Danger Is Back

Many months ago the police finally cleaned out the criminals.  They cleaned out drugs, prostitution, and guns.  This was all right next to our home at the end of the lane.  One of the criminals, wanted for murder, is still on the run, though he has made brief appearances.  His son, whose family is here, is apparently out on bail.  He has come around at times, but mostly stayed away.

He is back, in full force.  He has been trying to involve one of our girls, though he has a wife and child, and other children around of course.  He tried to get her to steal money to give him.  He harasses us outside out gate.  It’s been annoying, but now for the last three days he is blaring music throughout the day and long into the night.  He is playing love songs so loud that with our windows closed it still comes in very loud.

Bijoy threatened him when he learned he was going after on of our girls.  That took courage, but I think the music is also revenge.

Two nights ago I went out late and asked him and his mother to turn the music down, which they did eventually.  But it was a Pooja celebration and I thought it would stop the next day.  This is the third night.  Yesterday he almost ran down one of our Board Members who was coming.  I heard that one neighbor had complained.  This criminal is supposed to be under close police supervision but one never knows which side the police are on.  And I guess everyone is afraid of him because I can’t be the only one whose home space has been invaded by sound.

In the past, the local “CLUB” and the police were involved with cleaning them out.  For whatever reason I feel more vulnerable now, maybe because as bad as his father was in some ways, he also kept his son in check at times.  And he is targeting us.

Sound gets to me.  I’m reminded of Penn Station in NYC where they blast music at night so people can’t sleep in the station. I tell myself I may just have to learn to live with it.  I even tried telling myself I might enjoy the music if I let myself.  I have lots of ways of trying to convince myself!  They aren’t working.

I lived with death threats here for years, with riots, with police here when I could get them.  But I thought that was all in the past. In the US, you look for a house in a cul-de-sac because it’s safer for children to play.  But here it’s the opposite.  If you live at the end of the lane, you are vulnerable to everyone along the way to your house.  If they have enough power they can stop the police from coming, which they mostly were able to do.  When I was doing renovations the criminals would stop the contractors and demand money.  

Sometimes it’s not easy, what I’m doing.  But then, that’s why I’m here.  I’m the wall between the girls and precisely that harsh and dangerous world out there.

 

Rape… “too much for the reader to deal with.”

Rehearsing for a performance of dance and song, everyone.

Rehearsing for a performance of dance and song, everyone.

I’m Stuck!  I keep starting posts and deleting them, at least six times over the last few weeks.  Fear stops me.

The picture I posted is not what I imagined I’d pick.  I was thinking something sad, related to what I haven’t said yet.  The picture is of a singing rehearsal for the Movement, Dance, and Song program we are putting on next month. At Shishur Sevay we have Dance & Movement three times a week, and Singing & Harmonium twice a week.   We have dances now that include everyone.  One dance is a train, with the older girls pushing along the chairs with the girls who cannot walk.  In other dances, we have harnesses that the older girls use to swing the younger ones as they dance.  Most of the time we dance and sing to the songs of Tagore.  I want to get someone to film the small event.  The picture above is reflective of what it is like at Shishur Sevay these days.  We are no longer living crisis to crisis.

So how do we talk about sexual abuse without “spoiling the atmosphere?”  It is so incredibly easy to ignore.  Like others, I was shaken by the gang rape in Delhi, and then the rape, mutilation, and death of the five year old.   Both these events galvanized the country.

But I also started thinking about what happens every day….  I thought about what one of my girls said of her life before Shishur Sevay, “You beg in the day; then the men use you at night; then you beg again in the morning.”  I thought about the sexual abuse in orphanages…. and I thought about our experience with one of the girls sexually abusing another, in fact, abusing the children with disabilities who cannot protest and cannot tell.  I thought about the pacts of silence around abuse, here, there, everywhere.  Shishur Sevay has become Zero Tolerant with regard to abuse.  There has to be a safe place.  The victims have to come first.  Still, you can’t be zero tolerant unless you can find out what is going on.  All the doors in our house have glass panes.  We have CCTV with cameras all over.  Nothing is ever enough.  Evil has its way of seeping through.

