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When the candles go out

PADMINI B PATELL
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Issue Abused and abandoned women find little solace after the incident. Swadhar is struggling to help these women cope with life

What’s a young girl of 14 doing carrying and caring for a tiny seven day old baby? Looking ill-equipped to take care of even herself, leave alone be a mother of an infant, Shanti (name changed) is one of the 40 odd girls below the age of 18 who have suffered the double injustice of being abused and abandoned.

What really happens to a victim who survives rape? What becomes of them after the vociferous participants of the Candle March go home and the candle lights go out? Does society help integrate these vulnerable survivors into the mainstream? Or does it turn a blind eye and hope that time will magically cure all ills?

Most victims of rape are dropped in the dark of night or driven out of their homes to a place where they will not be recognised.

Ironically, most do not recognise themselves, fewer still remember the name they were given at birth.

Some of these victims find their way to Swadhar, a home run by Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust (KGNMT) one of the few organisations started by Mahatma Gandhi himself in 1946. Located at Hydershah Kote on the Vikarabad road, this facility was set up with a view to improve the conditions of women and their children in society and is run on Gandhian lines. Swadhar which was originally meant to shelter 50 inmates, today houses a 130 inmates who have been either sexually abused, trafficked, abandoned or are victims of child marriage.

Most inmates arrive in conditions of deep mental distress having had traumatic experiences, often with a shock syndrome, having no idea who they are, while a few come pregnant or mentally unsound. Much time and money has to be spent on counselling and medical treatment.

Rehabilitation is recommended according to the age and condition – some children are integrated into nearby government schools, others are taught paper product making, sari printing and rolling. “It takes about six months of constant monitoring to get a victim back to normalcy. Everyday at Swadhar is an exercise in crisis management,” says P. Padmavathi, Chairperson of Child Welfare Commission of Ranga Reddy district who serves here as a volunteer along with 12 full time employees.

Despite having played host to prominent dignitaries like Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Dr Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi among several others, Swadhar today struggles to meet its mounting challenges.

The civil structures made with tin roofs in 1951 are falling apart, the Government funding given for 50 inmates has to be utilised to support thrice the capacity, medical costs are spiralling and the social stigma faced by school going children from the facility is daunting.

While the nation celebrates yet another Women’s Day it’s a shame that many Indian women have little reason to celebrate.

They can only be grateful that the Father of the Nation had the foresight to establish one such facility that they can call home. To visit call 9347502345.

PADMINI B PATELL

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