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Breaking The Silence

Breaking The Silence

13 mins 28.3K 13 mins 28.3K

From the time I was born, I was taught to be good to others; to be kind to everyone around me. As I grew up, I hardly saw or experienced any kindness around me. I learnt something else and saw some completely opposite values being practiced in the outside world.

I joined Bharat Scouts & Guides in my school and the concept of kindness was reinforced there. I remember, we were asked to do a good deed everyday which ranged from helping mom and dad to helping neighbors, senior citizens, strangers and anyone in the vicinity. The most commonly practiced good deed of all was to make someone cross the road. This was my understanding of kindness as a child.

With time, this concept of compassion stayed in my thoughts and days passed by without any act of benevolence being practiced in life. Days became months and months turned to years; I soon joined the race of succeeding in academics. Competition, greed, jealousy, anger, hatred surrounded me for years.

Today when I sit back and look at my yester years, I am reminded of the times when I innocently touched lives as a child. I was naive and never hesitated or weighed my options when it came to helping others. And today, as a grown up, I see every second person thinking twice before offering a helping hand to someone.

Sometimes, a simple act of lending a helping hand or giving an ear can change a life to an indescribable extent! I never knew I would take this value of empathy seriously and practice it as a profession. In this journey of practicing compassion, I met Ananya.

Ananya was someone who made me realize the power of ‘being there’, the power of ‘helping/reaching out’. One act of kindness in those 7 days changed Ananya’s life and she discovered a new, never-seen, Ananya within her. This is her story of survival and my tale of realizing the ‘power of giving’.

15th October, 2010. Seven of us were called to facilitate a camp that was organized for teenagers by an NGO. There were 70 participants belonging to diverse caste, culture and language. Each one of us was given a responsibility of leading one group of 10 participants (boys and girls) each. That’s when I met Ananya for the first time.

Ananya was a part of my group but unlike other teenagers, something about her did not seem right to me from the very first day. Hence, my observation and attention were more inclined towards her from the start. Her behavior narrated a different story to me all the time.

While other girls wore the most fashionable clothes, Ananya always dressed herself in oversized clothes which would make her look hideous.  She wore those outsized full sleeves salwar-kameez with her duppatta neatly wrapped around her shoulders.

While other girls in the group sought ways to chit-chat with boys and be flirty, Ananya chose to spend her time away from the boys. Her eyes would fill up with anger if any boy even dared to stand one foot away from her. On the 3rd day of the camp, a boy from our group by mistake tripped and fell on her. Ananya got so alarmed at that moment that she outrageously pushed him. Not only that guy but the whole crowd was stunned by Ananya’s behavior.

While other participants made new friends, Ananya would either sit alone or preferred to sleep in her room. She buried herself in her own cocoon and did not allow anyone to come close. The times when everyone in the group laughed out loudly, Ananya would join too but within seconds she would get too self conscious and stop herself from joining the laughing riot. By the 3rd day, everyone in the group had started hating and ignoring her because of her deviant behavior. 

In one of the activities, the participants were asked to draw their ‘Aim in Life’ and make it as colorful as they could. When the activity was announced and papers & colors were distributed, Ananya looked very uncomfortable. Throughout the activity, she kept staring at the paper without touching it even once. When I tried to ask her the reason for not participating, she said ‘she hates drawing’. She excused herself from there and walked towards her room. When I visited her room after sometime, she was sitting in a corner with her hands folded and legs drawn closer to her chest. On asking her if she was ok, she was startled by my presence and stood immediately on the same place. She tried assuring me that she was fine. I was about to leave the room when I noticed her hands. While sitting with her hands folded, Ananya had dug her nails on her left hand. I walked towards her to check the wound and immediately gave her first aid, without shouting or accusing her of anything at that moment.

There were many such observations I made that got me a little worried and more alert when it came to Ananya. I had studied psychology and the behavior that Ananya displayed hinted towards something that would leave a person psychologically damaged if it was left unattended. But all I could do then was to wait and hope for that time to arrive when Ananya would willingly unload her emotional baggage.

