This series establishes an understanding of women’s safety and sexual violence as a public health concern and offers an overview of how tech based solutions are increasingly making an effort to address related issues of sexual violence in India. In this piece we speak to Insia Dariwali, Founder of the Hands of Hope Foundation and Sahiyo, about her journey of using digital activism and art for addressing issues of sexual violence.
Vandita: Tell us a little about your journey -- what made you take up social activism?
Insia: For starters I don’t think I took up Social Activism. I think I am Social Activism J I am never going to be able to separate myself from this identity. For me as far as I can remember, I could not ever be a silent witness to injustice. My home environment, my child sexual abuse, and my experience with the abuse in society, all of that played a very big part in the work I am doing today. As a little girl, when sexual abuse forced me to shut out the world around me, and move into an imaginary world, that shift gave birth to a story teller. 14 years ago, I became a writer/director who chose to tell stories, which were not only visually engaging, but also evoked enough empathy in people, to create change. ‘The Candy Man’, ‘Cock-Tale’, ‘Serving up Success’ etc. are all films which engaged the audience with me, and triggered a dialogue on issues of rape, child sexual abuse, and women’s empowerment. These dialogues gave birth to ‘The Hands of Hope Foundation, and ‘Sahiyo’. Both work on children’s issues and address Child Sexual Abuse, and Female Genital Cutting in India, through various creative and educational platforms.
Today, I feel immensely happy when I am able to save children through these initiatives. To be honest, I don’t think social activism is a rare breed. It’s not a designation. It’s a sense of being. There is an activist in each one of us. Question is how many of us are ready to ‘activate’ that part of us, and stop being silent spectators?
Vandita: What are the core areas of your work?
Insia: Through ‘The Hands of Hope Foundation’, I work in the areas of sexual violence on children, but I have also had cases of adult survivors coming to me and sharing stories of how their CSA experience went on to them being exposed to more sexual violence as adults. So we deal with that too accordingly. Our work involves engaging with the schools, communities, teachers , and parents to ensure a well-rounded flow of awareness, education, and informed action. Sahiyo on the other hand works on ending Female Genital Cutting in the Dawoodi Bohra Community of India, and engages with the community through various Preventive & Support programs.
Vandita: How have you used technology to leverage action against CSA?
Insia: For me technology has been a real blessing, and here itself is proof that if used in the right way technology can be a boon. I have primarily used the digital medium for all my advocacy efforts in the creative realm. For instance, through the ‘YSR (Your Social Responsibility) initiative of my organisation, I had mentored the students of Pearl Academy to create an infographic video, and a Puppetry Animation video, talking about CSA, and ‘good touch/bad touch’. These films were uploaded on YouTube, and widely circulated through various social platforms. We had also invited several NGOs to use it as educational tools while working with kids. Besides this, our most recent Photo Campaign on Male Child Sexual Abuse, which was the first ever in India, was a game-changer for our organisation on many levels. The campaign that ran under the tag ‘End The Isolation’, was exhibited online on our facebook page, Instagram, twitter, Linkedin, Wordpress, etc. and covered by major online, and offline news desks. The beauty of this campaign was that through the digital medium, we were able to break the taboo on this topic, and reach out to male survivors as far as Australia, and the USA. We were also able to engage these survivors in coming out with their own stories of CSA. That, in my opinion is extremely effective and powerful.
Vandita: What is your opinion on surveillance based interventions?
Insia: I think in the current scenario where there is an influx of information online, ensuring children are exposed to age-appropriate content is the need of the hour. However, in my opinion, even if children were monitored with what they are viewing online at home, it is very difficult to ensure that surveillance outside of their perceived safe environment. Today, porn is available on a mobile device for just 10 rupees. Many times, older children involve younger kids in this viewing game. Unless, there is a communication between parents and children, I think surveillance based interventions will cough up their own set of limitations eventually. I have seen parents who do not have televisions in their homes to make sure children do not get exposed to something ‘dirty’. I have also seen parents not give their kids mobile phones or access to laptops. Here is where the problem lies. We as a society think the only way to save a child from drowning, is keep him/her away from water. Why not just teach the child how to swim? We need to have a fair balance between exposure and communication. Having worked for films and television, through my sessions with children, I ensure they are educated enough about the hazards of the digital medium, and also teach them the difference between ‘real’ and ‘reel’. I also educate the parents and teachers on how there is a need to communicate more often with children, and clear their doubts constructively, instead of shoving them under the carpet.
Vandita: Tell us more about the Change.org petition and ensuing action?
Insia: So the Change.Org petition went hand in hand with the Photo Campaign, and happened simultaneously. The petition to Maneka Gandhi, was not just about surveying Male child sexual abuse, but also studying the outcome of these surveys. If there is any correlation found in unresolved trauma related to CSA on boys, and the increasing sexual violence on women and children, I think it would help create more effective intervention programs, and curb violence in society at its onset. The petition which has now gathered over 86,000 signatures from around the world has also opened up a Pandora’s Box and a larger debate - the bias of sexual violence on male children. I personally am happy about it though. I think the time has come to look at sexual violence with a gender neutral lens. We need to treat it as epidemic affecting all children, and not any particular gender.
Fortunately, thanks to the efforts of Change.Org, and the tremendous signatory support from the world over, the WCD Ministry and NCPCR has been very cooperative in starting a dialogue with me. We are now in the process of discussing next steps on taking the ideas presented by my organisation, and scaling it up to be implemented effectively throughout India. I am not allowed to disclose too many details of our ongoing plans, but suffice to say, by this year-end I am positive, something concrete is going to come about on Preventive measures for Child Sexual Abuse.