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Walking towards hope

R Sriram Srinivas, who has multiple disabilities—mental retardation and spastic diplegia—takes a breather during his yoga session at home. P Settu, his yoga therapist, who has been teaching Sriram two years now, says that Sriram used to be inattentive and restless, but now follows instructions well and has mellowed down significantly.  



Images and text by Naveen P M

Walking towards hope (2/9)

M Vanitha, Sriram's teacher, helps Sriram wear his dance apparel before the start of the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' at Don Guanella Special School in Chennai. Due to Sriram's condition, simple tasks such as putting on clothes can become a chore and he often ends up needing some assistance. 


Walking towards hope (3/9)

Sriram rides his bicycle—fitted with a custom-made backrest—flanked by special education teacher, G V Arumugam. Arumugam has known Sriram for 15 years and was initially hired to teach him basic reading and writing skills. On Sriram's parents' request, he started to assist Sriram in walking and then taught him how to ride a bicycle so he could improve his muscle tone. 

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (4/9)

R Devi helps Sriram read a clock at Sai Sri Ram Training Centre. Sriram has difficulty reading and writing even basic words, and has a hard time grasping universal concepts such as time, date, and money. Devi is Sriram's favorite teacher. Sai Sri Ram Training Centre has eight students with special needs, two teachers, and a domestic help. The school functions from 10 am to 3 pm and keeps the students busy with a plethora of activities such as coloring, computer games, and yoga.


Walking towards hope (5/9)

M R Karthik, physical trainer, subjects Sriram to one of the many "balancing exercises" to improve his balance and correct his "scissor gait". Karthik has been training Sriram for the last two years. "In the beginning, Sriram could hardly stand for a minute on his own and displayed a lot of traits commonly seen in persons with Intellectual Disability (ID), such as lack of eye contact, droning, drooling...," says Karthik.

Read Sriram's story here


Walking towards hope (6/9)

Sriram and his classmates from Sai Sri Ram Training Centre perform to a medley of Bollywood songs at the 'World Differently Abled Day Cultural Programme' held in Don Guanella Special School, Chennai. P Dharani Kumar, a professional choreographer, composed the dance moves for this performance. He visits the school every weekend to teach dance to these students. "Sriram usually has trouble recollecting and executing my dance moves but he stepped his game up through some spontaneous moves," he said. 

Read Sriram's story here

Walking towards hope (7/9)

Sriram is ecstatic after receiving a silver medal for the Standing Long Jump event. His driver, D Alvin (right), and Sriram's mother, R Vanitha, gather around to congratulate him, at the Special Olympics Sports Meet held on YMCA Grounds, Chennai. Sriram shares a special bond with Alvin and the two can often be seen engaging in healthy banter. 


Walking towards hope (8/9)

Sriram does a lap of backstroke at The League Club, Chennai. His parents introduced him to swimming at the age of seven after a doctor suggested hydropathy as treatment. Sriram has been training under U Sathish Kumar, swim coach for children with special needs, for one year now. Sriram won four gold medals in as many events at two swim meets for para-athletes held last year in Tamil Nadu.


Walking towards hope (9/9)

Dr J Paul Devasagayam, Area Director, Special Olympics Bharat, Tamil Nadu, reviews Sriram Srinivas's progress with his mother, R Vanitha, during one of their monthly meetings at his 100-square-foot office in Purasawalkam, Chennai.


All violence, sexual and otherwise, is motivated by power

Assertion of power is often the driving force in abusive behaviors and the primary motivator for violence or harassment
Divya Kannan

The academic community across the world was taken by storm by the anonymous calling out of names of sexual harassers (in academia), in a crowdsourced list anchored by a US-based Indian student. Several men in my social circle - professors, lawyers, working professionals and fathers - began asking if their repuations would remain intact and if they would now have to be more cautious while interacting with female students or employees.

