Silence is no longer Golden

It was indeed one of the highlights of the month to be part of the launch of Edex’s campaign THE REST IS HER STORY, (#safenotsorry). The panelists and guests namely Madhumitha(filmmaker), Rema Rajeshwari (IPS), Dr.Geeta Madhavan (advocate), Kirthi Jeyakumar (founder, The Red Elephant) and Leena Manimekalai (filmmaker)  made the evening matter in more than one way. What will really make women feel safer? Does sexism in films encourage abuse? Do we need revised laws with more stringent consequences to crimes against women? etc., were some of the questions in focus?

I was pleased to hear all the panelists single-mindedly assert and reiterate that what we need is education and awareness. The power and influence of awareness is often underestimated. As a result, much of our work as non-profits revolves around the areas of rehabilitation and trauma recovery. While that is critical and should be happening in increasing measures, we should be simultaneously investing our time and skill in bringing awareness through education to men and women, boys and girls on issues pertaining to safety and equality, which in turn brings attitudinal and behavioral changes.

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Safety for women at the workplace continues to be one of the major areas of concern. WOW conducted workshops titled WOMAN UNINTERRUPTED (WU) throughout the month of March. At these workshops, I met a wide range of interesting people, from those who say that there is absolutely no gender bias or inequality at the workplace to those who feel no progress has been made for women in general. I think the real answer to this lies somewhere in the middle. The bias we feel, or experience today at the workplace can be termed as ‘second generation bias – often very subtle and at times ‘unconscious’ or even ‘unintentional’ and is usually guided by gender stereotypes of the past. This type of bias is hard to identify but is very prevalent in general at the workplace.

We have certainly made positive strides towards change with the swift manner in which laws are being enacted to protect women at the workplace. For example, the mandatory Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) has ensured that Corporates seriously take action against all complaints that women face at the workplace. But as rightly pointed out by IPS officer Rema Rajeshwari, laws alone don’t bring about change. What we really need is change of attitude towards women, as well as a concerted collective response by society to enforce these laws to protect women.

Silence is no longer golden. Every woman must be heard, not just seen. Safety violations need to be reported. What will give women the courage they need to step out boldly and claim their right to safety at the workplace? Platforms provided by such campaigns are part of a public collective force to give back to women their voice and their rightful place in society. Safety is not the privilege of a few but the fundamental human right of all people irrespective of their gender, race, colour or faith.

So, what will make women feel safe and be safe? My answer to this question is simply this: It is when the world fully recognizes the inborn dignity, intrinsic value and worth of a woman, then she will feel safe and be safe. As WOW, therefore we have a lot of work to do.

Join us on May 11th, at the Novotel-Ibis hotel, OMR, Chennai for a workshop and networking platform titled: Barriers to Progress, to explore the effects of unconscious bias and its impact on women’s safety at the workplace. And do tell us YOUR STORY, stories of pain, of courage, or hope, and by doing so, you give a voice to those who feel alone and need that initial push to speak up.

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Dear Teacher, Five Tips To Remember While Talking About Safety With Your Students

To the teacher who told her students that girls should not dress in jeans and lipstick:

Dear Teacher, have you used public transportation in your city and never been groped? Have you walked along a street lined with men smoking beedi or drinking chai and never been hollered at? Have you never been judged as a woman when your parents sought a suitable alliance for you? Have you never been mentally undressed by perverted eyes in public? Or did your iron-clad-saree-armour protect you from these experiences?

Ever wonder why it’s easier to blame a girl for her jeans and lipstick?

People generally believe that bad things happen to others. The “others” is something people do not want to associate themselves with. Because once you do that, the threat becomes personal. Bad things could then happen to all people. We are scared to believe that. And so we start defining the characteristics of “others.” Jeans, lipstick, heels, being out after dark, alone with a boy, cell phones, Indian-Chinese food, peacocks, etc. etc. etc.

Don’t feel bad to associate yourself with your students. Yes, you are free to choose what modesty means to you and what perverse means to you. No, you are not free to pass judgment on a girl because she has defined her boundaries differently.

Dear Teacher, you are free to speculate Nirbhaya’s gruesome assault, torture, and demise. But you are not doing anyone any favors when your speculation has no bearing on statistical facts of a study showing 41% of women who reported their rape in India were dressed in sarees. And no, the other 59% were not all flaunting themselves in jeans or skirts. Majority of them were burkha clad, which indicates a very small possibility of sexual provocation as defined by you.

