In August 2015, Pooja, Nadiya, Adrija and Mitali of Wilson College came together to start a dialogue about sexual violence they all had experienced in their lives. What began as a support group for gender-based violence, quickly turned into a forum to discuss mental health issues because of the two are closely related. The idea was then picked up by Aarti, Neha and Shubham who set up The Circle at Usha Pravin Gandhi College. Today, two years later, they are a full-fledged community which spreads awareness about sex education, gender-based violence and mental health, through weekly sessions that include sharing, relaxing exercises, discussions on relevant topics, workshops and activities including music, painting and movie screenings.
Due to the stigma associated with mental health, and lack of dialogue around sexual violence, The Circle aspires to create a safe and nonjudgmental space where anybody can open up about their stories or just be there and listen. The only rule they follow is, what is spoken in The Circle stays within The Circle. ‘Mental First Aid’ workshops to help people support themselves and others are also conducted. That being said, each session emphasises upon the importance of seeking help and going to a professional. “It’s important to know how to communicate with someone who has just been through a traumatic incident or a person who is depressed,” says Aarti who was molested by her tuition teacher for two years from the age of 11.
After attending a Healing Trauma workshop conducted by The Circle, she plucked the courage to confront him. “I went up to his house with Pooja, Nadiya and a few others who had come for the workshop, and read a letter I had written, which talked about how his actions had negatively impacted me, and how I had forgiven him. He apologised. His wife gave me a hug and assured me that he was a changed man and truly repented his actions.” Aarti suffered from a psychosomatic back ache for 10 years which magically disappeared after this cathartic episode. She became a new person and broke her pattern of abuse, victim identity and self-blame.
The Circle seeks to collaborate with art and movement therapists, psychologists and healers. They also hope to organise more corporate and school level workshops in addition to speaking to parents about how to deal with their children’s issues related to dating, sex education and other related topics. They are doing sessions across Mumbai, Pune and Hyderabad and will head to Chandrapur in November.
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