It was 4th day at the camp. This day was dedicated to outdoor activities like rock climbing, river crossing and rappelling. Our group was asked to be ready for the adventure post-lunch and pre-lunch time was dedicated to a session on “Emotional Wellbeing”. After this session, it’s more likely for the participants to express their concern and seek emotional support. During this session, I observed the moments where Ananya began to sweat profusely. She kept wiping her face and neck with the corner of her duppatta. She also had an obsessive habit of washing her hands once every 30 minutes. And this reduced to 10-15 minutes during that particular session.

I was looking forward to hearing something from Ananya at the end of the session but to my surprise, even though she seemed more lost, she did not come and talk about anything that was causing her the discomfort. She stuck to her personal space. In spite of me desperately wanting to help Ananya, I was aware of the fact that I couldn’t do anything unless she felt the need to ask for help. So all I could do was wait for her to reach out for help!

At 2pm, our group proceeded towards the adventure spot. The site was breathtakingly beautiful with mountains, river and greenery all around. Away from the city life, all one could see and hear was nature. Not only me but even the participants were mesmerized by the scenic beauty. They were excited and exhilarated at the same time. Without me even instructing, they dutifully went and gathered around the instructors who were ready with their set-up. After a round of ‘do’s and don’ts’ and a demonstration by one of the instructors, the group was ready to overcome their fears and experience the escapade themselves.

Beginning with the river-crossing, each participant had to cross the river and get on the other side of the river. Aakash was the first one to volunteer. While the instructor prepared him for the activity, the others got busy numbering who would go next. They began cheering Aakash and encouraging him by screaming their lungs out. I stood there, joining them in the riot, till Aakash made his way across the river. I had to complete some left over paper work so decided to leave these high energy teenagers and made my way to sit under a tree by the river. While I began to walk towards the tree, I saw Ananya sitting there with her eyes fixated on the flowing river.

She looked up to smile at me when I reached close to where she was sitting. I asked her if I could sit beside her to which she smiled and said yes. In last 4 days, I had built a good rapport with her so she did seem comfortable in my presence. For next 15minutes we sat there in silence. I looked up to check on other participants every 5 minutes and noticed that Ananya was still looking blankly at the river. She looked gloomier today.

“It’s an amazing place, isn’t it?” I tried to initiate a conversation.

“Yes it is, Ma’am,” she said meekly.

“Is everything all right Ananya? Are you ok?” I genuinely enquired.

“Yes, Ma’am. I am fine,” she replied.

“Ok. But if there’s anything you wish to share, you know you can talk to me, right?”

“Sure, Ma’am. Thanks,” she said with a smile that had so much of sadness in it that it worried me endlessly.

I let her be in her space and began to look at the never ending river.

“I get nightmares. I get very scared of them,” she said breaking my never-ending chain of thoughts. She was now copiously fidgeting with her duppatta.

“Is there anything that’s been bothering you Ananya?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Did anything happen that is making you afraid while you are awake?” I probed.

“Umm… No… Nothing... Nothing happened. I am fine,” she replied suddenly frightened. It was as if she said something which she shouldn’t have and was terrified even with the thought of sharing that thing.

I immediately put my hand on hers, “It’s ok Ananya. Just relax. It’s ok. Yes. You are fine. You are absolutely fine.”

“Ananya! I can help you if you tell me what is troubling you.”

“I ummm… Nothing... I don’t know…. I... It’s just…  I don’t want to go to Tuljapur next month,” she said, looking horrified.

“Ok. And is there anyone who is forcing you to go there?” I enquired.

“No. My mom & dad are very nice. They don’t know. I can’t go there. I get scared. It’s a dirty place. I don’t like it,” she said biting her nails fretfully.

“Ok. Relax Ananya. I am here with you. Is there anything that you know and your parents don’t? What is it that you hate about that place?” I empathized.

“I don’t like anything there. I don’t want to go there.”

“Ok. Relax beta. I understand you don’t want to go there. I can try to talk to your parents and say that you don’t wish to go to your town.”

“No No. You cannot. Please don’t tell them anything. They love me a lot. I am the one who is bad. They are very nice.”

“What makes you say you are a bad person, Ananya?”

“Because I am dirty… I am not good.”

“Is there anybody in your town who you are afraid of?

“Huh? No… No… I… No… Uhhh he is nice... He loves me... He…” she stopped abruptly as if trying hard to recollect something and at the same time fighting to erase those memories from her life forever.

“Ok Ananya! But who is he? Who all stay at that house?”