I am a woman, a mother, a sister, and all those wonderful tags that people use to associate themselves with others. I am saying this to find common ground with you. So that I may plead with you to not just take back your words but to learn the truth about sexual assault and rape.

Your prejudice filled rant might have actually been an attempt to educate your young students about safety. But I urge you to use not only sympathy but empathy, in the classroom. Without empathy, you will be fighting a losing battle. So here are some ideas that might help you to effectively advocate the safety of your students:

  1. Boys and girls are both in danger of being raped and sexually abused in our nation. The Study of Child Abuse: India 2007, published by the Government of India had a shocking revelation that 52% of boys surveyed claimed to be sexually abused. So, when addressing safety issues, make sure to keep students from all sexual and gender orientation safe.
  2. The hardest thing for a child to do is communicate the violation and abuse they experienced because often they lack the awareness and vocabulary to do so. The next time you choose to address your students on safety mandates, begin by assuring them that you will be an adult who will believe their broken words and incoherent stories. Assure them that the violation of their bodies was not their fault.
  3. Do not let socio-economic status or caste lead you to believe in the existence of an automatic safety zone for the child. Please know that most children are sexually abused during the day in places where they feel safe: their home, their neighborhood, their community. So make sure to talk to all your students about safe resources available to them, like 1098 (the phone number for Childline), or a school counselor, or your classroom – because it’s time to maintain an open door policy and create safe classrooms.
  4. Also, if anyone tells you that ignoring the abuse will allow the child to get over it sooner, please do not believe them. Trauma manifests itself in different ways and at different times, often hindering the student from enjoying healthy lifestyles and relationships as they grow older.
  5. I have already presented data to dispute that clothes don’t make a victim, and this is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. But if clothes are something that distracts you from associating with a student who has been sexually abused, look for common ground as a fellow human being. Always exercise your power to empathize.

I am glad you want to address safety issues with your students. For a student to succeed academically, socially or emotionally, safety has to be a priority. Make sure the school administration supports you in this effort to keep your students safe.

There are several organizations that can help your school implement safety protocols in order to promote the best interest of the student. If you unable to find one in your area, write to wow@womenofworth.in and we’ll help you with your efforts.

Let’s build each other up instead of shaming those who have suffered much already.

Sincerely,

Lydia Durairaj, WOW Staff.

Committed to the Girl Child

In India, every year, January 24th is observed as the ‘National day of the girl child’, to celebrate the girl child and to raise awareness on the issues facing girls in our nation which includes gendercide, child marriage, lack of protection, education and other inequalities.

While we laud the benefits of a world that is increasingly becoming digital, the micro impact of digitisation is affecting the choices that children and youth are faced with.

In our blog this month, we want to share the story of 14 year old Laxmi*. Like many girls of her age, Laxmi gave in to the romantic advances of a 23 year old man. Before she realised what she was getting into, pictures of her were being circulated in her neighbourhood in an attempt to tarnish her reputation if she refused to marrying this man.

Fortunately for Laxmi, her mother got wind of the situation and with the help of WOW filed a police complaint forcing the man to vacate the neighbourhood. It was also disheartening to learn from Laxmi, who is in the 10th standard, that she was actually considering leaving school, giving up her dreams and other future prospects to marry someone she barely knew. Currently she is under WOW’s counseling and rehabilitation program and is housed at a secure home where she will learn life skills and pursue her higher education as well.

Laxmi’s mother, like crores of mothers across our nation, struggle to provide for their families while living with abusive alcoholic husbands .

WOW intervenes in the lives of adolescent girls whose right to safety and well-being are threatened by uninformed choices and by society’s blind norms and tirelessly works towards empowering adolescent girls rescued from abuse, neglect and abandonment – one girl at a time. If you would like to support children like Laxmi live up to their full-potential, partner with us in our Girl Arise empowerment program and our Media Literacy workshops that help children make informed choices for their lives. Write to girlarise@womenofworth.in for more info or log on to www.womenofworth.in/give to donate.

Our dream is to make every day, the day of the girl child!

