Light is laughter


Image is an illustration only and does not reflect the actual boys from the story

The three boys ran into the CSJ office playing, hitting one another and laughing. Sameer, Binay and Bipin* are an energetic, mischievous bunch. They had come to meet our lawyer and social worker before their court testimony to go over what had happened to them.

The three boys were walking home from school when two older boys followed behind them. When the busy road emptied, one of the older boys took out a knife and forced the boys into a nearby jungle where they abused and sodomised them.

When our team first met the boys, they would sit quietly and not talk much. Fear surrounding the incident weighed heavily on them. After the abuse, they had stopped going to school and spent a lot of time at home. They quit riding their bicycles outside and playing cricket with their friends.

A common myth about child sexual abuse is that mostly girls are victims. That’s simply not the case. In fact, boys are just as likely as girls to experience sexual harm. But social pressure keeps them quiet. They pretend nothing happened and hide any fear they might have because boys are supposed to be tough.

Slowly the boy’s laughter returned. After our team had a complete picture of their story, we focused more on what they needed to heal. They started cracking jokes again. Now, when the three boys visit, they burst into the office and interact with our entire team. Of course, the abuse’s impact remains, but they are taking steps forward. All the boys have returned to school and they’re starting to venture outside again.

For the smallest boy Bipin, he has been the most vocal about the abuse. He says speaking about it and expressing his emotions has made him feel better. It helped the fear and heaviness to lighten. Often, just sharing one’s story in a safe, supportive environment helps in the healing process...and helps the laughter return.

* Names changed to protect identity

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Light is a new beginning | Tara's story


In the eyes of many young women who’ve been sexually harmed, justice means overcoming stigma and shame attached to abuse and moving forward with their lives. To live with a supportive family, and even starting a family of their own. Tara’s story beautifully portrays this new beginning.

Tara was 16 years old when she moved from West Bengal to Delhi to live with her father and his parents. While she slept between her father and uncle, her uncle would molest her.

When children find the strength to disclose sexual harm, many times those closest to them refuse to believe. Tara’s grandmother thought she was lying. Her grandfather beat her up and locked her in a room. After two weeks though, Tara escaped from her father’s home.  When a case was reported to police, she was placed in a protective shelter.

Tara longed to return to her village in West Bengal where her mother lived, so she could escape the blame and hostility her father’s family cast on her. The CWC only restored Tara to her mother’s custody after she finished her court testimony, more than a year after the case was registered with police.

Recently, we spoke with Tara and she was excited to share about her new life with her husband and their son who she had delivered a few months before.  “One of the most common concerns that girls and their families have post abuse is how it will impact their future in terms of marriage,” CSJ social worker Deborah says. “Tara has been able to cross that barrier.”

Tara had found love and acceptance within her new family, including from her husband’s parents. She had found a new beginning.

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Light is Empowerment

Seema_3.jpegTanvi captured this image--a key unlocking a door--as an illustration of light to her

Our team has known Tanvi* for quite awhile now. Her case came to us in September 2014.  Despite all that’s happened in her young life, she is warm and loving, always ready to greet you with a hug.  

Tanvi was abused by her younger brother, father and an elder neighbor, who was like a grandfather to her. When she told her sisters about the abuse, they warned her to keep quiet and not tell anyone.  But she confided in a worker from a local community-based organisation, who helped her report the case to police. As the case wound its way through the criminal justice system, Tanvi received no support from her family. They call her a liar and claim she was mentally challenged.

Still, we've seen Tanvi transform from doubting herself and questioning why her family didn't believe or trust her, into a confident, empowered young woman.

This strength is rooted in people who’ve come around and supported Tanvi during this difficult time. She has bloomed as a result of unwavering efforts of staff from the shelter home where she lives. A job has given her confidence in her own abilities. Tanvi is developing her own views and learning how to ask questions and express herself. She feels deeply about injustice and wants to help others in need.

In April 2017, Tanvi’s case ended in acquittal. It was difficult to share the news with Tanvi. While the outcome disturbed her, she hasn't stopped believing in herself. "Just because the court or my family do not believe me, does not mean what happened to me is not wrong or hasn’t happened," Tanvi told CSJ social worker Deborah. "I know my truth and I will stand by it."

This is a beautiful picture of an empowered young woman.

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Light is Justice


Many times, people equate convictions in court with justice.  While convictions validate a victim’s story and may play an important role in securing justice, true justice requires much more.

Navya* is quiet and shy but has a constant smile on her face. She grew up in a village in northern India. After her father died, her mother re-married and sent Navya to live with her aunt. Life with her aunt was not easy, Navya was mistreated and forced to drop out of school. A woman from her village convinced Navya to accompany her to Delhi to work and study. Instead, the woman dropped her at a placement agency, which put her to work as domestic help.

