Juveniles, justice and anguish: roots of mental suffering

As October ends, two new beginnings have been made- both among populations of people in ‘prisons’. I am saying that though technically juveniles are not seen as criminals and neither is the facility where they are housed called a prison. It is called an ‘observation home’. My reading of it tells me it is nothing short of a prison

As part of laying the foundations down for the non-profit, Hansadhwani we are currently activating its mental health arm (Antardhwanee) in multiple domains- one of them of course is the counseling work done in private. But the other two ventures, viz counseling of juveniles and counseling of prison inmates is more in the public domain. In other words, we are moving forward on a social turf now.


Both facilities are government operated and in both, sadly enough I found the same problem- a large number of innocent people, forced inside in a system which defies logic and perhaps where the head fits the noose, the head is pulled in, irrespective of whose it is!

The boys’ home

In the home for the boys, I have till now interacted with two individuals in a longer talk and with a group of nearly 20, together. Barring the first two, who I met on a separate day, I met the group and spent nearly two hours with them this past Monday (24th October 2016). All of them had a charge of attempted rape, Section 376 of the Indian Penal Code. Before I met them I thought I was going to see a big group of sex starved teenagers, who had been cruel and sadistic, committing crimes against known or unknown girls and women. But life is such a learning.

I heard the stories of all of them individually, after a long interactive discussion with them, in full view of the authorities of the ‘home’. Of course nobody talked to me within earshot of another, and yet i found in all just children who wanted to be heard and given justice. There was NOT A SINGLE RAPIST over there- that became clear. I do not think they could have made up the stories. Whether or not they had wronged another, they had been wronged by a system which empowers society and families to charge anyone with a crime of rape, and then the burden of proof lies with the accused. He has to prove he is innocent. What can he prove? He does not know anything!

Most boys were school going youngsters. One (17 years) had eloped with a girl his age and lived with her for a month and upon returning home the girl had been forcibly married to someone and he condemned to the jail. There were a couple of other cases like that. But they were love tangles with few, but extortion rackets with most.In a majority of cases the accusers (girls or their families) were demanding money from the boys and their families to drop the rape charges. Money to the tune of a couple of lakhs in the least.

I kept thinking in what manner I could do anything for them, for these were not boys who were in a correctional facility for they needed correction. They are just caught on the wrong side of the law and someone has framed them. They cannot get bails, because their families are often too poor, and lawyers egg the women/accusers to extract the money, to teach them a lesson! In a few cases the girls wanted to marry the boys, by framing them first! Often

My only concern was that the system should not make them into more hardened criminals and that is the hope I go in, that by talking to them as human beings and respecting the truth of their stories, I will at least acknowledge their reality at my level. I cannot see how a person in their situation would not be mentally disturbed, and yet I can see their dreams, hopes and prayers- that someday they would be bailed out and go home free, and never look back at the prison again. I also felt very deeply that instead of psychological or emotional support, at this juncture they needed legal aid, and people who would stand up for them.

Though that does not mean that we would stop going there, but one hopes that considering these are not children facing the easiest of life’s challenges (trial for a crime not committed), the system would not end making permanent and hardened criminals out of them. Perhaps keeping their sanity and humanity alive in the abysmal conditions of their life (which are truly dehumanizing) we would jointly keep burning the flame of inspiration which all humans carry and need to remember during adversities.

The innocent are caught and the guilty go scot free- this is the reality of modern civilization where it is money, connections and lies all the way. I am sure nobody forgets that in India, especially with the likes of…


Vijay Mallaya still in our midst and whose steam never cools, and the law or police too feeble to get his hand/head in the noose, where it deserves to be!


The power play in university departments

I ought to have written this blog post longer ago, but spinal pain did not permit me to sit at the computer, to last as long as a blog post (naturally the priority is always the emails first of all)

I want to share my dismay at the sheer play of power that I got wind of from a recent dialogue with a graduate student pursuing a masters’ course in psychology in a prominent university in India. As part of the course they are also being offered a six-monthly exposure to counseling (I pray to god, they don’t become counselors after that- it would be a great disaster). As part of that course, they are also invited to undergo their own analysis for the briefest possible span of time. I asked the student how much the time was and who was doing the ‘analysis’.