*name changed to protect identity

The Road to Change

Seema (name changed) is a runaway teen. Her story gives her more than one reason to run away from home. As a Sri Lankan refugee who lost both parents and was abandoned by siblings, she moved in with a caring grandmother in Tamilnadu, only to fall prey to a supposed boyfriend who swindled money from her.
All these traumatic childhood experiences have caused Seema to suffer from a mental illness. She wishes to someday go back to her home country and begin afresh, but that seems lofty while battling a world stacked against her.

To keep Seema from running from her past and to gain confidence before being repatriated, our rehab staff are providing individual counselling and life skills based group therapy. She has currently been enrolled in tailoring classes held at the home which she enjoys and has shown great aptitude towards. These are the first steps towards her complete rehabilitation.

The most common reason for rescuing girls between the ages of 14 – 18 is because they run away from home. Once they are rescued they are brought to a centre in Chennai where WOW provides counselling and conducts rehabilitation programs.

The reason for running away might vary but revolves around the age old rationale of escaping the clutches of something unpleasant. However, when they run, these teen girls put themselves in more danger.

WOW would also like to start programs to equip girls like Seema with the right resources and tools that would empower them after repatriation. If you want to support our work with girls like Seema, please write to info@womenofworth.in

An Accidental Celebration

I have a room! 

The house we recently moved into was previously colonized by a furry feline and the master bedroom was its throne room. We discovered its existence without ever having the trouble of meeting it. The allergic reactions suffered by my husband and my daughter immediately informed us of this room’s previous tenant. 

The only other room available was being used as a home office which now had to accommodate our master bed as well, rendering the actual master bedroom into a storage space. Most of the office furniture including some bookshelves and a couch were moved into the master bedroom. Slowly, other items that needed to be stored away clumsily made this room their abode. This was now the forbidden room which had an invisible sign: “No Trespassing. High Risk of Itchiness and Sneezing.” 

Wait! What? Recap: There now exists a room that nobody wanted. More like, a room that nobody could have even if they wanted it without risking lung infections or asphyxiation…except for yours truly! 

I knew what I had to do; Rearrange, reorganize, stack all the shelves, create floor space, use the couch, add some curtains, maybe some pictures, some things I’ve collected from my travels, and a floor rug for the dog (yes, the dog is always welcome. Besides, the room intrigues her senses). And before I knew it, I had a room. 

I have since heard that other women have created rooms for themselves; they are called she sheds. But this was no fantastical, whimsical, Pinterest-worthy she shed. It really was a glorified storage closet. But to me, it was what the DeLorean was to Marty McFly – a time machine – transporting me to explore interests I’ve ignored or discarded. It was what the Fortress of Solitude was to Superman – a hideout – giving me space and time to actually experience silence and meditation. It was what the pages of Mein Kampf were to Max as he hid in Liesel’s basement – a scabrous canvas – to paint my story about how I reconnected with myself.

Out of unplanned, unintended, and unexpected circumstances, I discovered how to celebrate me. 

Dear DISB campaigners,

We’ve been selfishly and gloriously focusing on YOU all through the month of November. You are valued and worthy! What you celebrate expands you. So tell us how you Celebrate You – flaws and all! Send in your stories. #DISBcelebratesYOU

Will I Raise a Son Like Harvey Weinstein

#MeToo – a hashtag determined to prove that tens of thousands of women across the world have a Harvey Weinstein in their lives; a power mongering predator who uses coercion, deception, manipulation, or force for their own sexual gratification.

#MeToo – a hashtag that united the victims from all walks of life, validated their pain and endorsed their right to safety.

#MeToo – a hashtag that got men – perpetrators or not – to lend their support in ending violence against women.

Many people shared their stories, and others made proclamations to change the status quo. To this end, Mayim Bialik, a Hollywood actress, neuroscientist, and a mom, shared a video called Will I Raise a Son like Harvey Weinstein?

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Bialik uses the video to reminisce about the lessons she learnt from her parents as a child actress in Hollywood. One lesson in particular was to be wary of men as they are always motivated by only one thing – sex. As she continues to navigate the importance of raising sons who will be the antithesis of Harvey Weinstein, she asks a very important question: Will the lack of trust in men, that my parents raised me with, serve me well as I raise my own sons?

This is an important question to grapple with as parents, and as a society. Most of the work that we as an organization do revolves mainly around empowering girls and women. This mom’s question forces us to consider training boys to view their world through a feminist lens.

