There’s a story that Dr. Prasanna Poornachandra, the founder of The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC), likes to tell that is equal parts uplifting and tragic.
It’s the life of a woman named Yashoda. Six years ago she came into contact with PCVC as a burn survivor who had self-inflicted as a result of domestic violence. So severe were her injuries that she required 35 surgeries. She had lost her nose and eyes and had to have reconstructingsurgeries for her face. At the time, she was chastised by people around her for being a “burden” to her parents.
Today,despite the fact that she still can’t see properly and is severely scarred, she has a job in a private limited company. She is a mentor for other burn victims who are taken in by PCVC and she loves to tell the world that she is the one who is taking care of her parents despite her disabilities.
The story of triumph in tragedy is one that Chennai-based organisation PCVC likes to tell the world about survivors of violence.
While pursuing her PhD in Criminology from Madras University, Dr. Prasanna, went to Japan to pursue a PGD in Victimology. While there, she came in contact with a number of facilities that provided specific assistance to survivors of violence, the likes of which did not entirely exist in India. Hence, along with two other women, she started the organisation in Chennai in 2001. Initially, it was more of an experiment to see if such a centre would be feasible. Today, 16 years later, having helped thousands of women in the city, the centre has shown its mettle and continues to provide interventions and rehabilitation to those in need.
“One thing we realised after our first year is that the majority of victims of domestic violence are women and that it affects people from all economic strata. But there were no resources or assistance or support services available for them. There are no services to support the children of domestic abuse survivors. So that’s what we do. We counsel these women. We counsel their children. We support them,” answers Dr. Prasanna plaintively.
Those services include group sessions with children from violent households who are made to “unlearn everything they have learnt.” They are taught that violence is actually abnormal and should not be tolerated.
And women from such homes are provided educational support and vocational training. They are also provided tools to help get integrated back into society.
While there are several programmes running concurrently, the biggest initiative undertaken by the organisation is the complete and holistic rehabilitation of burn victims – 2,000 of them till date.
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“A few years ago, Kilpauk Medical Centre contacted us about providing assistance to the victims who come to their burns ward. They get about 40-50 women every month and majority of them, including those with injuries that are self-inflicted, come from abusive households. Even when the doctors treated them, the women or their families would give false contact details to prevent any follow-ups. That’s when we came in.”
For starters, PCVC has an office in the burns’ ward to provide assistance the moment a patient arrives. They have two full-time staffers who provide these women with counselling and also nutrition. They are given a lot of protein to help them recover faster and are also provided with clean bedsheets at the hospital.
Once they are discharged, the centre then makes sure it collects the right address and contact details for its database. A team from PCVC then would conduct home visits, which includes home care specialists to take care of the survivors.
Once they have healed, the women are then taken to the centre’s rehab facility and undergo about seven hours of physiotherapy daily that includes yoga and massage therapy. They are also given a series of psycho-social interventions, along with art therapy, group therapy and family counselling. They are also made to go on social outings so they can start getting comfortable with their scars while out in public. Once the entire process is over, the women are given a choice to either continue in the facility or return to their homes. And the choice, while entirely theirs, comes from informed consent.
“They are empowered now about what constitutes violence and what they should not tolerate. But we don’t make the decision for them.”
The women who choose to stay are also given vocational training. In fact, a group of women from PCVC now work in the kitchens of Writer’s Cafe, the city’s new popular eatery. Some find jobs in the IT sector, a lot end up learning baking, but most importantly, they are taught to live again.
Sadly, they are still shunned by society at large.
“Our society puts far too much premium on looks and on the colour of the skin. Hence when these women with scarred faces are out and about, people stare at them or simply refuse to engage. We care too much about good looks and these women suffer. That should change because they are also very much part of the society,” muses Dr. Prasanna.
However, these women are resilient. They have seen tough times and weathered them. They have survived far worse.
They know how to live.
PCVC can be contacted here