Restorative Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in India: Insight into CSJ (Counsel to Secure Justice)

Mission: “Advance restorative justice for children harmed by sexual harm and violence in India.”

CSJ (Counsel to Secure Justice) is an Indian organisation, with Nimisha Srivastava as the active Program Director. Urvashi, Kshipra and Arti are also part of this organisation and will be speaking at our RJ WORLD conference! CJS’s vision is to enable people who have experienced sexual abuse and other forms of violence in India to access justice systems that repair harm, empower the vulnerable, and reconcile broken relationships. The key in achieving this agenda lies in keeping each survivor’s needs central to the process. One of the key concerns of CSJ is to educate a local pool of trainers so they can facilitate circles themselves in a sustainable way. After the training, this project was implemented in collaboration with UNICEF, Rajasthan and the Department of Children’s Rights.

Circles. An extremely useful way to address such traumatizing experiences in a safe way is through circle processes. Let me share with you some insights in the form of short stories and the training of local trainers, starting with one of the numerous astonishing and touching circles done with children in Rajasthan. To protect people’s privacy, all names are replaced by pseudonyms. The case was a misdemeanour. Harm had been created. This harm was felt by every present soul. It was almost like an elephant in the room, which needed to be addressed. Both, Chandan (the harming person) and Shivani (the harmed person) were in one room together…

Feeling safe. Right in the beginning of the session, Shivani (the person harmed) could immediately feel the safe space created by the circle. The non-judgemental and humane environment enabled by both facilitators and participants allowed her to sit with her emotions and disappointments while being connected with others, instead of feeling isolated. She states, “I am sad and confused since I have not received court order, but here (in the circle) I feel I am safe.”

The crucial moment. One of the most powerful, and healing moments of the session was when Chandan (the person who had harmed) said sorry to Shivani. What lit up the whole room was the biggest smile everyone had seen on Shivani’s face, who had been close to tears until a second ago. What happened was that Shivani forgave Chandan. Now, both participants, Shivani and Chandan were connected by a huge and peaceful smile – a smile of acceptance. Simultaneously, a sense of relief was visible for all. Previous tension had vanished and was replaced by human connection.

Zivesh looked the person harmed in the eyes and said, “I am sorry”.
The person harmed smiled and said, “It’s okay”.

Training. Sometimes, the only thing needed for healing to occur is a genuine apology, a look in the eyes and forgiveness. However, if reconciliation would be that easy to achieve, there would hardly be any need for training. In many cases, a restorative process involves many conversations between different stakeholders. The picture above is from the training done in Rajasthan, aiming to bring the values of CSJ closer to prospective local facilitators.

Going with the flow and personalized talking pieces. One of the important attributes a Restorative Justice facilitator must have is some degree of flexibility throughout the process. For example, there was a conversation scheduled between Ishan and his father. Just before the meeting, and since the whole family had come, they all wanted to meet him. Ishan gave his permission to speak about the facts in front of everyone. As a result, at the last minute, the facilitator of this session decided to let the process flow organically. This decision enabled the whole family to be part in the circle, in which a talking piece hand-made by Ishan’s sister was used (picture above). This way, the whole family could take part in the healing conversation and re-connect.

This is a talking piece created by one of the trainers trained in Rajasthan for the UNICEF project.

Taking Responsibility. One of the requirements before entering a restorative process is that the person who has harmed accepts the responsibility for the harm done. Sometimes many individual meetings are needed to help the person who has harmed own up to their actions. However, when this is achieved, a big step towards establishing justice and healing is taken. “If that person accepts his mistake, then there is no bigger justice than that,” one woman from the ABHAS (“Action Beyond Help and Support”) community group circle processes stated. She found that what is needed most is, “Saying sorry and realizing [the harm] would be enough for me, nothing else.” Circle processes are conducted over three months with women from the community. These sessions were closely examined and published in the study conducted by CSJ on Restorative Justice and Child Sexual abuse in India “Perspectives of Justice”.

…If you want to hear more exciting insight-stories from our three speakers from CSJ Urvashi, Kshipra and Arti, we would strongly recommend you sign up to our RJ WORLD CONFERENCE 2020