Rapporteur: Sweta Narayanan
Dr. Prasanna Poornachandra is the face of the International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care (PCVC). Like most other NGO’s, PCVC has a story to tell. For someone pursuing a PhD in Criminology with her thesis on studying deviant behaviour in the criminal justice system, Dr. Prasanna’s interests and purpose in life took a drastic turn when she pursued a PGD in Victimology from Japan. The need for a victim assistance and information centre in India struck her as imperative. On her return to India, she was keen on starting one immediately.
Dr. Prasanna and 2 other women started a victim assistance centre in a small room in Parry’s Corner, Chennai. The centre established a strong link with the police, who were the first point of contact in the event of any abuse, anywhere. After a year, the women realised that 90% of the cases that came to them related to domestic violence. And that they did not possess the necessary skills to deal with such cases. But the experience did give them the insight that domestic violence as an issue needed serious, dedicated attention.
In an attempt to understand the gamut of issues that fell under the ambit of domestic violence, the women set out to train in the United States. The experience taught the women what they needed to know about domestic violence and how to deal with its victims. Thus began PCVC’s journey, as the only organisation aiding all sections of the population in fighting domestic violence. According to Dr. Prasanna, her journey with PCVC so far has shown that domestic violence is pervasive, irrespective of class – poor or rich, domestic violence exists. PCVC’s client profile is varied, from wives of police officers and ministers to even NGO workers.
How does the Centre deal with a case of domestic violence? PCVC’s strategy in dealing with domestic violence cases is two-pronged:
- The Centre has a 24 hr crisis helpline, which serves as the starting point. The helpline is manned by office staff till 5.30 PM, after which Dr. Prasanna personally takes over. Victims are contacted this way.
- Victims are then taken to an undisclosed shelter in Chennai, where they are encouraged to start a new life on their own.
In the event that a woman complains to PCVC, the husband is informed (from an undisclosed number) that his wife is safe. This is to ensure that the husband is not subjected to further distress, says Dr. Prasanna. At the shelter, women are encouraged to restructure their lives by learning core life skills like budgeting, managing household affairs and their children’s lives. However, PCVC does not have a planned structure – services are modified as and when there is a need.
Most victims of domestic violence, as is known, are women. How does PCVC deal with perpetrators of the violence, the men? According to Dr. Prasanna, male perpetrators are treated differently – not as ‘bad’ men but as those exhibiting ‘bad’ behaviour. Men in our society have grown up thinking control is part of any relationship and that abuse, especially physical, is acceptable behaviour, she says. Though it is difficult to alter this mindset, treating them as human beings is crucial to resolving any conflict.
The highest priority, in any domestic violence case, is stopping the violence, according to Dr. Prasanna. Hence the first step is to help find a solution to put an end to the violence. Establishment of safety comes next. This is achieved through physically removing women from the place of violence (the home) and providing a ‘safe house’ for the affected women. The final step is empowerment and healing, which gives affected women the confidence to rebuild their lives. Women are often motivated to trace back their desires and aspirations and PCVC guides them towards their goal.
Crisis counselling is a crucial thread across these stages, where women are told what their options are and are advised to evaluate each carefully. This is because walking out of a relationship is not easy, according to Dr. Prasanna. Focussing on the problem (here domestic violence) will not help victims, as this only makes them ruminate over their troubles. Only striving towards a solution can liberate the victim, she believes. Enhancing innate on strengths and competencies to carve out an improved life is the way ahead. The overarching objective is to empower victims well enough so that they are equipped to handle any situation later in life.
Another major project PCVC is involved in is helping women at the burns ward at the Kilpauk hospital. The ward admits 150-200 burn victims every month, of which 60% are women with third degree burns. PCVC supports such women by helping them file chargesheets, providing a health drink and water and counselling. The concept of ‘me’ is alien to most Indian women, feels Dr. Prasanna. Women are brought up being told to be submissive and tolerant – it is for this reason that they are willing to tolerate anything, even abuse, for the family.
Therapy for children through art and play constitutes the core idea of PCVC’s SMILES initiative. The Centre adopts children of women whose burn injuries prove fatal and finds a relative/guardian to play for their care (including education and daily expenses). Currently, 120 children benefit from the initiative.
PCVC faces its share of problems too. In many cases, women often go back to the violent environment they have tried to get away from, due to certain compulsions. It is frustrating to see efforts go waste as we spend a lot of time and energy with a client, says Dr. Prasanna. PCVC does not receive funds from the State Government – this makes sure they are independent of any influences, according to her.
The emphasis, throughout the roundtable, was on the need for women to be financially independent. If a victim wants to be independent, PCVC will be the first to help, she asserts.
As women, we need to take charge of our lives. With the belief that we can do anything.