This consideration of cautiousness, new to the men I spoke with, alerted me to one basic difference in privilege and power that I frequently encounter. Women have had to be careful and cautious nearly every day from a young age, be it walking home from school, how they dress, or how they interact with the opposite sex. This caution, or the very idea of it, was a new experience  for my male friends and colleagues, especially when it came to their interactions with women. They did not feel the need to be as deliberate or careful in their interactions with the opposite sex, as women traditionally have had to be. Growing up, they had never been told by parents, teachers, or elders to be more cautious, particularly when they shouldered the responsibility of powerful leadership positions or positions that could impact those who were more vulnerable or disadvantaged in society. This is consistent with the concepts of privilege and power, in which privilege can be characteristically invisible or unidentifiable to those who carry it. In fact, privilege may be granted to people simply because they are a member of a dominant group, whether they want those privileges or not.

It takes willing and non-defensive self-reflection, intentional awareness, and an engagement in dialogue to begin to understand the extent of one’s own privilege and power and how that can impact those with less power and privilege. The recent social media focus on the issue of sexual violence and harassment, has certainly created a space for this thought and conversation to develop. It also nudges psychologists, mental health professionals, victim advocates and education professionals to revisit their understanding of the factors that promote violence. Research on the circumstances under which violence occurs has expanded within the field of mental health, and there has been a concerted effort to move towards descriptions of abuse and violence that more fully convey the power-based dynamics when violence or the threat of violence is present within any given relationship (husband-wife, boss-employee, professor-student, adult- child).

Assertion of power is often the driving force in abusive behaviors and the primary motivator for violence or harassment to occur repeatedly and to be maintained. It is with this lens, that the term power-based personal violence has started to gain momentum for its recognition of power and control as key factors in the implementation of abuse. Power-based personal violence is an all-encompassing term, which includes domestic and intimate partner violence, stalking, emotional abuse, sexual harassment, elder abuse, sexual trafficking, isolating the victim from family and friends and grooming behaviors that intend to intimidate and control. Drugs and alcohol may often be used as facilitative agents to commit these acts of violence. Studies show that the primary motivation for rape is not sex, but rather sex is used as the means to inflict humiliation or pain, to dominate, or control and intimidate the victim.

Risk factors

There are some identified risk factors that point to the higher likelihood of the perpetration of violence within communities. These factors include vast gender inequality at an individual and societal level, unequal gender socialization and differing social norms for men and women/boys and girls, exposure to violence as a child and its subsequent impact on development, high levels of family conflict, lack of skills to cope with stress non-violently, and socioeconomic stressors. Most these issues can be identified early with a goal of preventing further violence.

The term power-based personal violence can also remind us to move beyond an assumption that violence only occurs against women and girls. We need to be more inclusive about our understanding of the reach of abuse, which occurs within non-traditional and non-heterosexual relationships as well as to young boys, males, transgender, and non-binary identified individuals. Power-based personal violence also extends to violence that can occur outside of a relationship, by a stranger or acquaintance, yet still is carried out through an assertion of power over another individual.

The impact of abuse breaks down an individual’s coping systems, complicates their responses to stress, and has far-reaching emotional, psychological, and physical health implications (International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, ISTSS). The psychological impact of victimization can lead an individual to lose their sense of safety and trust in others, their sense of efficacy, self-worth, and productivity. Often they  find it difficult to form and maintain fulfilling relationships, and can develop clinical levels of depression, anxiety, and PTSD ( Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), sexually transmitted infections,  all of which have associated emotional, health-related, and financial costs. Additionally, the effects of power-based personal violence also impacts the family structure and systems and communities that the individual is a part of.  

Daily occurences of power-based violence are at levels unacceptable to all of us, and we are constantly faced with the overwhelming challenge of effectively intervening and reducing violence – all members of our community need to work to bring more attention to this issue, develop more empathy for those who have suffered violence, and educate ourselves and others on the epidemic of power-based violence and ways to prevent it.

Divya Kannan, Ph.D., is a Clinical Psychologist recently relocated to Bangalore from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, USA, where she has spent the last several years working with adult survivors of violence. She is currently a practicing clinician in Bangalore.

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