Written by Paranjaya Mehra
Entrepreneur, adventure enthusiast and philanthrope, Supreet Dhiman, is striving for a world free of incest abuse, in her words, “India’s dirty little secret.” Dhiman, who had started researching about the issue during her postgraduate diploma in Human Rights and Duties at Panjab University, set up an organisation ‘End Incest’, a year later, to spread awareness and provide assistance to the victims.
As Dhiman begun research on the issue, “Ye humare ghar main nahi hota (this does not happen at our home)” was the most common response that she received. However, she continued to pursue the research. She says, “I did not want to go by what the people said in casual conversations. I wanted to thoroughly research and know about its reality on my own.”
Even as many discouraged her from pursuing the research, warning that the abusers may attack her, Supreet was resolute in her pursuit for truth. “I wanted to know about the situations where these abuse occured, the trauma experienced by the victim, the behavioural pattern of the abuser, its frequency, how it is reported in the media and how people react to it, among others,” she says.
Quoting from her research, she says, “As many as 40 per cent of respondents confirmed that they had witnessed an incident of incest abuse. It had not happened with them but they knew someone with whom it had happened. About 18 per cent of respondents confirmed that they had been a victim of incest abuse.”
Talking about the role of educational institutions in preventing incest abuse, she says, “The age when one is most vulnerable to become a victim is age seven to eighteen. These are school children. The age when one is most vulnerable to become an abuser is age 12 to 30. These people are in schools, colleges and corporate houses.”
She says, there is a reluctance on part of the school principals in reporting abuse cases. “I have met principals who have told me that they feel caught up between the law, which makes it mandatory that cases of sexual abuse are reported and on the other side, the victim’s parents, who usually do not want the case to be reported. In between all this, the child suffers,” she adds.
In the last one year, End Incest has held 52 awareness sessions across 11 Indian states and UTs. She says, “We have organised sessions at schools, colleges and universities. People who invite us are still few and far between. Schools are the most reluctant.”
She says, through her efforts, she urges the administration of schools and colleges to allow them to hold awareness sessions on their premises. “When I began, there was a denial that such abuse does not take place. I am glad that at least there is acknowledgement now and we can focus on providing support.”
End Incest supports itself primarily through crowdfunding. In partnership with Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, the organisation also provides free of cost psychosocial counseling in 10 Indian languages apart from English. The organisation’s chapters in different cities, bring together lawyers, doctors and mental health specialists, who further assist the victims in these cities.
Supreet says, “People have suffered for as long as 15-20 years before reaching out for help to end abuse. There are some who we have been helped and now, they are doing good in life, but there are many who remain stuck. If abuse has happened over a long period of time, there is no set time frame for somebody to heal.”