Meet Pooja Taparia: The Woman Who Is Fighting Against Child Sexual Abuse

Pooja Taparia - Founder of Arpan
Pooja Taparia receiving an award

According to an article, India is one of the top 5 countries with child abuse with 48,000 child rape cases recorded from 2001 to 2011 with an increase of 336% of child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). This is a shameful number. Butchering innocence and subjecting children to abuse not only violates a child’s body but also taints his future. It kills the very idea of a normal living and is not only against morality but it is a scar on the face of humanity. It reflects on how capable we are as a country in keeping our children safe. Arpan, founded by Pooja Taparia is a registered NGO based in Mumbai that has been fighting against this cruelty since 2006.

Pooja has been reaching out to survivors of child sexual abuse and encouraging them by providing them support and assistance. Apart from this, she plays an active role in spreading awareness about child sexual abuse and urging people to join the fight. Pooja is the voice that India needs.

Pooja Taparia : Seeking Change

Pooja, a graduate in Applied Art/Graphic Design and in Commerce, is the Founder, Trustee and CEO of Arpan. Despite being unrelated academically to the field of social development, her passion drove her to enable change since her school days. She would go around to her relatives and neighbors with raffle tickets and collects funds and goods for orphanages, old age homes and other less privileged people.  

“As I grew up, I spent considerable amount of time with mentally challenged children at the SPJ Sadhana School. I taught these children arts and crafts as well as basic office administration with the intention to provide them with skills to become independent. Creating small ripples of change and happiness in the lives of people in need gave immense satisfaction and personal purpose to me. I strongly believe that the passion to serve society and the satisfaction that one gathers from this has driven me to move into the field of social change and development. “

Arpan
Arpan counsellor conducting Counseling/therapy of adolescents and adult survivors

Child Sexual Abuse : What we are doing wrong?

Child sexual abuse is a mammoth concern and only we have the power to stop it. The greatest roadblock that stands in front of us is that we still refrain ourselves to talk about it as if it was a taboo. According to Pooja the reason why we are failing to curb child sexual abuse is because we as a society have taken long to accept and acknowledge child sexual abuse as a reality.

“People were shocked when we started creating awareness about the issue. They would ask us ‘does this really happen’? They just could not digest the sheer number of children being sexually abused in India. Even today when we go for awareness sessions, people are shocked to know about it though the acceptance has increased over the years. Culturally, Child Sexual Abuse occupies a unique space where it is both recognized (happens with ‘others’) and denied (does not happen with my child by my family members) simultaneously. We are not being able to curb the issue of CSA and create a world free of CSA because all of us reticent by our own upbringing struggle to have a vocabulary to communicate around sexuality in general and sexual abuse in particular. This adds to the euphemism and ambiguity around the issue of Child Sexual Abuse and reinforces the myths around it. Most of these assumptions are rooted in the overarching framework of patriarchy and gender biases, which propagate double standards around sexuality and gender roles and make up the foundation to reinforce child sexual abuse. “

The Inspiration and Story behind Arpan

We all often come across words and people who shake us and open our eyes to several truth. But very few of us have the courage to accept them and implement them. Pooja is one of those people. In 2003, she attended a function by her Guru, Pujya Bhaishri Rameshbhai Oza where he spoke about the attitude of “seva” i.e. serving others. She was deeply moved by his words.

“Post the session by Bhaishri, I gathered a small group of like-minded friends and immediately set up a group call Arpan. Arpan means to offer to society. I called it Arpan – Making Little Differences with the idea of bridging the gap between the privileged and under-privileged groups in society. While Arpan continued with its philanthropic focus, the second important milestone in Arpan’s journey came in 2004, when I was highly influenced by a play on child sexual abuse, which gave me a new vision and direction for Arpan. The play depicts the trauma faced by a survivor of sexual abuse as she carries on with her life, makes decision/s, develops relationships and the fears and crisis she experiences in her everyday life. The play shook me from the core and I decided then that I would like to do something about the issue of child sexual abuse.”

Arpan trainer teaching children personal safety skills
Arpan trainer teaching children personal safety skills in schools

Addressing the Problem

We have come a long way in terms of development and modernization, but our society still faces several problems at root level. In founding Arpan and spreading awareness about child sexual abuse, Pooja came across several challenges. Child sexual abuse is a very serious and prevalent issue in India, but people do not talk about it. Survivors of sexual abuse and their families are apprehensive in accessing mental health and healing services due to the societal stigma associated with the mental health issues.

