Thin framed Kamla looked around through her meek sunken eyes, unsure whether she was at the right place, wondering whether she should share her experience or not. This was the first time she was visiting MSF’s Umeed Ki Kiran clinic, a clinic in Jahangirpuri set up by Doctors Without Borders India / Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for the treatment of sexual and gender-based violence.
Kamla had visited the clinic on the recommendation of our health educator. When the counsellor sat her down and assured complete privacy, she finally started to tell her story.
Kamla was brought to Jahangirpuri, Delhi, from another city by her aunt at the age of five. Since then, much against her will, she was forced to work in her aunt’s house or do other meagre jobs and hand over the earnings to her aunt. Things did not get any better. She was forced into child marriage which turned out to be abusive. Kamla was repeatedly assaulted-sexually, emotionally, physically and verbally by her husband over the course of 15 years.
As is often the case in such situations, Kamla did not share her story with anyone feeling that it was her personal matter. The absence of family and friends made it worse, and health service providers were not even considered as an option.
Sometimes I felt, she just wanted someone to vent to, someone to listen, someone to tell her she wasn’t alone, someone to build a future perspective for her, someone to remind her of her underlying resilience, someone to show her hope.
Huzaifa, Kamla’s counsellor says,“The issue of sexual and gender-based violence here is multi-pronged. Sometimes they do not even realise they are being abused and accept it as a way of life while sometimes they are too scared to reach out for help fearing it will aggravate the problem or that the services won’t be private and confidential. We have also had people who had no idea where to go for help if they found themselves in such situations. The Umeed Ki Kiran clinic, through its patient-centric approach, provides not only medical and psycho-social help, but also educates the community on sexual and gender-based violence and the need to seek medical help, so they can get timely care.”
Injuries and health problems are common as a result of physical and sexual violence, but the psychological and emotional wounds they may also inflict are sometimes deeper and long-lasting. The abuse had severe effects on Kamla’s life including suicidal thoughts. “She looked drained and hopeless, the first time I saw her. She was prepared to take her own and the lives of her three children…she needed not just treatment for physical injuries but also counselling, to get her out of that state,” says Huzaifa.
Like all others who come to the Umeed Ki Kiran clinic, Kamla was examined for physical injuries, if any, and then assigned a counsellor who she would now see regularly. Kamla narrated her story and started coming to see the counsellor more often. “Sometimes I felt, she just wanted someone to vent to, someone to listen, someone to tell her she wasn’t alone, someone to build a future perspective for her, someone to remind her of her underlying resilience, someone to show her hope – in that sense, I sometimes think to myself how Umeed Ki Kiran actually lived to its name for Kamla.”
Kamla had made up her mind and in one of her counselling sessions expressed a strong will to live elsewhere with her kids to save them and herself from her husband’s abuse. Since the clinic also links its patients to other services like advanced medical care, legal and shelter services, besides providing medical treatment and counselling, after much ado, a shelter was found for Kamla and her three children.
Kamla managed to get herself a job. She now lives in the shelter and is busy raising her three children. She wants them to grow into gentlemen – all three of them! “I met her at the shelter the other day. Well dressed and brimming with life! It made me so happy not just to witness this transformation but play a role in it!” said Huzaifa.
* Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.
Kamla is one of the many treated at MSF’s Umeed Ki Kiran clinic. If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual or gender-based violence, help is available 24/7 at the Umeed Ki Kiran Clinic, Mahendra Park, Delhi. Click here or call 1 800 102 1075 for support.