By Naveen Mahendarkar
Student nurse Pavan Amara, now 28, was raped as a teenager. It turned her life upside down and took her a very long time to come to terms with, she says. Even after she felt she had begun to “get everything back together”, she realised it still deeply affected her. Her relationship with her body, for instance, had changed dramatically. “I felt I was really abnormal for feeling that way,” she says. “I couldn’t look in the mirror or at photos of myself.”
She set up My Body Back, a project that supports women who have experienced sexual violence, focusing particularly on issues of body image and sexuality, helping them to reclaim their bodies as their own.
Our Bengaluru correspondent Naveen Mahendarkar interviewed her via email to know more about her project. Here are excerpts of the interview-
Dear Amara please tell us something about you.
I am 28 years old, born at Chase Farm Hospital in London, and grew up in London, UK. My parents were immigrants to the UK and I am of Indian heritage. In August 2015 I started My Body Back Project, which is for women who have experienced sexual violence to access healthcare.
How did the idea of starting a clinic for rape victim hit upon you and what is the inspiration behind this?
I knew from personal experience that there weren’t enough services in the UK for women who had been raped. I knew the situation had to change. I ended up talking to other women who had experienced rape, and found that everyone was struggling with the same problems – women just were not able to access the right health services after assault. So I decided to start those services myself. I asked women what they wanted and they told me very clearly. So then I went about making it happen.
What are the hurdles you faced while starting this clinic since it require lots of rules and regulations since your in UK?
There were plenty of people willing to help me do this. But there are always obstacles. Probably the biggest one was tiredness, sometimes I would feel very tired from the amount of work. But that’s fine, I know I’m doing it for the right reason so I’ll just carry on regardless.
Are you planning start such clinic in INDIA in near future, for the fact that INDIA has highest rape victims in the world?
Yes. I hear this question so regularly now. Every single day, someone from somewhere in India will ask me this. I want women in India to know that when they contact me, I am listening to them. I really care about what they’re telling me. l hear what they’re saying they want me to do in India, and I will do my best to make it happen. That’s what I’m here for – to listen very carefully to their needs, and then do the work required. So I promise I am doing that, and what they say matters to me. But it takes time, planning, and concentration to do a good job on something. If we want to create a really good and useful service in India it will probably take a number of years. We have to be realistic as anything built too quickly rarely has strong enough foundations to last. I am listening and I am putting the work in already, but it will take time.
I am mentioning INDIA since a lot of rape happens in rural part of the country and victims are ostracised for no fault of there, neither the country is well equipped to provide them medical facilities for victims nor life after the trauma.
There are a lot of problems in India for women, and it’s tough finding lasting solutions to them due to the level of corruption that exists everywhere in India. They are different problems to those in the UK, and it will take good planning to effectively deal with them. But nothing changes if you don’t make it change. At the moment there are no decent facilities in India for women who have been raped, but that’s now. The situation now doesn’t necessarily predict what’s possible in the future.
Please tell us about medical and counselling facilities and procedure you follow.
We run a sexual health clinic for women who have experienced sexual assault. It provides STI testing, cervical screening and contraceptive care. We’ve also just started a maternity clinic. Both have strong psychology support, really well trained and caring staff, and work according to what women say they want.
What is your message to rape victims in INDIA and South Asia in particular?
Keep going, even when you feel you can’t anymore. There are people all around the world who care so much about you, including me. I may not know you through physically meeting you, but I really do care about you and your feelings. Nothing can touch your soul, keep that strong, and everything else that people may say or do to you will be irrelevant.
What kind of support you look forward in case you have plans for INDIA by opening such hospitals?
At the moment I am talking to people in India and doing my research. I’m in the early stages of this. There will be a lot of talking, planning, thinking, brainstorming. I am talking to Indian women who need our services in cities and rural areas, to doctors, judges, police officers, women’s organisations that already exist there, and university researchers. Once I’ve got a blueprint of what’s really needed, and how it can realistically be done, then I’ll start building it.
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