At a time when the country did not have laws against sexual harassment and child sexual abuse, this capacity building organisation worked to create these laws. Recently, as a step towards a solution to #StopChildSexualAbuse, the Directorate of NSS, Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports directed Sakshi (Regd. NGO 1992) to launch The Rakshin Project aimed at delivering three hour pro-bono workshops to NSS units in 40,000 colleges and universities across India, thereby equipping 40 lakh youth to be rakshins or preventers of child sexual abuse.
The module and programme of The Rakshin Project has been designed by writer-theatre director-social engineer Smita Bharti along with Supreme Court lawyer and founder of Sakshi, Naina Kapur, who was also the lead instructing counsel on Vishaka Guidelines 1997.
Smita Bharti, executive director of Sakshi, talks on Why Children’s Day In A Country Where 1 Out Of 2 Children Are Sexually Abused, The Rakshin Project, Sakshi NGO and the plans to #StopChildSexualAbuse initiative.
When was the first time that you thought about this issue and how did you go about it?
Gender equality has been the axis for all of Sakshi’s work. This 27-year journey has been about law reforms, advocacy and judicial education for gender equality. Today, Sakshi is implementing an education driven mass awareness programme, The Rakshin Project.
When you say Why Children’s Day in a country where one out of two children are sexually abused, where are these figures coming from?
The Ministry of Women & Child Development conducted a pan-India survey in 2007. As per the findings of a sample size of approximately 12,000 children, 53% experienced some form of sexual abuse.
Where in the country of such cases more and where the least? Has lack of education to do with it or the same happens equally spread over rural and urban areas?
The study was a small sample size. Understandably. Since denial, silence, shame and stigma has precluded any substantive data points from emerging thus far for a segmented analysis. Hopefully, The Rakshin Project will lend itself to the required research to establish prevalence, and thus arrive at specific solutions. The available research by various bodies has established that child sexual abuse is as prevalent amongst the urban, affluent and elite as it is in the economically challenged segments.
You mentioned the NGO Sakshi working to create these laws against sexual harassment and child sexual abuse. What was the situation before and in which year did you manage to create these laws?
Before the law on workplace sexual harassment, the prohibited behaviour was unrecognised as a violation and the experience was clubbed under outrage of the modesty of a woman. Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan was filed by Naina Kapur, (co-founder/director, Sakshi) as the lead instructing counsel. We got the Vishakha Directions in 1997. Vishakha Directions gave a definition for sexual harassment, made it the responsibility of the institution to ensure equal and healthy workplaces and recognised that it is impact and not intent that matters. These directions are the basis of The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013.
The definition for sexual assault was limited, and as such child sexual abuse got clubbed generally under unnatural offence act. Sakshi vs Union of India 2000 sought to expand the definition of sexual assault, and get child friendly mechanisms while deposing a child survivor in court, among other things. Fortunately for all of us, the recommendations from the PIL were accepted in the 172nd Law Reform, and have since then gone on to become the basis for the Sexual Assault Bill 2010, and POCSOA 2012, and has informed the JJ Act.
Tell us about The Rakshin Project and how do you intend reaching out to the masses?
The Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, GOI, has directed Sakshi, (regd. 1992), to deliver capacity building workshops through Directorate of NSS with the NSS volunteers to strengthen youth as powerful enablers for creating a Constitutional Rights Based Enabled Environment in the context of Gender Equality with a focus on building awareness about POCSOA 2012 (Amendment 2019).
The Rakshin Project, based on the five pillars of (1) Constitutional Right to Equality, (2) Experiential Pedagogy, (3) Resolution Mechanisms, (4) Integrated Trans Media Communication Strategy and (5) Sustained Engagement through Rakshin Fellowships is designed as a 360 degree intervention, and will be implemented by Sakshi at 40,000 educational institutes, with a minimum of 40 lakh (18 to 22-year-old) students, pan-India.
Through The Rakshin Project, Sakshi is working towards a social tipping point where the NSS volunteers who choose to become Champions of Change develop a preventive proactive mindset, speak up against Child Sexual Abuse and build a culture of accountability. The vision is to create a movement of Youth across the country who will exercise their roles and responsibilities as active and informed citizens.
What are Vishakha Guidelines?
Vishakha Guidelines is the judgment we received for the PIL Vishakha vs State of Rajasthan. It was a binding direction for all workplaces till such time as the ACT came into place. The main axis of Vishakha Directions was prevention, institutional responsibility and impact. It was framed under the Constitutional Right to Equality. It was user-friendly and easy to understand for the beneficiaries.
Why is that we wait for an unfortunate incident and then wake only to go to sleep sometime soon?
Every unfortunate incident rattles the status quo. It brings civil society together in their collective demand for access to justice. But in the absence of a structured action plan, and systemic intervention, the energy dissipates, as everyday life takes over. Or there are some band-aid solutions offered by decision makers, which compound the problem further as a result of hastily put together directives which have not been thought through.
What is required instead is a preventive solutioning. Prevention is a proactive mind set. Prevention is about continuous action to strengthen systems that apprehend unfortunate incidents from occurring. It is time and resource consuming. And does not make for headlines. And so is generally ignored. But actions emerging from a Preventive approach have the potential of creating a ground swell movement from passive bystanders to active citizens.