Though Bialik’s views are socially conservative or lack cultural nuances, they are certainly a good place to start. Here is her list of 7 teachings that parents need to impart to their sons:

Equality:  Everyone is virtually the same. We all have the same hearts, same desire to be loved, respected and protected.
This is especially difficult in cultures where religion, class, and caste divides create systems of hierarchies that deify or dehumanize people based on where they belong in the spectrum. But the belief in humanity and the ability to consider equality as stated above is never beyond grasp even in archaic and patriarchal cultures.

Rights: Everyone has a right to feel safe. If you put someone in a situation where they don’t feel safe – It’s not okay.
Our children have the right to safety. Our women have the right to safety. Our men have the right to safety. Schools, colleges, workplaces, hospitals, public places are covered under several legislatures that call for safety protocols that are yet to be translated into actionable changes. Modeling this behavior becomes difficult when excuses are the norm and safety is only a buzzword.

Consent: You do not have the right to touch someone if they do not want to be touched – Even by your own mother.
This is a tough nugget to teach. Saying ‘no’ is seen as rejection, defiance, and rebellion – an act which undermines authority – making consent less important and obedience a virtue. This fallacy goes against the very nature of consent. Parents, as figures of authority, have a unique privilege to model consent by setting and respecting healthy boundaries with children – both boys and girls.

Common Sense: It’s never okay to be intimate or touch someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point that they cannot give consent
Statements like, “Boys will be boys” or “Girls like ‘this’ are asking for it,” shred common sense and allow abuse to piggy back on the blame game. It’s easy to see alcohol, or a party, or articles of clothing as the culprit instead of common sense that informs us that people are equal, people have a right to safety, and people have to consent.

Location: You are responsible for where you are. If you are in a place where there are bad things going, leave and report it. Strip clubs and places where people pay to have sex, don’t go there. It is your responsibility to protect a man or woman that you see in a dangerous place. Get out. Get help. That’s on you
This might seem tricky as defining good and bad in respect to sexual preferences or reclaiming sexuality is always debated. If we teach our boys about equality, rights, consent, and common sense, there are greater chances that systems of abuse can be overcome as they self regulate where they should or should not be.

Ingesting: Scientifically speaking, the human brain doesn’t really behave with great judgment in the teens and even into the twenties. Things you would never think you would do, people do them when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ingesting pornography…likely contributes to the degradation and abuse of men and women.
As a neuroscientist, Bialik naturally turns steers the conversation towards topics such as brain plasticity as something we need to teach our sons to be aware of as they navigate life and form their identity, theories on life, overcome peer pressure, be media literate, etc. Everything that is permissible is not necessarily beneficial, especially if it contributes to the objectification and abuse of people, women in particular.

Daily: Every single day respect people that you interact with but specifically, pay special attention to those who have not been appreciated or represented historically.
This is difficult when privilege is woven into the fabric of our existence, but let’s walk two moons in their moccasins to understand the position of privilege as it applies to each of us. Let’s make it a habit to be more than politically correct; not by being patronizing, but with the belief that everybody is created equally, that everybody has rights, that consent and common sense are essential in intimate relationships, and that learning can lead to better understanding.

In faith, we echo Bialik’s closing comment: We have inherited a broken world and it is our job to fix it.

Share with us how parents could model this behavior within families.

