In 1998, Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman, all of 10, started campaigning to raise awareness around child sexual abuse.
That time I didn’t remember an incident of abuse that happened when I was 4, I had blocked it out. But what I did remember and what I was affected by was an incident when I was 8 years old.
Subject to a heinous crime
The caretaker of the building her father stayed in, took her downstairs on the pretext of playing badminton and used the classic ‘let’s play a game and I’ll show you a secret place’ to sexually assault her. Her instinctive response was to run to her aunt, her father’s cousin and to tell her about how the caretaker had behaved with her and how she had made her feel confused, angry and disgusted. Why didn’t she run to her mother? “My parents were separated at that time. You feel like your own gender will understand so I ran to my aunt.” Her aunt laughed and put the blame on 8 year old Pranaadhika, “What have you done to deserve this?” “I was horrified by her response and I knew that I had not done anything and it was not my fault. I was a child and I had so many burning questions in my head.”
At the tender age of 8, how did she know that what had happened with her was sexual abuse?
We have a big conception that a child is unaware of their sexuality. You see people around you and you have awareness of your body. You know when something is out of place. And the gut tells you when it just feels wrong – why was I being isolated? Why was this man touching me?
Why didn’t she tell her parents later? Another relative once told her that she was the reason behind her parents’ separation; because she was an adopted child. “As a child I thought if I told them, things would get even worse between them.”
The birth of her campaign
Over time she realised that she couldn’t possibly be the only one who was going through the trauma. The questions, confusion and rage had no outlet. At 10, she decided to do something about it and that was the beginning of her fight against child abuse.
“At 10, and it sounds easy, but it really wasn’t. The basic aim was to get a conversation started.” She spoke to her friends at school, most of whom were hesitant to talk about it and some of them unfriended her. “We were all kids after all. Some of them did open up and expressed that they had been through some form of abuse at home or at the hands of a tuition teacher or domestic help or even by strangers”. She decided to gradually build a movement that would be effective in spreading awareness about child sexual abuse. The first step of her campaign was being the person anyone in the school or the friends group came to if they went through an incident of abuse. “It is important to release that emotional burden”. The movement kept gaining momentum over the years but it was still not in the public eye until Pranaadhika was in her teens. In fact, even her parents did not know about it.
Pranaadhika formed an organization called “Right Now Kolkata”(name changed to ‘Elaan’ later), and went around coffee shops, schools, book stores and spread awareness. In 2004, when she was 16, her work caught the media’s eye and she was covered by Telegraph. Her father saw the article and suddenly realised that it was his daughter and her work that Telegraph was talking about! “I have the best parents. How many kids would be permitted to speak about something like this freely in the 90’s? My father was an IAS, from the royal family and I was working on something like this, taking my own example. They let me do this. I’m very grateful.”
We assume that it would have been tough to spread the word, but she breaks the myth.
Sex sells. Even when it is about sexual abuse and scandal, it sells.
1 Million Against Child/Adult Sexual Abuse
With this campaign that kicked off on June 1, 2015, her endeavour is to educate 1 million people on sexual violence, and to work with them on preventing it. A huge part of this campaign is so that people realise the privilege they are born with and the possibilities if they decide to step up. “Anyone associated with this campaign who is from the urban population will realise that they are blessed. They have the means to speak up. They just need to get over the ‘log kya kahenge’ (What will people say?) mentality.”
We speak to her about what she hopes to see as the outcome? “ I don’t want anything but to shock the government with these numbers, pictures, signatures, and to show them that 1 million people care about this cause and that it’s time they take notice as well. That’s the basic outcome. ” She continues, “I also want government to make sex education mandatory in all schools. I want stringent child protection policies in place. I also strict punishment to be given to sex offenders”.
Till 2012, the work was funded by her father. In the future, she is definitely looking to raise money through crowdfunding. Money was never a motivation for her but is now a practical consideration. She plans to begin charging for the sessions she delivers in various schools, colleges and organization. “The campaign needs to run and I need to survive”.
This campaign ends on 30th May 2018. Pranaadhika is aware of the fact that the campaign will not completely put an end to any of the problems. “We would like to get a response and get an intervention mechanism in place.” Even though the government has taken some action with respect to child protection with POCSO( Protection of children from sexual offences), a lot still needs to be done. Despite facing odds, she’s not one to back down. On a parting note, she says something for all of us.
An individual should learn to say no and never give anyone else power over them. An abuser always looks for people who they think they can dominate.