Navya’s hopes for a better future began to disappear.  A year after she started working, the agent ended her placement assignment and brought her back to the agency. He told her she had to sleep with him to get another placement. When Navya refused, he physically assaulted her. A few weeks later, he locked her in a room, and for three days raped her. With the help of a friend, Navya escaped and was placed in a shelter home.

Navya was adamant about testifying and for the agent to go to prison. She wanted her voice to stop her abuser from harming others. In fact, she hopes more girls stand up to those who harm them.

But true justice—justice that heals and repairs harm arising from abuse—often requires more than a conviction. In Navya’s case, she needed support to overcome shame and stigma related to the abuse and to move forward with her life. After she testified, staff from the shelter home where she stayed helped Navya rebuild her life. She was trained as a seamstress and enrolled in school. In 2015, when she turned 18 years old, she transitioned to a home for young women and got a job in a garment company. She earned a salary and opened a savings account as she grew in independence.

In October 2018, the court awarded Navya Rs. 1.25 lakh (approximately $1,800) financial compensation to help transition into life outside the young woman’s home. Navya plans to use the money to start her own garment shop with a few other girls from the home. Beyond giving Navya needed financial assistance, the compensation symbolises that her voice was heard and her story validated.

A voice heard; a story shared, believed and validated; support from people who care; education, employment and financial compensation to overcome stigma and shame—these points of light transcend courtroom justice to form a more beautiful, richer mosaic of justice.

*Name changed to protect identity

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Light is finding your voice


It’s extremely difficult for youth who have been sexually harmed to disclose abuse, and even more difficult to report a case to police. When survivors share their stories about sexual harm, it allows them to regain a bit of control taken from them when they were abused.

Bhoomi is a quiet and studious teenage girl who was raised by her father. After a fight with her stepmother, she ran away and was abused in the home of her friend’s friend. When the CSJ team first met Bhoomi, she was very hesitant to share about her experiences. She carried immense shame and blamed herself for what had happened.  But as we prepared Bhoomi to give truthful testimony, she began to open up about the abuse.

An important need for survivors as they heal from sexual harm is to be believed and supported when they disclose abuse, especially from family. In fact, family support is almost always needed for a child to testify truthfully in court. In Bhoomi's case, her father believed her when he heard about the abuse and this support strengthens her as she pursues justice.

Bhoomi’s speaking her truth is the first step in erasing shame attached to the abuse. “Bhoomi inspires us because she's taking steps to not let the abuse define her or her life,“ CSJ lawyer Avaantika says. Adds CSJ social worker Nikita, “Her father’s support played a big part in that too.”

As CSJ explores how to use restorative justice (RJ) within the Indian context, we've learned it has so much potential to help survivors find their voice. Unlike the criminal justice system, the purpose of RJ is not about establishing guilt. In fact, offenders must admit the crime to participate in RJ processes. Rather, it's about creating a safe, supportive environment where survivors can ask questions, explain a crime's impact and work towards a solution that repairs harm caused by the crime. 

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Light is Courage

As I look back on CSJ's journey, it's been encouraging when people express how they are moved by our work. In late 2013, shortly after CSJ started operations, CSJ supporter Kimberly Hocking painted a watercolor and wrote a poem that reflected the courage of one of our first cases: a gangrape of a teenage girl named Archana. The case details are less important than Archana's courage to report the case and pursue justice in court. The watercolor and poem continue to inspire, so I share them here.



Archana’s courage

Arise my soul and fight
Sing my song of light
Arise oh courage
Teach me to stand
to sing
to say “hope”
to bring forth a new day
Arise my soul
and laugh
and cry
and learn again to fly
For you were made to be
a thing of beauty
a person of light
a winged hope
a joyous delight.

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Light is a child's resilience


Every time we meet Rahil, he exudes warmth and has a smile on his face. His sense of responsibility and capacity to love his family is uncommon for an 8 year old boy, especially with how much hurt he has already experienced.

Rahil was raised by his mother because his father abandoned him. His mother died, so he and his brothers were placed in a shelter home. That’s where Rahil was sexually harmed the first time, by another boy a few years older than him. Later, the father who had been absent most of Rahil’s life reappeared. When Rahil went to stay with him during a short vacation, his father sexually abused him too.

Despite all this, Rahil longs for his family’s brokenness to be restored. “His ever present smile and warmth is inspiring,” CSJ advocate Avaantika says of Rahil. “Despite all that has happened to him, he talks about forgiving his father.”

This resilience--an unextinguished capacity to love and forgive--is light from an unexpected source. “Rahil’s resilience makes us never want to lose faith in people,” CSJ social worker Deborah says. “Because no matter what he’s been through, he continues to want to forge new relationships and repair broken ones.”

