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Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman: Interview With The Woman Who Started Fighting Sexual Abuse At The Age Of Ten

I was told ‘we will let you work with our students if you take the words Sexual and Abuse out of the name’

Courtesy: Change.org

Pranaadhika is the founder of One Million Against Abuse campaign. After she was sexually abused when she was a child, Pranaadhika realized that it was a taboo topic and help was hardly available for victims. So she decided to be of help. She started talking about sexual abuse. It was the beginning of a one woman led battle against sexual abuse that is now active with regular sensitization programmes. Pranaadhika goes from place to place and institute to institute with one mission. Ending sexual abuse. Be of help to those who had to go through the violence, like she had when she was eight years old. She started at the age of 10 and now her campaign provides hope to scores of people to fight and survive sexual abuse. Her online petition aims at making sexual abuse education part of the school syllabus. Below are excerpts from an e-mail interview we had with the wonder woman.

You were subjected to child sexual abuse. You confided in your aunt. What was her response?

My aunt (father’s cousin) threw back her head and laughed, and asked me with a wink, as to what I had done to encourage Samar the Caretaker, to molest me. 

How would you react to this kind of response now?

I would have liked to smack the hell out of her, but on a wiser note, I would write an open letter, tagging her family including her two daughters, letting them know about the need for personal safety, and sensitivity classes for shitty parents. 

When you went to your school at the age of ten, how did you try to raise awareness?

I initially reached out to students who approached me first, later forming little secret groups that would meet after school or during PT lessons etc. I primarily shared my story, and listened to theirs. 

Some friends deserted you. What were the reasons they stated for doing so?

Probably the ‘log kya kahengey’ [what will people say] drama which is all-pervasive in schools. Being different and away from the herd is not looked upon kindly in schools where ‘Yes Ma’am’, ‘No Ma’am’ is the norm, and daring to speak out is what “bad/problem kids” do.  Their parents too, may have had something to do with it. A lot of them, I feel, might have realised that I wasn’t going to back down to them, which I used to do initially because I wanted to feel loved. At one point I used to take a lot of “friends” to elite social clubs etc, then stopped because I realized I was being used. They went off to kiss someone else’s ass and sponge off them. 

Apart from your aunt, do you keep track of the times when people do victim blaming?

Victim blaming is as prevalent as abuse, so yes, for every case of assault that is reported, there will be at least 20 people in a group of 100 who will blame the victim for encouraging or failing to stop the abuse. 

Pranaadhika_self-defence_technique_demonstration_Presidency_University
Pranaadhika demonstrates a self-defence technique at Presidency University, Kolkata

What pisses you off the most, in your work?

There is never enough support, and actual justice is rare because the survivor is constantly re-victimized. People know about abuse, they know it needs to be stopped, but they won’t stop it. How infuriating is that? You know there is a wound, you know it will worsen if you do not heal it, then why not heal the damn wound? 

What are the funniest (in a sadistic way) responses you’ve got when you’ve tried to spread awareness?

I was told I belong that because I belong to the royal family, I should be used to incest. Could not quit laughing at that one. 

What is the format of your awareness programme? Where do you do it?

I prefer old school interactive discussions relating to sexual abuse and personal safety. I have taught in football fields, gullies, slums, big fancy hotels, and even at a rock music event. My sessions are customized to suit the age group and needs of the group, so content ranges from basic safety for kids, counseling for parents, to cyber crime awareness for young adults. I work with a wide range of issues, keeping “child sexual abuse” as an umbrella term. 

In schools, how have the teachers or other officials responded? What’s the most ridiculously funny thing you’ve heard schools say about child sexual abuse?

Schools are very strangely slow to respond, I assume they would WANT to protect their students. Hoping to hear from them very soon. I will always be grateful to Apeejay School, Park Street, for being the first to offer me a platform where I reached out to 220 students.

We went to a school in Ranikuthi, Tollygunje and the principal looked at me and said, “we will let you work with our students if you take the words Sexual and Abuse out of your name”. [We were] unsure as to why we would teach “Child” or if that’s even a complete subject, but yes, my theory regarding lack of sensitivity and sometimes sheer stupidity on the part of the education system, was proven correct. 

Pranaadhika_sexual_abuse_sensitization_programme_Apeejay_school_Park_Street_Kolkata
At Apeejay School, Park Street Kolkata – Sexual Abuse Sensitization

Have you ever felt like smashing things  etc. when you heard about sexual assaults? Can you tell us the kind of emotions you feel and what you feel like doing when that happens?

I am not proud of my rage and aggression, nor am I proud of the depressive lows that sometimes take over my soul. But this is the truth and it must be shared as I feel many of us are secretly in the same boat. I am a closet cry baby, struggle with self harm and very dark thoughts, and sometimes feel that vigilante justice will do better than legal justice. We are overpopulated and grossly ill-equipped to deal with abuse and the mental health needs of survivors. All these thoughts swim in my head every single day. 

Have you ever had to fight sexual assault physically?

Lots of times, I have lost count. It has mostly been for other people though, and they have watched quietly from the sidelines, even the guys. 

What’s the funniest nickname you’ve got because of the work you do?

Gangster Hamster (I am a bat, though, just clarifying.)

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