Thursday, December 20, 2012


Yesterday was a bizarre day for me…practically every national and regional channel wanted to speak to this “brave rape survivor” who is now an activist. Everybody wanted an opinion about what I felt about the Delhi gang rape… Why this national outrage? Is it because it happened in the national capital “Delhi” or it happened in a bus or because it happened to an educated middle class girl! I was in Kerala the last few days for the promotion of my movie “Ente” on sex trafficking and in a brief period of 6 days there were already 12 major rape cases reported including a child of 5yrs. Why no outrage? Is it that if you need complete attention on a particular issue , you have to be in the right place…at the right time…with the right persons. I am not sure what pushes people to revolt from across the country…when sexual violence is being reported everyday in every city…every town. Violation is a violation wherever it happens. My frustration was also on the sudden great interest in all the rape survivors…lets hound them…Did anybody make a single attempt to hound all the reported rapists in the country? Asking them why do they do this? What is this unquenchable libido of a man that needs to be satisfied with violence and coercion. And if all these are sick men then why are we not fighting tooth and nail to get them treated. Why the great slogan for a “death sentence”…so that more and more “sick men” can live on the tax-payers money as state guests. For even if he is awarded the death sentence…after appeal to the High Court…then to the Supreme Court…and then with mercy petition to President Of India he enjoys a relatively hassle free life in the central jail after conviction for many years!!! Is this the so-called deterrence that we are fighting for. Today what we need is outrage at every local level for every case that is reported, making the lives of the perpetrators so miserable that they cannot walk in any public place without fear or shame. By focusing on the victims we are cornering them to “prying visibility” forcing them to hide their faces or run away with shame. Today was another day of pain and frustration. Another girl in my shelter died of AIDS. As a matter of coincidence the death happened in my shelter and not in a hospital. By default it became a medico-legal case. Since the girl was handed to us by the court, the police in their holier than thou tone wanted the post-mortem to be done in-spite of the doctors stating no such thing is done on HIV positive persons. Once again there is media all around us with the brokers, traffickers and the parents of the girl. This time around whether I killed the girl…whether there was abuse in the home…why she died in the home…and what not…Interestingly all of them including the family disappeared as soon as the doctors declared it was a AIDS death. The outrage that we exhibit when a girl is gang-raped is not to be seen for the millions of women and children who are raped everyday for years in all the brothels across in the country. We conveniently close our eyes regarding that by calling it “sex work”…sadly even the Apex Court seems to be in the same vicious trap. We do not see the irreversible damage…we do not see the depths of pain and trauma which forces a person to normalize an existence of exploitation, choosing to live in hell rather face the continues social exclusion and marginalization. We see it only when media takes it as a issue!!! Then across the country there is protests…candle light vigils… Victims of sexual violence anywhere, in any part of the world require our compassion, care and a space for healing My fear is whether all this outrage will pass of…not just for the media but for all us when the next story comes in... I am suitably amused by the number of comments on the facebook, tweets etc on how everybody is feeling guilty and ashamed. The time is not for guilt and shame…the time is for action. Can we all join hands to form the largest movement of real men that will engage with men to sensitize…transform…reform…treat…so that they do not turn as perpetrators of crime. It could be as an eve teaser…molester…abuser…rapist. Can we engage with men so that do not become ‘buyers of sex’…because as buyers they rape… for the girl who is being bought for sex has absolutely no bargaining power on the needs of the man who is buying her. Is this such a tough proposition… we do not need to go searching for men…they are all around us…our fathers, brothers, boyfriends,husbands,uncles…We can start now within our own families

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A life lost...a painful tribute

When I think of Shaheda, I remember a bright and bubbly child who would run and hug me close. She was 9 yrs old when her maternal uncle sold her. The mother who was also into prostitution was a mute spectator. We got the information a tad too late, but we rushed and rescued her. On a precaution we also rescued her younger sister Sahera as we thought she could be the next target.Out of fear that we may book a case if they protested the mother and uncle kept quite. In those days we were not too particular about booking a case mostly because we did not work closely with police then and felt it was just enough that we saved the children. Also our main informers were women in prostitution and they were not at all comfortable giving any information to the police.

What was very striking about Shaheda was her extraordinary resilience, the moment she reached the safety of our shelter she was a new person. Her own efforts to overcome her pain and trauma was for me a great inspiration. I do not remember spending too much time counseling her apart from the first three or four sessions. Then she became a role model for all other victimized children. Her interest to excel in all activities both curricular and extra-curricular made her a high achiever. In the meantime we saw change in the mother who slowly gave up prostitution and started a new life. For 7 yrs Shaheda lived in our shelter. After she finished her X std I asked her whether she wanted to go back to her mother. Shaheda and Sahera both felt the need to go back to their mother. We let them go with a undertaking from the mother that she will ensure that the children's education will not be discontinued. In the first two years we regularly monitored their welfare. After that we lost touch.

Yesterday evening I got a call that Shaheda died. I was numbed to silence. The worst was to know that she was dumped before a dargah and that is where she breathed her last, day before yesterday night. Shahida was positive due to the sexual violation she was subjected to, but throughout the 7yrs that she was with us she was like any normal child. 3 yrs after she left our shelter slowly opportunistic infections crept in. The mother refused to take her to a hospital fearing social repercussion, instead took her to one dargah after another. Finally three weeks back when matter worsened she just dumped the girl before a dargah and left. My little Shaheda was just 19 yrs old...she was lying before a dargah as a destitute, seeking alms...can there be a more painful and inhuman death?

Today I am filled with guilt and pain. Was I right in sending this child back to her mother? Should I have taken care knowing her HIV status. They say institutional care is the last option and community based care should be the first option. But if the communities around us are no more safe for our children where do we send them? Should I have created a longer follow up plan...if so for how long should we have followed up? As civil society organizations do we have the wherewithal to sustain long term follow up plans...I kept asking the mother why she did not abandon the child with me, I could have taken care?
As I struggle with all these questions...Shahida's face haunts me...did she deserve such a death?