“This became a challenge in the initial years to talk about the issue.  The entire programmatic focus of Arpan thus was geared towards dealing with this challenge. Arpan has been reaching out to all stakeholders associated with safety and protection of children through sensitization of public at large, awareness sessions and personal safety education programme. All these Programs emphasize on the need to create more awareness about the issue of child sexual abuse while focusing on prevention strategies and healing support. Even today, Schools, institutions or shelter homes are not willing to commit for intensive PSE program and to integrate PSE program in their curriculum or regular interventions with children because they do not consider CSA to be as important an issue were in an increased commitment of time and resource needs to be made.

Arpan was an evolving social enterprise and access to funding resources for a phenomenon of CSA was struggling in the formative years.  However, today the challenge is no more raising funds. But to take the team together through ups and downs and make each one a partner in the vision of Arpan and hold a space for professionals to work together on the issue of CSA.”

Impacting Lives

Over the last 9 years Arpan has reached out to over 120,000 children and adults directly through its services and over 220,000 indirectly through training and capacity building of various stakeholders and mobilized over 12 crores (2 million USD) to achieve the same.

Arpan’s has evolved its key project i.e., teaching children personal safety skills in schools so that they can identify and seek help in an unsafe situation. Arpan has been recognized as an award-winning organisation working hard to address the issue of child sexual abuse in India. Based in Mumbai, Arpan has become the largest NGO in India in this specific area with over 60 professionals providing prevention and intervention services to children and adults. Arpan has contributed to building a vocabulary around child protection which has for the longest time been missing in India. From advocating for a specific legislation to address CSA and actually drafting our suggestions to it (Protection of Children Against Child Sexual Offences) to working on the field with over 51,000 children directly we have emerged as strong voice in the area of child sexual abuse. So far Arpan has won 4 national level awards for it’s exemplary work and was short listed amongst the top 9 in the entire Asia Pacific region for the ‘With and For Girl Award’ by Stars Foundation, UK.

Arpan trainers building awareness on CSA
Arpan trainers building awareness on CSA with parents and teachers

The Road so Far

Arpan has been actively working to change the situation for last 9 years. Arpan organizes Prevention programmes like Personal Safety education programme and awareness sessions for children and adult survivors of child sexual abuse and also enables them to connect through helpline and Arpan’s website for therapeutic support.

“The circle of intervention at Arpan starts with sensitizing stakeholders within immediate, community and societal levels of the child in order to provide spaces for public dialogue about the same. This is supported by advocating for macro level change in the political and legal systems of the country. This is strengthened by providing preventive and psychotherapeutic services to the child (and also adult survivors) and the stakeholder/s within immediate environment of the child, which includes the parents, caretakers, teachers, school authorities etc. In order to sustain the social impact of these services for the child and his immediate environment, Arpan focuses on training the primary stakeholders/ caregivers of the child, like teachers, counselors, NGO professionals etc. in replicating the preventive and psychotherapeutic modalities of Arpan.”

Pooja Taparia
Pooja Taparia

In Pooja’s Words

Over the years, Pooja has changed and touched several lives through Arpan. She has met several survivors and she shared with us one of the stories.

“One story that I’d like to share is of an 18 year old girl. She was in an institution which houses trafficked and sexually abused minors and we were providing psychotherapeutic services (counseling) there for sometime. She shared with our therapist that she had found a man and had been thinking of marrying him. However one day she told him, “I see you have some unresolved issues. I think you should go for counseling first. After that we can talk about marriage.” To see such empowerment in her to make such a condition to her fiancée was very inspiring for me. It’s a story that has left an impression on my mind forever. The power of therapy is huge and no matter the severity of sexual trauma we’ve been through we not only survive but we can heal and thrive.”

Pooja is a hope for many souls and her passion for making India a safer and better place for children is what makes her inspirational. She says,

“It’s great to see so many people beginning to become change makers. Our country needs many. I’d like to say that don’t give up. Change making is a hard job and perseverance is the key. If we can find ways to fuel our passion, be inspired and humble it’s one of the most beautiful journeys ever.”

In recent years, celebrities like Kalki Koechlin have come forward and opened up about sexual abuse as a child (source). The first step in solving a problem is to accept that it exists. Pooja has been trying to spread awareness to throw light on the extent to which child sexual abuse has seeped into our society. Nothing will happen if we stay behind closed doors. We need to step up and stop it.

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