Siddhant Mohan on how Shweta Goswami is fighting child sexual abuse by teaching children to say no
Child sexual abuse can be a most traumatic experience, yet Indian society refuses to discuss or even acknowledge the issue. We shame the victims, we tell them to shut up, but almost never help them speak out. For Shweta Goswami, the founder of Nirmal Initiative, this issue needs to be addressed in newer, more direct ways. Her aim is to spread awareness among the children about child sexual abuse using a variety of tools and processes, including color books.
“Child sexual abuse covers a vast spectrum, and one can’t bind it in some definitive terms. In most of the cases, a perpetrator is a person who is familiar and that becomes a major trauma for trusting anyone,” she says.
Goswami, a 29-year-old from Mathura, came across cases of child sexual abuse when she started working with ‘Food for Life’, a Vrindavan-based organisation after her Master’s from Miranda House, Delhi University. Currently enrolled in M.Phil-Ph.d. at Center for Philosophy at JNU, Goswami’s work for Food for Life mostly involved research and assessment of these cases.
In 2013, Shweta noticed that most of the organisations were either not coming upfront about the cases, or were lacking a proactive approach to the issue. This led to her setting up Nirmal Initiative, which seeks to print thousands of color books and distribute them among children for free.
“The book concerns the issues which will make it easier for caring adults to talk about personal safety with children and increase the outreach. Since children learn better when they are engaged in activities of learning, not simply by hearing a lecture. Most importantly the book will stay with children forever that will enable them to revisit the learned skills whenever needed,” says the text on her fundraiser page, where she is trying to raise Rs 5 lakh for the project.
For Goswami, this project is part of a journey that began in 2010, and in the seven years, she has seen the devastating effects of child sexual abuse. Goswami will soon present a paper on the issue in Copenhagen, where she will talk about sexual abuse.
She says, “Sexual violence against children is, in most of the cases, not based on gender. Boys, as well as girls, have faced it. But it has always been more traumatic for girls because all the taboos and ‘rules’ of the society applies on them. You might notice that boys rarely, if ever, get any advice about sexual abuse from their parents.”
“According to a report released in 2017 by the Government of India, 53% of children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse that included severe and other forms. Among them 52.94% were boys and 47.06% were girls. The data suggests that every second individual in the country is living with the wounds and bruises of sexual violence, yet it stays a non-issue due to the conversational gridlock caused by multiple taboos, and the notion of shame attached to it,” she adds.
Shweta recalls such a case of child abuse which was followed by constant fear. She recalls, “It was a case where a 14-year-old Dalit girl was sexually abused. The case was registered under POCSO and SC/ST act. But when the girl returned to her village, boys started harassing her.”
In an attempt to ‘correct’ the situation, her mother married her off at the same age of 14. “Now after POCSO and SC/ST act, she became a victim under Child Marriage Act too”, said Shweta.
Shweta added, “The girl faced two abortions in next two years of the marriage. This is the fear which the girls feel most because all of the taboos and limitations imposed by the societies.”
Talking in detail about her plans for printing books, Goswami says, “We will take our color books and travel to far and remote villages. We have volunteers who have promised to support our work.”
The color book has been prepared with the help of Juan Hernandez, a cartoonist based in Colombia and Kartikeya Goswami, who is an assistant professor at Manipal institute of Mass Communications. It talks about all three kinds of touches: the good, the bad and the secret (also bad) touch.
To encourage more such initiatives, the book has been made available in English and Hindi for free on the internet. The funds raised, according to Goswami, will be used to print these books. Contributors who give more than Rs 2,000 will receive ‘stop the abuse bracelet’ made by the widows of Vrindavan.
This story was first published on twocircles.net