STORIES OF CHANGES – SANJANA

Stories of Changes – Sanjana

Her favourite book, “Chal Re Kaddu, Tunak-Tunak”, is the tale of an old lady venturing through a dense jungle where she encounters many animals that threaten to eat her for their lunch. Bargaining with them, she tells them that her body is lean and will not fill them up; instead she assures them that she will be more filling on her way back, as she is on her way to her daughter’s house for a hearty meal. When she has to return, the old woman disguises herself under a large pumpkin (kaddu). The animals ask the if it has seen a fattened-up old lady, but a voice from within the kaddu replies that it has no idea about her whereabouts. Safely escaping from her predators the old woman commands her vehicle, Chal re kaddu, Tunak-tunak (Ride on Pumpkin, Giddy Up).

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Sanjana’s life in the narrow lanes of Lallubhai Compound holds similar threats at every corner, because of which she devises her own covers and routes. She was barely of 2 years, when her family moved into the rehabilitation settlement in Govandi. They saw big dreams in their shift from a slum to a building; but for Sanjana, a large part of her childhood had passed looking at the interior walls of her house. With no open space to play and the constant threat of drunks and drug addicts lurking downstairs, her family chose to keep her safe at home. She recalls her grandmother chastising her, “Don’t go down. There are too many young boys there.”

At such a young age Sanjana was forced to become aware about her body and sexuality, not to enjoy it but rather to restrict it in the public space. She says the “boys would sit at the side of the road or in auto-rickshaws whistling and passing comments at us when we passed. I, too, felt more comfortable at home and so rarely came out.” But all this changed when she chanced upon YUVA’s Child Resource Centre (CRC), which was housed just down the road from her. She convinced her grandmother to accompany her to the Centre to check it out. Sanjana was immediately drawn to the library section, which held a wide range of picture books. A few years ago, she had dropped out of school to take care of her sister’s daughter and so the CRC appeared to be a space where she could reacquaint herself with reading. Her grandmother, on her part, was impressed by the presence and care that was given by the didis and bhaiyyas at the Centre.

Today, Sanjana is 11 years old and she is part of the first batch of girls participating in Dance Movement Therapy sessions hosted at YUVA’s CRC. These sessions use sound, body movement and play to untie physical and psychological knots. At first they were marked by pure ‘masti’ (fun) but as time passed the sessions came to acquire new meaning for the girls. Sanjana shares what a unique space it offers for the girls, whose lives are otherwise ridden with restrictions., She says “This is a safe space for us. We can run around and move freely. And what’s more, nobody shouts at us.”

Sanjana and her friends are hosting similar sessions for the younger girls of the area. They lead them into the side room of the centre, draw the curtains and play loud music to which they all dance together. And while this new space has afforded her the freedom to let go of certain insecurities, others still await her outside. But much like the old lady in the book, Sanjana too has to seek refuge in this closed room as the boys her grandmother had warned her about still roam on the outer side of the wall.

Besides dance movement therapy for the young girls, YUVA has catalysed the formation of Child Protection Committees in many buildings and has also encouraged the police to take action against various anti-social elements in the locality.