“Women are not able to roam freely. Should not touch a woman in places that are not meant to be touched,” reads the scrawl under a picture drawn by a class 8 student in Chennai. The drawing shows two smiling children – a girl and a boy. The boy’s hand rests on the girl’s chest.
Another drawing shows two boys with what looks like sharp weapons in their hands, clashing. Their smiles seem to be starkly in contrast to the caption written by its artist – “Should not fight”.
Yet another detailed drawing, shows a brick structure with a large ‘X’ on it. It is, presumably, the police station. The ‘X’ on it becomes clear once we read the notes accompanying it: “In the police stations that in Tsunami colonies of our Nagar, the officials do not do their duties properly. They tend to willfully ignore the wrongdoings that take place in the station’s vicinity.”
“Even if the septic tanks are overflowing; if complaints are made to the authorities, no action is taken. The health of children and the elderly are severely affected by diseases that are caused due to mosquitoes and other insects,” the teen artist adds.
These are just some of the drawings made by girls between the ages of 13 and 17 in Kannagi Nagar and Ezhil Nagar. These neighbourhoods in Chennai came up specifically for rehabilitating the fishing communities after the devastating tsunami of 2004.
Previously living closer to the shore within city limits, these families had to move away from their source of income as part of state government’s rehabilitation policy. The artists’ parents are mostly fisherfolk and house helps who travel several kilometres every day for work.
The children made these drawings as part of a workshop conducted by Sowmiya and Swetha, final year Master of Social Work (MSW) students from Madras Christian College (MCC). As part of their three-month training programme with Centre for Women’s Development and Research (CWDR), the students have been visiting these children twice every week to conduct workshops and awareness programmes.
No drinking water facility
For this project, the women asked the children – 27 teen girls – to draw what their home meant to them. “We do know that it is quite a challenge to get adolescent girls to open up. So we decided to conduct an art therapy session as part of our SHout-Sexual Harassment Out campaign,” says Swetha.
But the resulting imagery was nothing short of eye-opening for them, for it showed the grim reality of their childhoods.
Apart from the issues like sexual abuse, restrictions on women, lack of law and order that the above drawings show, these children and their families struggle for basic needs such as drinking water and sanitation. One drawing by a child, for instance, says, “In colonies, we get salt water instead of drinking water.” The building drawn beside the tap and earthen pot, ironically points to the lack of proper living quarters for these families.
In our colonies, we get salt water instead of drinking water, there are no proper buildings in our area
And then, there were revelations of serious issues like child marriage and substance abuse that these communities deal with too. “This, in turn, instilled fear in the minds of these girls, who hesitated stepping out of their homes. There’s also the fear of safety,” Swetha observes.
School children smoking cigarette and tobacco will affect their lives. The consequences are greater. Children should not smoke. The Government has to ban cigarettes
Swetha and Sowmiya have also learnt that children in this neigbourhood grow up witnessing violence too - gang wars are pretty common. “People who lived in different slums in different areas just a decade ago are now living in one area. This has sparked off several gang wars. Young boys tend to get into fights and this has instilled fear in the minds of these adolescent girls,” shares Swetha.
No healthcare centres
Referring to the drawing where a girl had drawn and crossed out a police station to show the officials being lax, Swetha says, “When we asked her why she said police stations are of no help and the officials do not do their duties like they should. There’s a clear sense of helplessness,” shares Swetha.
Teen pregnancies is another issue in these communities, Swetha and Sowmiya found from the healthcare centre in the area. The duo, in collaboration with CWDR are conducting awareness programs on child sexual abuse and sexual health with the girls.
“We have submitted our findings to the NGO. CWDR will take it up with the authorities to fix the amenities in the colonies,” Swetha says.