I wrote a book, “The Preteen’s First Book About Love, Sex, and AIDS,” published in 1995 by American Psychiatric Press.  I wrote, “The crossing of sexual boundaries between people, whether in word or touch, seems to cause deeper wounds and greater shame than any other kinds of abuse.  The person who commits the crime of sexual abuse seems to pass on the shame and humiliation to the victim.”

What then do we tell the children?  Do we “normalize” abuse as something that may happen, but isn’t their fault?  What are we saying then about our cultures, and I use plural because these problems are universal.  This is not an India problem except that it has attention now, and because I live here with children who have been abused, and may very well be abused in the future as women, women alone, women as wives, women as cognitively or physically impaired.

I looked again at the picture I posted above, and posted it again.  It’s the same picture but having talked about sexual abuse, it’s not quite the same because we are not quite the same when we see behind the wall.

Rehearsal for a Performance of Dance and Movement, and Song

Rehearsal for a Performance of Dance and Movement, and Song, Everyone

At Shishur Sevay we are also starting tabla classes.  I bought two sets, so two girls could take their lessons at once.  I unpacked the tablas yesterday and then I started tapping the daya and soon I was far away, not thinking about anything, tapping to ancient rhythms that took the troubles out of my mind space.

`Dr. Harrison playing with the new tabla, getting lost in the sound.

I read that tabla is an ancient language, “Everything that is to be played on tabla can be spoken; in fact, everything that is to be played must first be spoken.”  So here are some spoken words I hope one day to be able to play in the language of the tabla.

Rape

I forgot for a moment

I had been raped, for

One moment forgotten,

In eighteen years remembering —

Eighteen years is

for fear,

Eighteen years is

for hate,

Eighteen years is

for pain,

Eighteen more years, for

One more moment, of

Forgetting

I had been raped.

MH

11/76

My first book, “A Woman in Residence,” Random House 1982, now in Kindle, is an autobiographical account of my training in obstetrics and gynecology.  The manuscript I submitted to the publisher included the story of my having been raped at knife-point when I was 17, but the editor insisted I take it out.  She said, “It’s too much for the reader to deal with.”  I went along with her, too vulnerable to argue.

My fear?  I guess I just discovered it, “too much for the reader to deal with.”

Let my dialogue begin.  I have been too silent for too long.

She Wasn’t an Orphan

I faced a hard decision.  The child we brought home from CWC on 24 September is not an orphan.  She has a mother, sisters, aunts, uncles,  and cousins.  As I had guessed, she was part of a community of beggars, thieves, and goondas.  The woman who brought her in was some sort of boss.  All of this has unfolded over the last several weeks.  The woman who had brought her to CWC called us almost daily, showed up unannounced, and the child mostly did not want to see her.  Over the next few weeks we learned that the child’s mother lived right next door to that woman, with her younger sister, and that “L”, our girl would take care of her mother in the day (maybe).  The mother was said to be mad, but L told us this was just so people would give her money.  L missed all of them, and missed the freedom of her life.  At the same time she also loved being here, enjoyed the other girls, and started to learn the alphabet.

So, what’s the problem?  First of all, I’ve been at this work for 12 years and I have a good idea of who I can help and who I cannot help.  I cannot help this child.   I can feed her, but I cannot change the direction of her life.  Ultimately she would not stay and ultimately the family/community would not leave her here.  As long as she wants to go home, she will not tolerate any of the discipline, self discipline, and work of being part of our life, family, home.  She will always be different.  I’ve seen it too often.  She has a place to go, not a great place, but she has family, people of her life, who she wants to be with.  She will never feel, “Amar barrie Shishur Sevay.” or “My home is Shishur Sevay.”

Second, I left the US, sold my home and took my savings to come here and do this work.  I want to care for orphans, the one’s who do not have what this child has.  The girls at Shishur Sevay are without choice.  The one girl who has a family still wants to join them.  She probably will when she is 18 in seven months.  India has a horrible problem of beggar children.  There even are laws against it, but they are ignored.  It’s a problem I cannot begin to address because it’s fueled by organized crime, police, politicians, the people who get paid off to do nothing.  It’s simply not what I sold my house for.