Flawesome Jaya

  1. What was it about the flawesome series that got you interested in sharing your story with us ?
    News is that none of us are flawless and it was my desire to share my common place story so that it would make a difference to atleast one person.
  2. Give us a bit of your background for starters.
    Unexpectedly arrived as the seventh child after a gap of seven years and weighed 10 pounds. Not much has changed in the physical realm – even now I look really healthy. Grew up in a simple home where academics were high priority as well as exposure to multiple activities while community engagement was also a priority. I put my hand in various activities in school and did relatively well in most of them. School and college were well invested years.
  3. What event/incident turned your life around or was pivotal to you?
    I have had many a challenge that I have faced all through the years of my life though one of them could be a fairness cream and whitening cream concept defeating piece. It was in my mid-thirties that I suddenly began a journey of an auto-immune condition called “vitiligo”- the loss of melanin and of course your skin tone takes on a new shade- undefined by color schemes of cosmetic companies. Though I turned white quite quickly – it was interesting as my husband’s little boy day dreams of marrying a fair girl came true as he got a fair wife after 7 years into mariage. Look and feel chemistry definitely did not decide our marriage as the proof of the pudding is that we have held on together through it all for many years thereafter.
  4. What were the challenges you faced because of your condition and how did you cope and overcome them?
    People and their questions were an unresolvable lot. Their curiosity was way beyond our comprehension. They were more bothered about my condition – both in good and odd ways. Personally, I could not look into the mirror for a year. And that’s the year my husband as an adult began to smoke cigarettes. The not-so right treatment that I received bloated me further. Use of any make-up and the like was hard as colours did not display the same on my skin. My hair turned 90% grey and it was strange to see a new – not so likeable you.
    That’s when I turned to my faith and got the strength and confidence I needed and believe me in 12 months time I had a break through where I could stand in front of the mirror and look at myself and say to myself that I am beautiful and wonderful.
  5. Have you struggled with feelings of inadequacy?
    I believe it was a struggle of accepting my physical condition and not one of comparison. So I used to just lie low and quiet without doing anything frontline except at work.
  6. If we asked you what some of your wildest dreams are, what would you say?
    I desire to collaborate in the area of academics and work as an influence. This has become a reality now. I am able to coach those who cannot afford it and that has really taken off. I make others grow tall on my shoulders as I can’t grow any shorter(did not grow tall from 8th grade). I love making others look their best at my cost. I love people and help them to walk in freedom and fullness of life here on earth.
  7. What has been the greatest achievement and joy of your life so far?
    My faith has been my greatest strength. My relationship with God has carried me through the greatest struggles of my life and has given me great joy.
  8. What is your advice to our readers today?
    Focus on another even when you are going through pain and believe me “People are important” will become your mantra.

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Jaya is a trainer and motivational speaker.
She resides in Mumbai with her husband Abraham. [/su_box]

Fearless Cindrella

  1. Why is safety awareness against sexual abuse among children important?
    Sadly, kids are the easiest and the softest targets. That they are innocent and naïve hardly matters. It’s the only reason why kids should know the boundaries that cannot be crossed. They also need to know how to not let anyone cross that boundary.
  2. Does our “Fearless project” resonate with you on some level? If yes, how?
    Yes it most certainly does! In fact, I love that the Fearless Project is also about prevention as much as it’s about recovery. Our country needs to learn how to keep our children safe. We need to learn to create an impenetrable fence all around them. We need to raise our kids with love and not with fear, impalement or shame.
  3. How did you overcome the trauma of abuse? What aspects were most difficult to heal? What aspects made the healing process difficult?
    It was a process.
    I think overnight healing is only temporary healing and so, I’m rather glad my healing took time.One by one, the layers of hurt got peeled off and eventually, withered. I don’t think there’s a set formula to overcome the trauma of being victimized but over time I’ve gotten to understand that we all go through the same stages – feeling of uncleanness, self blame, living in denial and finally, confrontation. Let me break it down a bit more.

    • Feeling of uncleanness – as kids, we understand that we’ve been violated even though we may not know the words to use to articulate our feelings. With this understanding comes the feeling on uncleanness.
    • Self blame – thoughts like – “I invited trouble” or “it’s because I’m not pretty enough” or “it’s because I’m ugly” constantly resonate in the head. Add to it, our society conditions us to think that it’s always the girls’ fault.
    • Denial – this is when we start thinking that ‘the act’ never happened and then we graduate to think that it happened but it wasn’t as big a deal as we’re making out to be.

    Mind you, all this is still about ‘ME’. In the sense that up until now I haven’t even started thinking about how the perpetrator has been in the wrong! That’s the worst part about the ordeal. The perpetrator goes on to live his life normally and the victim gets stuck in time.

    When I did start thinking about the person responsible for this, the part that hurt the most was the broken trust. To be able to trust another man was a task! It felt like no one deserves to be trusted, like no one’s trust worthy.

    It took a lot of time, a lot of friends and a lot of love to overcome these doubts and questions.