I was told that one of their professors, (who is known to me as an academic and not a therapist) listens to their dreams and interprets them. So what follows is the memory of my dialogue with the young scholar, that left me troubled and anguished for many days afterwards, but I will share the reasons of that after the dialogue that I quote. I represent me as M and the student as S.

M: So your teacher went through a dream analysis session with you? And what was the outcome of that?

S: The outcome was nothing specific, he gave me an explanation based on symbols, which he said were universal symbols, and which were part of his repertoire.

M: By talking to him, did some clarity emerge in the picture or put is differently, did you benefit from his dream analysis?

S: Yes mam, I gained some clarity in some respects about the dream?

M: What does that mean? Did it leave some unexplained things as well?

S: Actually it opened up some unexpected parts, which were left unattended to.

M: Really?! But there was no further dialogue with the teacher on them?

I was angered, because an academic who is not an analyst is not supposed to interpret dreams out of context for a student. Just because they have the power to demand from students a certain accountability does not mean they can pry open the lives of their students.

Unfortunately, Indian students are very vulnerable and docile by temperament, more so women. They would never think of raising their voice against this sort of an intrusion, which has no accountability. How can a university professor demand that his students tell him their dreams in a sporadic manner and then leave the dreams with whatever interpretation he knows best? There is nothing universal in dreams, except for the imagery. A dream has to make sense and have relevance for the person who sees the dream.

I remember in years of my own analysis with my therapist, we barely discussed dreams on more than two three occasions. It was never the centrality of our dialogues- if I had a dream that I wanted to talk about we did. There was never a nudge from her to share dreams. But whenever I did, the explanations that emerged were very deep and meaningful. I always felt it had been worthwhile to talk it out with her.

But look at this blatant misuse of a teacher’s power in the classroom. Of course he did not publicly hear the student out, but nevertheless when he was not an analyst, did not know what all it takes to unearth the symbolism inherent in a dream, by simply interpreting it in some universal way, he just showed for once again the patriarchal nature of our education system…where the souls of students can be cut open without due regard to their humanity and suffering, without a qualm or a guilt as to what pandora’s box you are opening up for them. SHAME ON HIGHER EDUCATION in India. Will we ever become sensitive towards our fellow human beings?

Open suffering of a failed nation

Two days ago, as I went out to walk the dogs, the retrievers ran up the slope that we climb everyday for our morning rounds. First these two go and then goes the German Shepherd and then in case he wants to go alone, then the elderly Dachshund does, but often he goes out with the retrievers only. Of course he chooses his style on his own, depending upon his inner states or the rain or anything else that he wants. I let him decide mostly, because one has to respect his ageing process.

IMG_20150713_065654274 (1)
The two retrievers- Nikki, the labrador is behind Ginger, the Golden Retriever

A young, chubby kid got up from behind a small slope- I was stunned to see him, but noticed him before he noticed me, and turned my head away. The dogs had also not seen him and only when he fully got up, Nikki and Ginger ran towards him, excitedly- the way they are, playful. Poor child, he just uttered a cry for help. I did not respond still, knowing the dogs would not go so far as him, though he did not know that. The time was between 6:15-6:30 in the morning, the usual time when I am out with the dogs first thing. Then I turned to him and said, “Don’t worry child,” whistled to the dogs, who are quite obedient, and returned to be with me immediately.

The child was performing his morning routine, let me not make anyone guess- he was just defecating- the way millions do in open spaces in India, those without access to proper toilets or having them within their homes. It was a sad thought for me, for here was a child, no matter how old, what his remaining life would be, but to ‘go to the washroom’ he has to wash his backside in an open moutaineous, rocky space, with any number of animals within close proximity. I know of kids being chased by dogs and pigs, on open garbage dumps, when they go to empty their bowels and bladders. We all know of young girls raped, and silenced for the rest of their lives, just because they need to go into dark spaces to perform these very ordinary functions of the body- its tasks of evacuation.

