The clock has struck 4. It is time to go back home from a tiring day at school. The children are rushing outside the gates of the school hurriedly, as if they were caged within. Vimla is also fidgeting among the crowd, trying to escape. She walks out of the gate and her movement is swift. Her long paced steps are cutting the crowd. She reaches home, steps inside her hut and piles her book at one place. She eats whatever has been cooked and within fifteen minutes she is ready to leave her abode.
She stops outside, what looks like a government designed community space. She walks in and picks up her Yoga mat and lays it on the floor. She starts talking to the other girls already present in the room while the room is filled with a pleasant smell coming from a scented candle. After a few minutes she is asked to sit straight and concentrate on the music that is being played in the room. She immediately follows. For the next few minutes one can see Vimla totally rapt in herself with her closed eyes and no sound coming from outside seems to bother her. Then she opens her eyes, still sitting erect, she smiles at other girls. Next she stands up, and looks at the screen in front of her. It is the day for the Body Scan session. She looks at the instructor on projector screen and follows exactly, smiling and giggling in between. The twenty minutes session gets over and the girls are now sitting in a circle, sharing about their feelings.
How did you feel today Vimla?
It felt good (she tells with a lot shyness)
Is there anything in particular you liked about the session?
Yes, I liked the meditation music. Made me feel like I was flying.
And the circle continues …
This has been happening for the past three months in Kotda, Udaipur, Rajasthan. A few girls from nearby, assemble at the Panchayat Kendra in Mandwa (Kotda) and practice Yoga and Mindfulness once a week. A place like Kotda where the poorest of the poor have been said to reside, this idea and its occurence weekly, seems like an elite dream. The practices which have almost become synonymous to the privileged class have but now, somehow, creeped into one of the least developed areas of south Rajasthan.
Kshamtalaya in collaboration with Friendsline launched a platform of social and emotional learning for the adolescent girls and women in the tribal landscapes of Rajasthan. While Friendsline is committed to spread awareness about mental health and well-being in the developing countries for women by the use of technology, Kshamtalaya through its social and emotional learning classroom pedagogy found it a perfect excuse to come together and launch a program outside of the school premises. The idea behind the launch was simple –
- to create a safe space for the young girls and women to gather and unwind themselves
- to spread awareness about the importance of mental well-being
- to encourage practices that help in the promotion of physical well-being
- to build a support group for the women as it has been often found that women from all walks of life whether rural or urban, are subjected to unduly biases and suffer a lot because of gender discrimination
Though the idea behind the launch was simple and pro-community, the ground reality welcomed the team with threads of complexity and looks of suspicion. When we used to visit the households of the girls and women for the sessions, they used to excuse themselves by sighting work as their priority. The girls would change their lanes if they used to see us approaching them. The first three months were spent just in convincing that what we wanted to do was ultimately going to benefit them. Yet, they found no significance in that.
However it has been rightly said; we must accept finite disappointments but, never lose infinite hope. After months of struggle a few girls agreed to come and thus began our journey towards social and mental well-being. Today there are six girls, who actively participate in the sessions which are conducted once a week with the help of local facilitators (in Mandwa it is me and one of my co-fellow, Lakshmi).
We share about our daily life’s activities and although the girls are still apprehensive about speaking about their feelings at large in groups, we really have come a long way. Where earlier we used to go to each girl’s house to invite them for the session, now the girls have taken the charge of maintaining the room and keeping it clean. It was during the Friendsline team’s visit from UK that I realised the true outcome of our intervention. While I expected the girls to be shy and timid in front of the team, the girls proved me wrong by being chirpier than their usual selves. They answered what was asked to them, they even questioned the visitors and were honest about their personal behaviours in front of the group.
While to the reader it may not seem as something very extraordinary or fascinating, I as a facilitator am reminded of my earlier experiences with the girls. I vividly remember how one time when I had prompted Vimla to speak in the group, she had chosen to step out of the room. I can clearly picture the day when Beena had literally run away in the opposite direction on seeing me approach her. The program is at a very nascent stage right now but the fact that the girls have now started enjoying the space and have (funnily enough) started defining Yoga whenever anyone asks them what do they do.
The girls are now finished with their discussion session and it is time for them to go back to their homes. While they collect their mats, they are looking at each other. The facilitator asks them if they want to say something.
Umm Didi, when will we have our next session?
Next week on the same day, same time.
But Didi is it possible we do it tomorrow? We all have decided that we want to do it twice a week from now onward.
Are you sure? What about your work?
Oh we will manage. We like spending time in this room.
Great! See you tomorrow at the same time.
And she stands up with the mat in her hand, places it in the corner of the room and rushes out, before turning to me once again for the final goodbye of the day.