  4. What is your advice to children who have faced abuse?
    Don’t hide it from anyone. Don’t hide it from yourself either. Talk about it, shed tears, vent….basically, address it and give yourself the dignity of words.You don’t necessarily need to address it in a recurrent manner but address it in a way that helps you get over it without having to rue about it over and over again.Learn to let go. Learn to forgive. It’s a process that will be worth your while.
  5. How important is it for Student campuses to ensure both awareness, precautions and a safety mandate against child sexual abuse?
    EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!
    Apart from teaching our kids to excel in life we need to teach them to be safe as well!
    Campuses are where our personalities form and develop and so, it should be an environment for growth! It shouldn’t be stifling or terrifying instead it should be encouraging and gratifying. If sexual predators wander around in our campuses, it’s the slow death of life!
  6. What word of advice would you have for parents and teachers in bringing awareness on child sexual abuse?
    Relentlessly and consistently pursue the cause please. I know the results are far too few but you are impacting generations to come. Your work is not a drop in an ocean. It’s like yeast making its way through the toughest situations.Don’t for a moment be under the assumption that sexual abuse cannot take place in our home. It has and it will continue to, unless we remain vigilant.
  7. Teachers and Parents sometimes say that it may be harmful or unnecessary to give too much information about sex too early in life. What is your comment?
    How much is too much? And honestly, we live in a day and age where the world is at our finger tips – quite literally! If we are not the source of information to our kids, someone else will be. Perhaps even someone who’s less trustworthy. Is that a gamble worth playing?
  8. What advice do you have for parents and teachers who are helping children overcome the trauma of abuse?
    It’s not the end of the world and your kids need to know that. At the same time, they need to know that you understand what they’ve been through and it doesn’t change your relationship with them.They need to be surrounded by better men/women who are proof that there are good human beings in their world too.They need to be encouraged with words of appreciation and validation.They need to be taught to forgive. But they also need to see you confront the perpetrators.
  9. What is your message to the world on Child Sexual Abuse?
    It exists and maybe right in our own backyards. Let’s not run away from the fact. But let’s face it with hope and love.

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Cindrella Prakash is not only a survivor of child sexual abuse but an overcomer in every sense of the word. She currently lives in Mumbai with her husband Asher Joe. For more on her incredible journey follow the link: http://www.satyamevjayate.in/watch-the-episodes/child-sexual-abuse/survivors-speak.aspx.[/su_box]

Flawesome Savi

1. What was it about the flawesome series that got you interested in sharing your story with us Savi?

Nobody is born perfect or even becomes perfect. Everyone has some flaw or the other. I wouldn’t even call it a flaw, that’s a big word, it could be a limitation. It’s how we work through the limitation that matters. I am not sure whether my life or condition even qualifies to be spoken under this flawesome topic, but yes I have had limitations and I have learnt to overcome them. So I am happy to share my journey and experiences.

2. Give us some idea of your background for starters.
As a young girl I was very active, bubbly and an extrovert, who always wanted to be happy and always dreamt of this world to be a bed of roses. I was a dancer, singer, artist, you name it. I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis(RA) at the age of 19. RA is a long-term autoimmune disorder that primarily affects joints. It typically results in warm, swollen, and painful joints. The body’s immune system – which normally protects its health by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints. This creates inflammation that causes the tissue that lines the inside of joints (the synovium) to thicken, resulting in swelling and pain in and around the joints. The synovium makes a fluid that lubricates joints and helps them move smoothly. If inflammation goes unchecked, it can damage cartilage, the elastic tissue that covers the ends of bones in a joint, as well as the bones themselves. Over time, there is loss of cartilage, and the joint spacing between bones can become smaller. Joints can become loose, unstable, painful and lose their mobility. Joint deformity also can occur.

My joints used to pain to the effect that I was unable to even lift a single sheet of A4 paper. Doing my daily chores was becoming difficult, like bathing, dressing, eating etc. All of a sudden I found myself totally disabled and crippled from even taking care of myself. I was unable to walk, sit or stand for long and soon I was limping badly. I was gradually slipping into a depression because no one would understand the kind of pain I was going through. Everyone had great advice for me. Over a period of a few years I tried all kinds of treatment ranging from allopathy, ayurveda, therapeutic yoga, sindha, accupuncture and accupressure to herbal diets and what not. Nothing improved my condition, one by one every joint of mine was getting affected. I was on steroids and pain killers and mild chemotherapy drugs to keep things under control. Life went on but with difficulty. I used to cry it out in the night and wet my pillow with my tears because no one could feel my physical and mental pain. The fun part of me was still wanting to have fun, but now there were limitations. I could not do all that i used to do and had to stop dancing which was a long standing dream of mine.