In this country, we are proud to go all over the world, put so many new things in order and reflection, send missions towards the space or other planets, perform complex medical procedures- yet we cannot offer the simplest basic amenities, or provide toilets to people in their homes. I recently read a case of a father and daughter who hold their bowels and bladders for 13 hours at a time- waiting for the shadows to lengthen, so they can go out and relieve themselves. Should this bother anyone? Can you imagine holding your bladdar or bowels, when you have a pressure in them?

Can anyone see this as a mental health concern? Can you imagine how the internal emotional environment be, of such a person? Have you ever experienced constipation for more than a day?

Can we as educated, urban, middle classes even imagine what could be happening to a vast number of people in our country, where every day a part of their struggle is how to  defecate? Perhaps to a lot of people the word itself would be an anathema. Progressively the moved from the coarser word- ‘toilet’ to the more discrete- ‘washroom’. We cannot even utter the word without feeling a bit unclean about it, while our countrymen hold their bowels, squat on railway tracks, walk for miles with bottles of water, just to find a small patch where they can ease their humanity- release their burdens.

I am ashamed of what we have become as a country, as a human race- devoid of any regard for other humans and only too concerned that our lives should continue sans any challenges, which involve another, any sense of what their suffering could be, because at least (for the time being) it is not our’s. I am pained that NGOs become rich and richer in the name of making toilets for others and their heads keep buying and changing cars, whereas the average child, man, woman and girl- needs to wait to relieve themselves. They need to wait, because we need to awaken from our slumbers, our coma of indifference to the plight of millions who risk their lives every day to just be human.

For some reason, I come back to this theme again and again, for it makes me suffer immensely to see this suffering of my fellow human beings. There is no peace in their lives, even in the smallest of issues. These children go to schools that do not have toilets, or any public spaces where they can safely use them…I am reminded of this poem that i wrote long back- it keeps coming back to me- like a picture that haunts.

 Here is what I wrote about the same issue on facebook on 31st May 2014. At that point I could not type it out, neither now. But in the light of the recent rape and murder of the two young girls I am ENRAGED. So before I write about it in other ways, i want to put this poem out, which is parts 4 and 5 of the longer poem Dawn and the Moving Train- fleeting glimpses, from 11th September 2013

These parts are written at the sight of the morning squatters, who dot both sides of rail tracks, answering the call of nature- and at that point i felt a huge sense of loss, sadness, that we in India could not even provide for toilets for a vast majority. But TODAY, I’m terribly ENRAGED…I never use this word so frequently. In the previous part, No.3, i had talked about an urchin begging at 5:30 in the morning


Not much further, on my side of the track

(for naturally enough I cannot see the other)

The track is spattered with men and women

Squatting to evacuate,

Some have their backs to the train

‘N some face it resignedly

Though none looks at the passing beast

To see if someone peeps out of the windows

I am pained-

In my aloof, middle class educated sort of a way

Or may be in my human dignity- oriented sort

I am pained-

(More so) as I see a young girl and by her side a woman

Just a fraction away

One looking down

May be waiting to squat

May be having got up from it

Waiting for the train to roll away

To carry on with their open defaecation

Publicly, openly, with hundreds passing, on a passing train


My country alas we failed thee!

Or did we?

Perhaps those who took control

Over a thousand million’s destiny

Do not have clarity

Except for self interest-

They still go on that way

While we- the majority, resignedly, helplessly

Our backs broken every single day of our miserable lives

For numerous reasons

Having been reduced to a mental slavery

Of machines, cinema, of the media

Of astrologers, cricketers, actors and politicians

Are now inured by our own reality

Unconcerned about our fellow humans

(What to mention other life forms))

live lives blinkered, chasing dreams

That celluloid advertising sells us,

We the idiots, the inhuman slaves of the market

Untouched by the indignity, the suffering

Of our own people, who squat in the open

No matter what season

what part of the nation

For the simple reason

Like us they are also human

Who need to eat and evacuate

Alas! we fail the majority

‘N this NOT THE ONLY way.

Copyrights prateeksha sharma 2013

Imagine if you have to go out and use this area as your toilet. How does it appeal? Yet this is someone’s reality.