Society

Forming a circle of support

We grow up assuming that stories of abuse are meant to be kept secret. Imagining, not wrongly, that we’d be reduced to a statistic and the people privy to this experience will always see us with this new filter of information, we tuck our stories of abuse and harassment away.

Prompted by a friend’s admission of a similar incident or a hashtag that unites women across the world, these stories filter out slowly, but we never understand the full extent of how the abuse affects our daily lives even years in the future.

During their third year of BMM at Wilson College in 2014, batchmates Nadiya, Pooja, Mitali and Adrija (all of whom have requested that no last names be used) got talking about the rampant sexual harassment that individuals, usually women, are subjected to on a daily basis. Sharing their stories of harassment and abuse with each other was a cathartic process. “We think we over-do talks about assault, but that’s not true at all. We don’t discuss it, we don’t discuss why it happens,” says Pooja. The quartet was motivated by the desire to establish a safe space accessible to all — a circle of support where you can share your stories without fear of judgement. The four decided to start a support group in their college. The first meeting had about 20 people turning up, a crowd that consisted of their friends and batch mates. Pooja shared her story, not without some difficulty, easing them into slowly sharing their own if they wanted to. “If we don’t tell them our stories, why would they share theirs?” she asks simply.

After hosting another session, Pooja and Nadiya realised that these meetings were starting to resemble an initiative. However, the only goal the two had in mind was to make such a space accessible to as many people as possible. They put together a framework for what they now call ‘The Circle’, letting the group act as a community in which they act as moderators.

Their friend Aarti, who became a part of the core team last year, says, “We just want to be there for people. We can be the first step, helping you get in touch with a mental health professional. We’re also here to offer you support in case you can’t or don’t want to see a professional.” They have just one rule: don’t talk about the stories shared in the sessions outside of The Circle.

The fact that they are not professionals is irrelevant, since group exists to serve as a support group. Armed with copious amounts of research, the group takes on specific topics for each session, spanning the construction of gender, post-traumatic stress disorder, abusive relationships, sexual harassment at the workplace, depression, consent, and sexual assault, among others.

The meetings are usually held at the houses of members, advancing the idea of a physical safe space. The group has also been pushing schools and colleges to start cells that deal with sexual abuse and assault, regardless of gender. Over the last year, sessions are being held in Bengaluru as well. Their session on Saturday, ‘Let’s talk about Sex’, aims to deal with gender, sexuality, violence, education and the other facets of sex itself.

The ‘Let’s talk about Sex’ session will be held today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Santa Cruz. Location details will be available after registering (mandatory for attendance) by texting/calling Aarti at 9920072414. More details on facebook.com/thecircleisinfinite

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 7:32:11 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/Forming-a-circle-of-support/article17037564.ece

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