With the ongoing COVID situation in India, the state of Karnataka has been witnessing lockdowns and curfews for the last few months. Schools and colleges have been shut and the unemployment rate has increased. People are experiencing emotional and mental breakdowns due to various factors such as isolation, loneliness and frustration. Children especially belonging to the rural regions of the state are being exposed to the fear of domestic violence and child marriages. Not to forget, the fear of not being able to continue their education has been haunting them severely.
Apart from the above, children belonging to Devadasi communities also fear being dedicated as Devadasis during this time. The Devadasi system, a practice that was pious and a form of worship through performing art, has today been reduced to women being used for sex in lower caste sections of society. After puberty, girls are dedicated as Devadasis in a ceremony post which they become sexual partners of men. They face severe social and sexual exploitation from a young age. Children of Devadasis are also vulnerable to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands works to empower children from this community and take them out of exploitation through its project Children GOOD. To address childrens’ fears during the pandemic, TdH-NL’s GOOD team brought over an expert therapist, Dr.Meena. K. Jain to provide mental health awareness sessions to the children of Devadasis. She is a specialised trainer, therapist, and interventionist with vast experience of three decades. She also excels in the field of psychology, psychotherapy, sociology, and rehabilitation. She strives towards women empowerment & safety, child safety & protection, anti-human trafficking, etc.
Different sessions were held with children belonging to different project regions of the GOOD project. The children were made to practice activities such as storytelling, pictorial representation, and singing, to plant a positive mindset within them. During the process, the children were allowed to open up and talk about their fears, a few of which were:
The counselor suggested that children should talk to their parents regarding their fears and speak to their teachers regarding any issues related to the reopening of schools. She guided them not to pent up their feelings and emotions, but instead, asked them to share them with somebody close to them, as bottling it up might lead to anger and frustration.
During these tough times, children were told that it is extremely important to be there for each other to maintain one’s mental peace. Children were able to learn a few techniques to control their negative thoughts, fear, and anger. A few of these techniques are breathing exercises and mental exercises for calmness. The participants were asked to meditate, imagine and recreate circumstances within their mind, where they assumed themselves to be stronger than everyone and everything else, thereby overcoming all the issues around them. They were also asked to maintain patience and be helpful to their fellow group members.
The GOOD staff too were given guidance on how to listen out to the children, and be there for them. Overall, the sessions proved to be very helpful for the children. One of the participants said, “I feel very relaxed and felt the anger and frustration exit out of my system”. They seemed more relaxing and calm at the end of the sessions and were able to take control of their mental health. They are also now aware of how to maintain their anger and face their fears.