Third, my commitment to the girls here is really lifetime.  That’s what my money is for.  I stay here, miss my family in the US, including my grandchild, because I care for children who would not be OK without me.   I’m not willing to make that sacrifice for a child with alternatives.   My daughter and son-in-law in the US feel a commitment to our girls, but this one is not an orphan and does not belong here.

Fourth, it is not OK to have a home of orphans, children who unfortunately carry the “shame” of  that label, to have a child who is automatically “above” that label.  Whatever WE may think of L’s community, she is accepted there.  Our Shishur Sevay girls have NO PLACE they are accepted.  Our girl who will return to her family when she is 18 wants to be where she IS ACCEPTED.    Before taking L back, the girls and I talked, because for them also it was hard to have her leave.  But our girl who is almost 18 was clearest, ‘Mummy, she will be like me.  She will want to stay with her family.”

So we went, Gibi, Purba, Maggie, “L”, and me.  I had prepared a letter for CWC stating much of what I’ve written above.  I also had the original CWC Order giving her to us, which described her as an orphan.   I brought the government form for signing a child out of care.  We arrived to be met by an angry group of her relatives, fighting with each other and accusing us of keeping her in a bad place.  Gibi threatened to call the police for fraud.  I missed a lot of it as I took the child inside and Purba made sure we got ourselves on the appointment list.  Among the group were the woman who signed her in, the woman who said she was the child’s mother, the younger sister, a woman who said she was the community representative of some sort, and a couple of others.  They were there to reclaim their child.  They were angry with the woman who had “relinquished” her, and now said she was actually the grandmother and the woman said to be mad was her daughter.

I had prepared myself for this CWC meeting differently.  Bringing this child back was difficult.  I had to do this for the security of Shishur Sevay, and the protection of the other girls.  I took out my business card, kept it in front of me as a reminder, and tried to stay in the mode of being the lawyer for Shishur Sevay.  Shishur Sevay became my client.   The CWC woman whom I’ve known now for years, was very astute with these people and ended up saying she had no idea who was telling the truth, but since no one could prove they were even a relative, she couldn’t return the child to them.  She turned to me and said I’d have to keep her for now.  I said very calmly, “No, I don’t have to keep her.  This “Order” you wrote says she is an orphan and she is not.  This is your failure to find out.”  She agreed I was right.  Sitting at the long table was also someone from  CINI (Children In Need Institute), which is the largest organization working with these children.  The official said that CINI would take her.  This is actually very good because they will investigate and they will keep her in a shelter if they decide not to return her to those people.  They have staff, social workers, project and program directors, informants, investigators, and connections to high places.   A social worker came into the CWC meeting room and took “L”  back to the waiting area where she joined about 20 other children sitting on mats, also waiting to go to CINI.  “L” was tearful and another girl moved closer to comfort her.

Hundreds, thousands of children pass through this way.   That’s really where the label “SHAME” belongs.

Today I did what I had to for, Shishur Sevay.

Shishur Sevay at the End of the Lane

It has been hard explaining exactly what is the trouble, and why we have to move, but we can still stay in the general neighborhood.  So I made a picture.  When I was a kid I spent hours and hours drawing house plans.  I’d browse magazines of house plans.  I’d imagine common space and individual rooms.  I liked simple designs, “L” shaped… So I went online last night to look at house plans and ended up downloading a trial version of SmartDraw.  I took a landscape template and spent much of today making a picture that represents our situation.  In a way, working on the diagram has been an escape, a meditation on our situation.

We live at the end of the lane.  The houses in RED represent threats to us.  House A monitors all visitors and staff, listens to people talk as they go by, comments on the children, and eventually repeats all he hears to whomever will listen.  He is a man with political power.  As I wrote below, none of the other men will come past his house to help us. 

  END-OF-LANE4

Then there is House B, a partner to House A, who also rents out shacks in the area, and thus he controls the tenants.  Recently he opened a tiny store right next to Shishur Sevay.  The music blasts through the neighborhood, so even people who would otherwise talk quietly outside are yelling to each other.