“My grandparents, my bade chacha and chachi and…” she paused and hesitatingly continued “my chhote chacha.”

“OK. Did anyone of them do anything that makes you scared?”

“I don’t know… I cannot say anything… It’s all my fault…” She covered her face with both her hands as if feeling really guilty and ashamed of something.

"What makes you blame yourself Ananya? Are there any experiences not yet discussed that have been particularly difficult or painful for you?"

“I deserve the pain… I could have but I did not stop it from happening… It’s all my fault… I am just paying the price for it.”

“You can tell me, Ananya. May be I can help you lessen the pain you are feeling right now… You can trust me…” I genuinely empathized.

“I feel ashamed to even think about it… It was so dirty and painful.”

“I can understand, Ananya! It would have been extremely painful for you to go through it all alone. Did anyone do anything to make you feel dirty and painful?”

She anxiously looked into my eyes as if to weigh her options of revealing something that she had never spoken to anyone about.

“I don’t like the way my chacha touches me… I… I don’t know… I just… Actually it’s my fault I never stopped him. I cannot say anything... I really love my parents.”

“Ananya! You can tell me what happened sweetheart. Nothing will happen to your parents. They will continue to love you even if you tell me what your chacha did to you.”

She went silent. I knew it was becoming very difficult for her. The silence lasted for 5 minutes after which Ananya shared what she never communicated to anyone ever!

“I have not told this to anyone, Ma’am. Promise me you will not tell anyone. I don’t know if I should tell you.”

“I can understand Ananya. You can trust me. I promise I will not tell this to anyone. I promise.”

“There is a reason why I hate drawing and why I did not participate in the activity that day.”

“Would you like to share that reason with me?”

“When I was small, I loved drawing. I used to sit in my room and make colorful drawings. One day my chacha came to my room when I was drawing. He said he’s come to help me.  He was a good and kind person and everyone in the family trusted him. I trusted him too but….”

She took a pause and continued, “He slipped his hand under my skirt. I moved a little but he was powerful and held me closer. He said it was ok. He said he was not doing anything wrong. He asked me to trust him and not to say anything to anyone. It was a secrete he told me to keep. He came everyday to my room from that day. I did not like what he used to do. I feel so ashamed of myself. I could have stopped it but I didn’t.  It’s entirely my fault.”

She covered her face with her hands and began to cry. She looked extremely helpless and terribly guilty for something that wasn’t even her fault. I put my hand on her shoulder to comfort her. I understood how difficult it would have been for her to trust me and tell me especially when her trust was broken so miserably by someone she trusted the most. The sympathy and kindheartedness that I was showing then, was also shown by her uncle in her family. While my intentions were to support her, his was to break her down minute by minute.

“Ananya! I can understand how hard it must have been for you. What happened is painful, but it is not your fault at all.”

“It is my fault, Ma’am. I did not stop him even once.”

“It is not your fault my dear because you were a child. You were small and did not know what was happening to you. It is your chacha who has to be blamed because he was matured, more powerful and knew what he was doing was wrong. You were just an innocent child, Ananya!”

“I did not even tell this to anyone. I was scared to tell my parents. I should have told them.”

“I can understand how afraid you must have been, Ananya! And any child in your place would have gotten scared. As a child, you did not know what to do! And any child would find it difficult to speak about this painful experience. It is likely for you to blame yourself Ananya and every child does. But you must know that it was not your fault. It was not your fault my dear.”

I gave her a motherly hug and kept affirming that it was not her but her chacha who is to be blamed for what happened. That evening, Ananya took a step towards healing herself. I made a note of continuing her personal counseling to heal this wound which was left untouched for 6 long years!

That night, Ananya looked as if a big burden was taken off her back. She looked less culpable and much more relaxed. That day at campfire, Ananya laughed generously for the very first time.

Ananya underwent several sessions of personal therapy post camp to realize and accept that the abuse was not her fault. It took her time to make peace with herself. She successfully covered the journey from self-hatred to falling in love with her new-found identity.

Ananya is currently volunteering for an NGO that works for Child Sexual Abuse. She has proudly begun to spread the bug of compassion and help many such survivors break their silence.

One simple act of kindness can not only transform a life but can also be highly contagious, transforming this world and making it a better & safer place to live in. 

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