3. What event/incident turned your life around or was pivotal to you?

I liked a guy in my workplace. I knew he liked me too but I was never going to take the step, my condition always kept me at check. We were good friends. He would always say to me, “What u have is not a killer disease, always be content and happy with what you have. There are many who dont know if they will live another day”. He showed me how to trust God, to have hope and he gave me a life I thought I could never have. I tried to convince him not to enter into wedlock with me, because I feared that I would not be able to lead a family life. But he was a man of faith so he asked me what if I had got this ailment after we were married? His support would not have wavered for me. I had great support from the Church who always prayed for my healing and stood with me in the low times. I remember popping two strong painkillers before walking down the aisle. Because it was like a dream come true, I did not see any decoration or the guests in front of me. My heart was filled with Gods promise and hope for a good life.

I started pursuing all my passions once again, painting, crafting, dancing, holidaying. I started taking my inability as a challenge to see how much I can do, how far I can go. And I used to do everything till the time that it would become unbearable for me. I would only say tat my pain tolerance increased exponentially over all these years.

4. Have you struggled with feelings of inadequacy
Most of the time, Yes. I had and have many limitations in terms of lifestyle. I cant dance so freely, but I still do with my crooked hands and legs.
I cannot dress myself so easily, it takes some effort
I cannot reach my own back
I cannot sit on the floor and have eye contact with my kids ( I felt bad about it but my husband used to say, no issues, sit on the couch)
I could not carry them when they were little
I could not take care of my children when my knees were severely affected and I had to go in for a knee replacement surgery
I cannot go on long treks
I cannot sit on the beach sand and enjoy the waves
The list is long….

5. What were the challenges you faced because of your condition and how did you cope or overcome them?
I did face many challenges due to my condition at home, workplace and outside. I was always mentally ready and up for anything, but physically I had limitations and that sometimes pulled me down psychologically.

  • I had challenges in raising my kids, I cannot do things tat all mothers do very easily. But tat did not constrain me, I had my own parenting style.
  • I had difficulty in standing and taking long trainings at workplace. I never was hush hush about my condition, I openly spoke about it and made myself comfortable.
  • I take the stairs one step at a time so people get frustrated standing behind me. I tell them tat I’m going to take a long time so I let them pass by.
  • When I am unable to do something, I make a joke about it and laugh it out.
  • I have already had one of my knees replaced at a young age, I proudly call myself an ironwoman.
  • In a public place, in a confined area like an elevator or a waiting room I have heard people whispering about me, my crooked hands and bulged joints. I have learnt to brush them away. That doesn’t affect me at all.
  • I have had relatives mock me saying it beats them as to why I decided to even get married because I cannot possibly be having a good life. But God gifted me a great husband and two adorable children. Many were astonished to see that I could become a mother and have an uncomplicated smooth delivery. I wanted to show them all that life is not easy for anyone, its not a bed of roses after all.

You have struggles all through, if you are going to give them importance, they will overpower you but if you learn to live with those struggles and brush the negativity away, you have a beautiful life to live.

6. If we asked you what some of your wildest dreams are, what would you say?
Hmm… wildest… I don’t know if its wild but I have done a lot of adventurous things in my life. Went on an offroading kinda trip on a hilly/rocky terrain when I was 8 months pregnant.

Just a few months back I went diving in the Andaman Islands (after taking the total responsibility of my health condition underwater).

I want to give back to society in some way, do my little bit. I don’t just limit myself, I try, if i can do it well and good, if not its okay. I know I at least tried. All this is possible for me because I have put my trust in God. He has brought me this far he will take care of me so I enjoy life!

7. Do you think, from your experience, that every obstacle or set back is actually training ground for the next big success or breakthrough in life?
Yes definitely, but as an individual one needs to take control of it. Unless I want to come out of the struggles and difficult times in my life, unless I create the will power in me, I cannot overcome any situation, I will only be pulled into it deeper. If I had started to pity myself due to all the limitations/flaws I had, I would have only ended up in depression. That’s killing myself.

Whenever there is an obstacle in life, try to create avenues to get out of it, these avenues might lead you to a new chapter in life.

