Due to the ongoing COVID situation in the country, the Karnataka state has been witnessing lockdowns and curfews for the last few months. Schools and colleges have been shut, the unemployment rate has increased, and the number of covid cases has surged. People are facing emotional and mental breakdowns due to various factors such as isolation, loneliness, frustration, etc. Especially children belonging to the rural regions of the state are being exposed to fear of domestic violence, child marriages, and increased devadasi dedications. Not to forget, the fear of not being able to continue their education has been haunting them severely.
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. A survey conducted by the Karnataka State Women’s University in 2018 revealed that there are 80,000 Devadasis in the state. Children of Devadasis are also vulnerable to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
To help these children battle their fears and thoughts, the Children of India’s GOOD team brought over an expert therapist, Meena. K. Jain to provide mental health awareness sessions to the children of Devadasis. She is a specialized trainer, therapist, and interventionist with vast experience of 3 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:
- If schools/colleges would open up
- Whether they would be let to study further
- Fear of Increase in child labor
- Fear of Increase in the number of devadasi dedications
- Fear of Unemployment of parents
The counselor suggested the children talk to their parents regarding their fears and their teachers regarding any issues related to the re-opening of schools. She also motivated them to ask for a home-schooling option at least as long as the covid situation prevails. She guided them on not to pent up their feelings and emotions, but instead, asked them to share them with somebody close to them, as it might lead to anger and frustration.
During these tough times, it is extremely important to be there for each other and to maintain one’s mental sanity. 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 mental 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 and destroyed 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.
By Keerthana Vijay , Communications Associate