As our team helps prepare Rahil to tell the truth in court, we struggle with how to handle Rahil’s longing to forgive his father. His capacity to forgive is beautiful. But the reality is criminal proceedings offer no space to forgive; its objective is to establish a person’s guilt and assign punishment. A person has no incentive to admit what he has done, because it would lead to punishment.

Yet Rahil wants his family restored, and the starting point would be for his father to admit what he’d done and he was wrong.  It would shine light on the wrong and validate Rahil’s story. Indeed, such a conversation would give space for Rahil to forgive and for his father to receive forgiveness, either then or at some point in the future.

Restorative justice gives space for these conversations because it views justice as more than punishment. It’s about repairing individual harm, rebuilding relationships and as much as possible making things right.  

While restorative justice creates conditions that could lead to forgiveness, it does not mandate it. Rahil’s desire to forgive is beautiful because it’s unique and flows from a childlike innocence free from anger and hatred. He wants his family back and for things to be okay.

More often, people who’ve been harmed participate in a restorative justice processes because it empowers them and helps them regain control of their lives. They can share their story, ask questions and explain how much they’ve been hurt. Those who have caused harm must take responsibility for what they’ve done and admit they were wrong. In some cases they apologize without deflecting blame or minimizing responsibility. This helps the person harmed feel validated and supported. Often it helps them heal. At some point, maybe even long after the restorative justice process, if ever, a person may choose to forgive.

CSJ seeks justice that fosters healing, including forgiveness if that's what a person wants.  At some point after the trial is over, we hope Rahil can meet his father and hear him admit his crime and sincerely apologize. At that point, we hope Rahil still has the courage and will to forgive.

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2018 Light Campaign launch

Between now and the end of the year, the Light Campaign highlights stories of beauty, hope and gratitude as we seek to raise $40,000 (Rs. 28 lakh) to pursue true justice and healing for children who have experienced sexual harm in India.

“The wound is the place where Light enters you.”

-  Rumi

Light_campaign_2018.jpgCSJ’s work is hard on so many levels. Our team supports children who have experienced horrible injustice and intimate betrayal. On a daily basis, they work closely with these children and their families, and their stories bring us close to the ugly side of humanity.

As we touch this darkness, it’s important we learn to see light in our work: the laughter and smiles of children who visit our office; the courage of parents who stand with their children, despite shame and dishonour it brings; the strength of a girl who opens up about her abuse, words too long suppressed, with one of our social workers.

As CSJ completed five years in operation this year, often I reflected on the journey we have taken. It’s difficult to start an organization in India, especially as someone outside the culture. There are ups and downs. At times, it appears bleak, dark.  So in gratitude, I dwelled upon the light--successes, milestones and people, including you--that have become part of CSJ’s historical fabric.

Today, we launch the Light Campaign to celebrate the stories of hope, beauty and light of our work and our CSJ’s history. We’ll share stories about the children we work with. But we’ll also share about the points of light that inspired, supported and guided us on where we have reached on this journey as an organization.

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True Justice is Healing: Navya and Ujala's Stories

Through June 15, we will be raising $40,000 USD for our work (Rs. 4 lakh in India) and sharing stories from our clients to highlight themes of true justice like safety, participation, healing and accountability.

Click here to donate from the US and here from India.

Navya*, a teen, worked as a maid in Delhi when her employer began harassing her, alleging Navya had a boyfriend. So her placement agency owner took Navya back to his rented home. There, he threatened, tortured and raped her for a month.

Ujala*, an orphan child, lived with her younger siblings at their uncle's house when her two cousins began sexually abusing her. The abuse continued for three years, despite Ujala asking her aunt and sister-in-law for help. Ujala eventually ran away from home and reported the abuse to police. 

Counsel to Secure Justice has been advocating for Navya and Ujala in the justice system. But outside the courtroom, True Justice is healing from trauma and finding hope and purpose after sexual abuse.

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True Justice is Sharing Truth

Through June 15, we will be raising $40,000 USD for our work (Rs. 4 lakh in India) and sharing stories from our clients to highlight themes of true justice like safety, participation, healing and accountability.

Click here to donate from the US and here from India.

After an argument with her stepmother, 15-year-old Bhoomi* visited her upstairs neighbor and friend. He persuaded Bhoomi to leave her family and meet his friends. “I’ll keep you happy,” he said. Then he sent her with a friend to another house.

Bhoomi’s voice wavers as she comes to this part in the story. She first told the police that the boy and ma’am in the house gave her a powder for her headache. After that, Bhoomi passed out. She regained her senses with the boy pinning her down and sexually assaulting her.

Bhoomi was scared to tell the truth. She didn’t know who would believe the real story and who would blame her for her own rape. She felt ashamed about what really happened.

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