opportunity that went beyond mere academic training. She would set to explore ideas about self and identity, what makes her happy, and how she relates to the world around her. To be an effective social worker, she believes self-awareness is essential before one can guide others.
The module on Self is designed with the belief that exploring and coming to terms with oneself, over multiple sessions, is crucial before influencing others to change. As a result, Anubha found herself more empathetic towards others. The sessions helped her introspect, and she came to realise that she seldom worked for her own happiness. The fellowship became a crucial part of her journey of self-discovery. She found it useful in identifying her values and ways in which she could make small changes in her attitude, and in her interactions with people she was surrounded with.
The sessions on Gender Identity allowed her to explore the notions of sexuality. Recognising that issues of gender, sexuality and consent were inherently linked made Anubha think about how consent factors into other issues. Learning the values of leadership and communication helped her have conversations about these issues with others. She also particularly enjoyed the opportunities to be creative that the fellowship provided her and presented her work in ways other than the typical, through dance, art and games.
Anubha started working on her Social Action Project on child sexual abuse, along with Harnoor, another YnD fellow. Anubha says, “The fellowship helped me explore various social issues about which I had minimal prior knowledge. One such topic was sexual abuse among children, especially male children. I felt that there needs to be greater awareness of this, as children are very vulnerable to harm”.
To ensure that they were equipped with the necessary information needed to create an inclusive space and gain the trust of her interviewees, she set out on a mission to develop a holistic understanding of the issue of child sexual abuse. This involved hours of secondary research, reading reports by the Ministry of Women and Child Development, going through news articles, watching videos, interviews of survivors, and more.
Having built her comfort with taboo topics and gained confidence through the fellowship, Anubha was able to reach out to male survivors of child sexual abuse and conduct in-depth interviews with sensitivity and tact. She invoked the principles of democracy in everyday life that she learnt through the fellowship, and was able to encourage people to share their experiences, listen to them in a non-judgmental manner, and build an inclusive space. Armed with the skills to conduct research, Anubha felt confident in her ability to tackle this issue, in small steps.
Despite her being prepared, she encountered obstacles in her work as people were not willing to talk about their experiences around this issue. She and Harnoor spent weeks reaching out to people through different messaging apps and social media platforms, but received very few responses.
The realisation that sexual assault among men was a hidden topic, her resolve to work on this only grew stronger. This pushed her to think about the various methods of participatory research such as transect walks and focus groups, which the fellowship helped her learn, and she is persistent about the need to engage with survivors through these ways.
Based on her experience over the last three months, Anubha feels that the issue of male child sexual abuse requires much more attention than what is being given at present. She is ready to face the challenge head-on, with an armour of consent and empathy.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.