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Harish Iyer makes his suffering his purpose

From being a victim of sexual abuse to overcoming it, a tale of a young man who didn’t let his history of abuse, affect his future.

It started when he was 7. It ended when he was 18. It started with a boy. It ended with a man. It started with pain. It ended with courage. 

In traditional Indian households, it is quite normal for elders to give their younger lads a bath. Harish Iyer’s mother thought the same and allowed the practice. That was when it first happened. The first time Iyer was abused and his body violated, “I didn’t know what was happening to me, whether it was okay, whether it was normal,” he expresses. To him, this became a way of life. This became routine. In a chilling statement, Iyer recalls that he would enter his (uncle’s) house, lie down on the bed and just wait for it to “get over as soon as possible.” 
It was far from over. When he was 12, there were more people waiting to devour his body. He went on with the ordeal. “I would keep quiet…because what if I wasn’t considered ‘man enough’ to not bear pain?” 

He grew up having no self-esteem.
He grew up fearing men.
He grew up bathing 4 times a day.

He still bathes 4 times a day, now, out of habit. Another habit was segregating his life in two worlds; one in which he was abused and the other in which he wasn’t. Sometimes, when the two worlds overlapped, he would cry endlessly. Once, after an outburst, he decided to speak up.

“I am bleeding from my anus,” he said to his mom.
“Maybe it’s because you eat too many mangoes,” she replied.
“I am bleeding from my anus,” he said to his fellow 4th grader.
“These things happen. Hmm,” he replied.
“Uncle touches me here and there, and I don’t like it,” he says to his mom.
“Don’t go near him,” says his mom.

When he wasn’t offered a practical solution, Iyer withdrew into a shell. The trauma of the abuse was such that he wouldn’t talk to anybody but his dog. He would also, often, sit in his garden and interact with bees, insects and trees. Bollywood movies became a safe space. “Watching Sridevi stand up for herself in Chaalbaz and Lamhe inspired me,” he reminisces.  

He decided to stand up to his uncle. The day came soon enough. Iyer gathered every ounce of courage he had and  managed a resounding, all-consuming and powerful “NO.” The uncle stopped in his tracks, put on his clothes and went away. It was then that Iyer decided to help others like him. Today, the 38-year-old is an influential equal rights activist. “We (boys) get abused, but we have no right to voice it because we're supposed to be the protectors. The victims of 'masculinity' are men themselves. A part of me believed that I'm gay because of the abuse I went through and it devastated me, but I know now that that isn't true.”

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a law in the country for child sexual abuse if the victim was a boy. So, there was no justice. Iyer however believes that hate only destroys the hater, not the hated. For him, his uncle doesn't exist. Infact, he’d like to send him to a therapist. “I can never get those 11 years back but I do have a lifetime ahead of me to protect the rights of children, women or the LGBT community and that's the path I've proudly chosen."

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Natasha Agrawal’s initiative, Three Left Feet uses Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) to heal teenagers, among others, with trauma
Nishtha JunejaTeentalkindia Content Writer

The truth about our childhood is stored up in our body, 
and although we can repress it, we can never alter it. 
Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings manipulated, 
our perceptions confused, and our body tricked with medication. 
But someday the body will present its bill.

-          Letty J Mills and Judith C Daniluk, Journal of Counseling and Development

When Natasha Agrawal was sexually violated as a child, she was told to shrug off the incident like any other and carry on, normally. But for her “Normal” meant not respecting her body. “Normal” was feeling disconnected with her body, and thinking of it as something that had nothing to do with her – and was only meant for the use of others. The only time she felt connected to her own body was when she danced. “Dance, time and again, was the only joy I felt in the body,” recalls Natasha. But even that she felt was “more to show” than to “feel one with self”, until she discovered Dance Movement Therapy (DMT).  She learnt to move and dance for joy, which had nothing to do with her body as a sexual object.

“A whole new world opened up. Emotionally I felt lighter. This new language let me breathe in peace again,” reminisces the 34-year-old. It is a known fact that the mind and body are intertwined, and move in tandem. DMT uses this basic principle to “move” the mind towards a better, happier space. It could be any participant dancing on their own tune, not following any routine, which is imperative in a dance class. One another, more important aspect that differentiates DMT from a dance class is the intent. “The person is in the centre, and not the form,” adds Natasha.

Using her background in dance and movement, Natasha opened Three Left Feet, a space that aims to use dance as a therapeutic bridge to healing and relaxation. Her sessions would start with a warm up intended to give the participants the feeling of “I can”, moving to more therapeutic activities depending on the objective. If the objective is paired movement, then making groups of two and creating a river using a duppata helps connecting with others. On the other hand, if she is working with a group of children who have been abused in the past, and the focus of the session is to deal with trauma, an activity to say “no” would help. 

Here is how it is done:
•         Imagine your fingers can spout colours in all directions. Using the power of your fingers, create a colourful bubble around you.
•         This is your shield, your aura.
•         As you move around the area and meet different people, you have the power to allow them into your space or not.
•         If you feel that you do not want to talk to someone, hold out your hand, meaning no.
•         It is important to remember that the bubble is your safe space and you have control over it

“I learnt the power of no. I embodied my body, owned it and loved it again,” she says. She now holds sessions for senior citizens, differently abled and rehabilitated children of sex workers and off course, teenagers. In her journey of DMT, she has helped many. One of them is Keisha, who works at All India Radio, "When I first met Natasha at her residence for a DMT session, I instantly felt comfortable with her warm aura." She further recalls that the sessions helped her become aware about her feelings and thoughts, which is important to create a bond with the self. Keisha was so impressed with Natasha's approach that she enrolled at the Tata Institute of Social Science (TISS), which offers a one year diploma in DMT.

You can get in touch with her on: threeleftfeet.natasha@gmail.com

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