Once out on the road our situation is better, and probably as good as it might be anywhere.  We are known, and respected.  We shop at local stores. Our girls go to school and meet other local children at the bus stops.  I am often referred to affectionately as “Mother Teresa of our Area.”  It’s really funny.  We have a good relationship with the rickshaw wallahs, as I have helped some of their kids, and I always tip well.  If you take a rickshaw from the nearest major road and ask for “The foreign lady with the children,” they will take  you right to our house.

How did we get into such a mess?  Well, House A has a small fan factory in his ground floor.  The owner of that factory was someone we knew for years and trusted.  He is the one who showed us the house, and when I went to see it and walked past his little factory in House A, I thought how nice it was to be close to people I knew.  I wasn’t alone in this.  The rest of the Board thought it was fine too.  You don’t have to be a foreigner to be fooled.

I want us to stay in the neighborhood because Gibi and Seema are close by and they are our support, the ones we call if we need help, if I have to take a child to the hospital, if I am sick — they are part of our DAILY lives.  They too are part of the neighborhood and their presence and support add to our security — except at the end of the lane.  They can’t help us here BECAUSE they are part of our support.

The girls have had a good day, a mixture of schooling, story telling, dance, and now TV.  The radio outside is blaring but I don’t even try to do anything as we will be moving.  I’m also working on a wishlist of what we want/need.  We need space, accessible space.

I was going to save this for another blog, but here goes: 

 SAFETY AND PROXIMITY TO THE CURRENT LOCATION

    • IN SAFE LOCALITY
    • PLOT BOUNDARY WALLS
  • HOUSE — STRUCTURALLY SOUND FOUNDATION, WALLS, ROOF 
  • WATER SUPPLY
  • ELECTRICAL SYSTEM GROUNDED FOR MODERN TECHNOLGY
  • PLUMBING – SANITATION 
  • ACCESSIBILITY
    • FROM OUTSIDE
    • WITHIN HOUSE
  • HOUSE – MUCH OPEN AND COMMON SPACE, WITH MOVABLE DIVIDERS 
    • 1500 SQ FT GROUND FLOOR
    • CLASSROOMS AND REHAB FOR HANDICAPPED CHILDREN –LARGE SPACE WITH PARTIAL DIVIDERS-MOVABLE 
    • OFFICES
    •  KITCHEN AND PANTRY
    •  DINING ROOM
    • BATHROOMS
    • MEDIA ROOM AND LIBRARY
  • 1500 SQ FT FIRST FLOOR.
  •     DORMITORY SPACE
  •     DRESSING ROOM
  •     CLASSROOMS
  •     SUPERINTENDENT’S ROOM
  •     LAUNDRY ROOM
  •     SUPPLY ROOM
  • Roof
  •     laundry lines
  •     play areas

     Garden

    •  play area
    •   covered jacuzzi

              RABBIT HOUSE

Today I learned that the girls were worried about Jelly our dog and also our rabbit — would we take them?  I told them the story of how I once bought a battery operated aerating travel tank to move my angel fish from Boston to Pittsburgh.  I told them Jelly will come with us.

That reminds me about the wild dogs who live outside and howl all night.  The post office won’t deliver mail here because of the wild dogs.  Letters are left at that “friendly factory” for us.  Sometimes I carry a cane or umbrella just to keep the dogs from us.

You know, it really is bad.  I worry sometimes about just being a wimp.  Well, maybe I am but it’s time to wimp out and get my kids and me to the other end of the lane.

It’s ten and I’m heading for bed.  The girls are watching TV as it is Saturday night.  A few nights ago I went to bed and asked, “Is everyone asleep?”  I got several, “Yes, mummy,” responses.  So I asked WHO was asleep and the sleepers revealed their names,,,, and yeah, they finally got it and we all had a good laugh.  I love my life here.  It’s hard but there is nothing else I would want to be doing now in my life.  I just have to get us to the other end of the lane… HELICOPTER?

 W-Crowsnest_8535CR-psdWWeb-0101

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