Dec 1st 2008

REACHING OUT Elaan, an NGO, is extending its hand to those whose childhood was marred by abuse just like its founder’s was. PAROMITA PAIN


CSA or child sex abuse is society’s darkest open secret. We know it happens and yet we shy away from it. Have you ever wondered what you would have done if it happened to you? Let’s hope its something like what Pranaadhika (22) in Kolkata did. She wowed that what she had to deal with should never be another young person’s lot and established Elaan, an NGO, to help victims of CSA. “I identify myself as a survivor of multiple child abuse, some of which is not necessarily sexual. Sometimes it takes a non-sexualised phase of abuse and neglect to erode your defence mechanisms and self-esteem. You perceive the actual sexual violation as punishment for being what you are: a worthless human being who didn’t finish her vegetables,” says Pranaadhika.

Born out of a nightmare
Elaan isn’t just testimony to this young woman’s courage. Itis a story of how the effects of abuse can be dealt with. overcome and instigate one to gain enough nerves to fight against sexual predators. “I knew it was strange the minute the abuse began. At age eight (when it first occurred), I felt strange hands on my body and instinct screamed danger. I knew that my trust, soul and, lastly, my body were being violated. It was difficult to deal with the reactions of people who I thought would support me. Many laughed and the so-called professionals were horrible. At some point my abuser appeared nicer than them, which was frightening,” she says.

Reflecting a journey of understanding and healing, Elaan is also the result of insight gained during her personal journey through the country’s legal system. “There are no laws which make CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) a crime punishable under the IPC. Research and conversations with close friends showed that they had been through some sort of abuse or knew of someone who had been abused. I was not responsible for what had happened. While most of the world has laws and support structures for survivors, India condones sexual abuse and incest,” she says.

Elaan was registered after three years of testing projects, re-assessing the need for CSA awareness and trying to heal personal scars. She isn’t alone in her quest and Elaan consists of two boards — voting and non-voting. Pujarini, Vijay, Rohit, Mirna, Ajoy Sinha, Bimbabati and many others form the team of crusaders. Kirtika Sinha, her mother, is the much-required ‘experienced elder’. Watching her counsel young people today, it’s hard to believe the things she has been through — “I cut myself routinely to appear as unattractive as possible. I developed bipolar disorder and tackled extreme phases of feeling unusually happy, and then plummeting into an emotional void. Relationships built painstakingly would crash, as people didn’t want to handle me.”

What is the toughest question a CSA victim has ever asked her? “One young boy asked me ‘Have you healed completely?’ That had me thinking for while as I tend to get absorbed in my work rather than in my own issues. After some introspection, I knew I was healing fine, but I can’t say I am 100 per cent healed. But I am not angry any more and I want to live as a happy person who makes other people happy. My response must have satisfied him because he became more positive in his own outlook,” she reflects. “I want fellow survivors to understand that it is both acceptable as well as cathartic to ‘vent’ emotion to the fullest instead trying to ‘make it nice’ for the public around.”

Today Elaan’s mission is to create awareness because aware knowledge will help society adopt an educated approach towards CSA. “We are trying to create an online database of our supporters, prospective volunteers and active participants. The information entered will not be shared with anyone. It helps us know that you’re with us,” says Pranadhikha. It may seem like a very small step but, trust Elaan, it’s an important one nevertheless. And after all said and done, “It was hard but I survived. I’m still here,” she grins.