Childhood trauma is a pervasive problem in India. According to a study by the National Crime Records Bureau, there were over 50,935 child abuse cases were registered in 2021 — with more than one-fourth (13,089) of the cases registered in South India — under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which aims to protect juveniles from sexual abuse, and experts believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg. The consequences of childhood trauma can be severe and long-lasting, affecting a child’s physical, emotional, and mental health. However, there is hope. Protsahan India Foundation is an organization that is working to heal childhood trauma using the power of the arts and system linkages.
Protsahan India Foundation is based in Delhi and was founded in 2010 to save one child from sexual abuse. The organization’s mission over the last decade has evolved to empower girls and women from historically oppressed and marginalized communities through the arts, education, and technology. One of the key ways that Protsahan is achieving this mission is by using the psychotherapeutic and transformative power of arts as therapy to help children heal from trauma.
Protsahan India Foundation’s art therapy program is called “Healing with Art”. The program is designed to help children who have experienced trauma to express their emotions, build self-esteem, and develop resilience. The program uses a variety of art forms, including dance movement therapy, playful coaching, painting forms like Madhubani, Zentangle, Mandala or Warli, filmmaking, photography, storytelling and theater. Children are encouraged to explore their feelings and express them through these art forms, and the program that is run in the organization’s five innovation labs (also called girl empowerment centers) in some of the darkest slums, provides a safe and supportive environment for them to do so.
In addition to using the arts to heal childhood trauma, Protsahan’s work is also critically focused on system linkages. The organization recognizes that healing from trauma requires a holistic and intersectional approach that addresses the social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to trauma. To this end, Protsahan India Foundation works with schools, communities, and government agencies to create a system of support for children who have experienced trauma. The organization also provides training for teachers, child protection officers of state child protection commissions and other professionals on how to recognize and respond to trauma in children.
The organization categorizes trauma into 3 key social constructs of caste, gender, and race – especially with the common intersectional layer of extreme poverty that exacerbates it.
Caste, gender, and race are social constructs that can trigger trauma in different ways in childhood and beyond. Trauma is the emotional and psychological response to a traumatic event or experience, which can result in long-lasting effects on a child’s mental and emotional well-being. Here are some ways in which caste, gender, and race can trigger trauma with an added layer of marginalisation due to poverty:
Caste-based trauma: Caste is a social hierarchy that has existed in India for centuries, and it continues to have a profound impact on people’s lives. Individuals who belong to socially labelled ‘lower’ castes experience discrimination, violence, and exclusion from mainstream society, which can result in trauma. This trauma can be triggered by experiences of poverty, humiliation, exclusion, violence, and other forms of discrimination based on caste.
Gender-based trauma: Gender-based trauma is triggered by experiences of violence, discrimination, and oppression based on an individual’s gender identity or expression. Women and members of the LGBTQIA+ community are particularly vulnerable to gender-based trauma. This trauma can result from experiences of sexual assault, domestic violence, harassment, and other forms of discrimination based on gender.
Race-based trauma: People of colour are particularly vulnerable to race-based trauma, which can result from experiences of racial profiling, police brutality, hate crimes, and other forms of discrimination based on race.
It is important to note that trauma is not just a result of individual experiences but also the result of systemic and institutionalized discrimination and oppression. Caste, gender, and race are all examples of systemic oppression, and individuals who belong to marginalized communities may experience trauma as a result of living within these systems. Therefore, it is essential to address not just individual experiences of trauma but also the larger societal structures that perpetuate these forms of oppression. This requires a commitment to social justice, equity, and inclusion, and an understanding of the impact of systemic oppression on individuals and communities.
Protsahan India Foundation’s approach to healing childhood trauma using arts and system linkages is innovative and effective. The organization has been recognized by numerous awards and accolades, including the accreditations from World Bank, UNGEI, UNROSA, Ashoka, Cambridge Institute of Sustainable Leadership in London and many more. Protsahan India Foundation’s work using arts has also been featured in national and international media, including the BBC and HundrED.org.
Protsahan India Foundation is an organization that is making a real difference in the lives of children who have experienced trauma right at the grassroots. Their art as therapy program, “Healing with Art,” is a powerful tool for helping children heal and develop resilience. By also focusing on system linkages, Protsahan India Foundation is creating a comprehensive system of support for children who have experienced trauma in collaboration with strengthening child protection systems within the state education departments. The approach is innovative, effective, and deserving of recognition and support from individuals and organizations around the world.