When I was down at the thought that I’m unable to take care of my kids I started watching some youtube DIY videos to keep away from those negative thoughts. This brought out the creator and crafter side of me. I started making hair accessories for my daughter. It made me happy that I’m finally doing something useful plus I got appreciation from many. This spurred me on to open a Facebook page to market my handmade products. That’s how “All Things Beautiful” evolved. Its a passion/hobby turned into a home business. Its been 3 years now and I’m happy crafting and doing what I like with my own limitations. It creates an identity for oneself.

8. What has been the greatest achievement and joy of your life so far?
Knowing God had been the joy of my life. Even now I feel inadequate and depressed many times, but when I think of the blessings, I just smile.

Hope and belief is something that changes your perspective in life.

I cant say I have achieved anything great but I can say I am trying to live the life that was given to me to the fullest. I have so many more things that I want to do in life.

9. What is your advice to our readers today?
I cannot advise but I would like to say that there’s no problem in life that cannot be overcome with positivity. There’s nothing so bad to lose your life over it. Be happy, enjoy, do what you can and all that you want to. Trust in God. Life is beautiful.

Savi

A Masterpiece

“If only your nose was straight and sharp like your father’s…and if only your skin tone was a bit lighter..” These were the words spoken by my grandmother over and over again for much of the first 27 years of my life. A retired surgeon, a very accomplished one at that, she raised me up entirely on her own. She sacrificed everything to give me the best I could have in life and she did that exceedingly well. She is no more, unfortunately, and not a day goes by when I don’t miss her.

My Grandmother was a very elegant and classy lady, with beautifully sharp features and fair skin. She always knew she was a beauty! Truth. She was surrounded by the British during her childhood and hence was influenced heavily by their culture and ideology. She grew up with the notion that being fair with sharp features was the quintessence of beauty and she identified herself with that common opinion.

My gramma was my everything on earth. My only “go to” person.  She introduced me to God, to fine dining, manners, character, inner strength and what not. To me, she stood tall, being the perfect role model as I grew up and needless to say, every sentence and every opinion that came from her, began to mould my thoughts and influence me.

I grew up believing in that very same opinion of hers that one needed to be fair with sharp straight features to be categorized as “Beautiful”!  I thus developed a complex that i wasn’t any of that. I detested my tiny little nose. I detested my lovely ebony skin tone.

When in school and college, I have heard teachers and seniors compliment me saying, “You are a black beauty!” . I chose to not believe them.

Unfortunately for me, my grandmother was the only critic who told me the “truth” and everyone else lied to please me!

I also happened to not be a cosmetic- loving gal. My skin was very clear naturally and i felt that was the only good thing left in me and that i should protect it and hence never applied makeup on my face. I’m glad and eternally grateful that i never went after Fair and Lovely, the then most popular brand or any fairness creams for that matter.

In 2013, I had an opportunity to visit Brasil. It was one of the best times of my life.

During my stay there I had countless number of people , including absolute strangers, the young, the old, men and women, walk up to me saying, “Você é muito linda. Sua cor é bonita!!” (You are very beautiful. Your colour is beautiful). I am not exaggerating when i say “countless”. It was overwhelming to have strangers in a restaurant or at the metro station walking up just to say they thought i was beautiful! Initially it was my bestie who had to translate every time somebody approached me with this compliment. Poor thing, she must have gotten tired translating for me during the initial days when i was not familiar with their language. After a few weeks though, this sentence became very familiar to me and i learnt to say “Obrigada” (Thank you) in response to all those who walked up to me.

I visited most of the coastal cities in Brasil. One common thing i noticed was that the people spent hours on the shores applying sun screen lotions and sun bathing just to get our dusky skin tone. They find our tone so beautiful. I thought to myself, “Why have I and all the Indians been brainwashed all these years by media, family, friends and cosmetic companies into thinking that dark is not beautiful. This is absolutely crazy!!”

That brought an end to my thinking that being fair was beautiful. I began to embrace my complexion and everything about me completely. It took an experience in a strange land for me to know and understand what it was when God said I was His Masterpiece!”

Remember, the grass will always look greener on the other side. The only thing that will keep you content is appreciating your own uniqueness and consciously making a shift in your mind to accept who you are created to be and celebrate the remarkable handiwork that you are. You are absolutely stunning just the way you are!

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Anita Esther Joseph is a multitalented dancer, singer and freelance photographer.[/su_box]