December 5th, 2016
“They scratched me with broken bangles, sometimes I would get beaten up,” says Payal, recalling how her aunt mistreated her. Her day would begin at 4 am every morning. She would cook for the family, wash the dishes, clean the house, go to school, and repeat all of this twice; once in the afternoon, and again in the evening. If the work didn’t match up to her aunt’s expectations, she was beaten. “I had to wait till everyone had eaten before I could clean up and go to bed. It was hard to make time for studies” she says.
Payal’s parents passed away when she was 4, and her uncle moved into their house soon after. But once her older sister was married, he sent her out of her home. After that, she was forced to live with four different sets of relatives.All of them have abused her verbally and physically. She eventually moved in with her sister, who isn’t happy to have her. Payal looks after her two-year-old niece while her sister, a maid, and brother-in-law, a gardener, are at work. For them, however, she is only a financial burden.
Payal heard about ETASHA’s Computerized Office and Data Entry Programme (CODE), from her neighbour Monika. “I joined the course because I wanted to learn English and Computer, to get a job so that I won’t have to depend on anyone anymore,” she says.
The constant abuse left her timid and subservient. “She was very nervous and was trembling when she spoke in the first introduction class,” says Ridhi, her batch coordinator. “She took 10-15 minutes to talk about herself, and she was shaking the whole time”.
4 months of training could do only a little to ease the trauma of 15 years, but it was a start. Payal herself sees a few changes. “I would get very anxious and start crying every time a new person tried to talk to me. And I was very scared to go out anywhere on my own because I had never left the house on my own. But now I can face people” she says, her quivering voice and teary eyes reveal that she is overwhelmed.
The Social Confidence visits, in particular, have helped her come out of her shell. One of her tasks was to go to a bank in Connaught Place and collect the information to set up a bank account. “I completed the job by myself. The staff at the bank was polite, and they gave me the information I wanted. I realised that I could manage these little things on my own. I also enjoyed myself a lot. This was the first time that I was going out on my own, with friends. The next day I gave a presentation in front of the class. I thought it was good, but Ma’am said I needed to be more confident. I will improve next time” she says.
She likes the active and healthy environment at the ETASHA centre. “Ma’am is very encouraging. I like English classes, and the way of teaching is very helpful” she says. This, along with the interpersonal sessions, has equipped Payal with a coping mechanism. “In the anger management class, we talked about the importance of letting go. Spoiling our mood because someone says something offensive to us doesn’t help. Sometimes we need to forget and let go.” Perhaps this has made her time at ‘home’ a little more bearable.
The individual feedback sessions, have pushed Payal to speak out and stand up to her sister on occasion. A few days ago her upper lip was swollen because of a spider bite, but her sister refused to let her go to the doctor. When ETASHA’s Counsellor attempted to reason with her, she refused and said, “we don’t believe in medical treatment”. Payal was struggling to eat, and after three days when the pain worsened, she decided that she had had enough and went to the doctor on her own. “Having seen her from the beginning, and knowing her background, this was a small but significant step for her” says Ridhi.
Payal had also never used a computer before she joined ETASHA, but at the end of the 4-month programme, she has created her CV and has been using job portals like Monster.com to look for a job.
Having lived on other peoples’ terms her entire life, being employable is a ticket to freedom. She wants to work as a receptionist, and earn for herself. “I want to wear the clothes of my choice and fulfil all the little wishes which I haven’t been able to do till now.”
Doesn’t your family want to marry you off? I ask her. “They tell me to take care of my wedding so right now I’m not bothered. My only aim now is to work and be independent.”
In September, Payal began working at an NGO called Shiksha Kendra as a receptionist. She is enjoying her work and feels that this will be a stepping stone towards taking life into her hands. Scared and submissive Payal is emerging a fighter, in her quiet way.
ETASHA Society works towards the holistic development of underprivileged youth, enabling them to achieve economic independence, helping their families to break out of the cycle of poverty.
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