The 2nd of October 2019 marked the 150th birth anniversary of the global leader for peace, Mohandas Gandhi. He was a leader who redefined the language of struggle and revolution through his two non-negotiable guiding principles – truth and non-violence. Today, more than ever, the increasingly violent post-modern, post-truth world needs a reminder, and a re-set, to examine the validity of these ideals, especially in the context of how we understand crime and punishment.
Why do we use the word survivor for a person who has faced sexual violence? We often hear of a debate around the terminology of ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’, and whether the latter devalues the victims who don’t survive sexual violence. ‘Why do civil society organisations get broiled in these semantic battles?’, some of you may have wondered. Today I would like to explain to you with an example. Why to us, she is a survivor and not a victim.
Growing up in a volatile household which is constantly under the shadow of domestic violence can weigh heavily on a child. 13-year-old Bipin has grown up with a violent and an alcoholic father who would frequently assault his wife, Bipin’s mother, brutally. The assaults would often render her bed-ridden for months.
Nafisa is a fifteen-year-old girl who studies in the tenth grade and loves to draw. She is strong, vivacious and kind. And she is on a difficult path to healing from sexual violence perpetrated against her, by her biological father.
Dimple (name changed) came to Delhi in 2018 to get an education. However, with the burden of the responsibility of having to look after her sister’s children, her original plans did not materialize. While her family said she was thirteen, and she did look thirteen, due to the unavailability of an official document to prove her age, Dimple underwent a bone age test which concluded that she was between seventeen and nineteen years old. Dimple had been sexually abused by the landlord’s grandson. After the first time he abused her, he threatened her to keep quiet about the abuse otherwise he would kill the younger children in the house.
During the circle, Ishan acknowledged what he had done in front of his family. He took ownership of his actions without shifting blame and without minimizing his actions. Ishan’s family asked questions and he addressed each of them.
We met Ishan (name changed), a 14-year-old, in talking circles at the observation home*. During our first one-on-one conversation with Ishan, he told us that a case had been registered against him for touching a girl on her thigh. He was apprehensive of his family’s anger and how he would ever face them.
Starting today, you will be reading stories of how children and families who go through heart-wrenching despair find hope to be resilient, to seek justice, and to heal. The True Justice Heals campaign seeks to raise $25,000 (INR 17 lakh), to help support child victims of sexual abuse and child offenders who want to make amends in their pursuit of healing and justice.