From being victims to survivors to thrivers


Speech of Dr. Prasanna Gettu, Anne-Klein-Women’s-Prize-Awardee 2020

Dr. Prasanna Gettu, Anne-Klein-Frauenpreisträgerin 2020

Distinguished guests, Respected First Lady, Ms. Elke Budenbender, Ms. Barbara Unmüßig, President, Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, Friends and Supporters of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I most humbly thank the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation for honouring me with ‘The Anne Klein Women’s Award 2020’. My endless gratitude to each of you here, for recognizing the cause my team and our community of supporters work for- an abuse that touches almost every woman at some point in her lifetime - domestic violence/intimate partner violence and sexual violence. The nature of the abuse is such it leaves the victim feeling guilty, blamed, stigmatised, even with her rationalizing the abuse.

The International Foundation for Crime Prevention and Victim Care, known as PCVC, to people back home, was started in 2001 with the primary goal of being a victim assistance centre and a research organisation, by three women (including myself) from the field of criminology and criminal justice.

After a year’s existence, we, the founders, experienced that a large number of victims who approached PCVC for assistance were domestic violence victims, from across the socio-economic strata. In trying to provide support to these women, we stood exposed to the lack of government assistance programs, absence of dedicated domestic violence shelters or medical and legal assistance; a dearth of rehabilitative spaces and resources, such as support groups, counselling, and rehabilitative therapy for women impacted by domestic violence or sexual abuse. A shocking realization was that women facing domestic violence were often looked at as abnormal and treated for mental illness.

These and more led to what we are today- an organisation providing specialist domestic violence support services, a wide range of programs to support women and children as well as queer individuals. We uphold the belief that structural inequalities in society greatly disadvantage women and gender and sexual minorities resulting in power differentials and interpersonal violence in relationships. This framework and practice ensure that all persons approaching us for support are treated with respect and dignity.

Over the years, as we saw more and more women living in violent circumstances and identified and understood their needs and the impact of living in abusive relationships, we expanded our services to meet those needs. Many of our key projects came into being as a response to immediate needs identified by our clients. A cornerstone of our work, our Crisis Intervention Services for women and children, includes providing information, counselling and referrals, emergency shelter, legal advocacy and planning for safety and long term support that includes safe housing, legal assistance, education support for the women and children, skill building support, employment, childcare or simply a space to be, think and get in touch with herself.

We work closely with the All Women Police Stations in the city, to offer crisis counselling and connect women approaching the police station to counselling and other support services. We also partner with other government agencies to continue to improve responses to domestic violence.

In India and elsewhere, it is easy to blame women for not leaving or attribute violence to use of alcohol or mental health or childhood trauma. But this glosses over the conditioned and generational nature of patriarchal violence and allows communities and systems to overlook the culpability of perpetrators and place the onus solely on women to change the circumstances of their lives. While not leaving a violent situation is a woman’s fault, the violence itself is often rationalized away.

At PCVC, we have, over the years, designed interventions that expand the choices available to survivors and help them make decisions regarding their lives that can transcend financial dependence or cultural and societal norms. One such intervention, is the provision of education support to children of survivors under our SMILES project. We have found over the years, that many survivors of domestic violence continue to stay in violent relationships to avoid any disruption in their children’s education and when that is taken care of, many of them are able to make the decision to leave.

As a personal ally of the LGBTQI movement, we at PCVC have over the past few years also worked hard to make sure that our services are more inclusive and open to people with different sexual and gender identities. We believe that solidarity and collaborative action with our LGBTQI family is important to realize our collective dream of living lives free of gender-based violence and other tyrannies.

It has been a process of learning, change and growth for us as we have challenged our own unconscious biases and opened our shelters and crisis services to LGBTQI people. We have worked with and learnt from queer organizations to better our services and ensure that we are providing a safe and nourishing environment where our clients can live their reality without fear. As one of the few available crisis shelters that currently supports queer individuals in India, we are constantly striving to expand available support and always keep our doors open.

To highlight PCVC’s flagship project ‘Vidiyal’- which means ‘new dawn’ in our language, I would like to share the words of an acid attack survivor that’s etched in me. I engaged with her 24 hours from the horrific incident, she gripped my hand so tight I could feel it in my bones, “…I don’t know if I’m dead or alive, I can’t see anything, its all dark …and I’m told I’m okay, not to worry I will be okay!!…please!! please!! tell me what’s happening to my body, I am scared!!..very scared!! he still around ” …

VIDIYAL: A Project for Women Burn Survivors was initiated in the year 2003 at a local government hospital that to date gets an average of 90-100 women every month, impacted by flame and acid burns. 90% of the admitted cases are either self-inflicted or inflicted by husband or in laws, because of domestic violence.

We began with addressing their immediate needs in the hospital by providing nutritious food for speedy healing of wounds, drinking water as well as disposable gowns and bed sheets to reduce the risk of infections, and psychological support.

As we engaged with the patients we grew to understand that trauma caused to acid and burn survivors is so profound that its impact escalates with every passing day, changing the way they see the world and the world sees them, for weeks, months and even years after the incident. The need for long term interventions begins right from the critical stages up to recovery, and we also realized that there were no comprehensive post-burn rehabilitation services addressing the physical and psychosocial requirements of women burn survivors.

The common elements of trauma- it was unexpected, the person was unprepared and there was nothing the person could do to stop it from happening- have different connotations when it comes to acid and burn attack survivors. It’s not just how much physical destruction the incident has caused that determines how traumatic it is, but also the survivor’s experiences of the underlying trauma of interpersonal violence, which by its nature, is chronic.

Many a times we get the question, can these women burn survivors get back to ‘normal’? for most of them they define a new ‘normal’ because of the ways in which their belief systems and views of the world have been fundamentally altered. They need much more than ‘treatment’, they need emotional validation and community support to be able to integrate back into life.

Vidiyal now has a multidisciplinary team comprising of psychosocial workers, physiotherapist, wound care specialists, welfare officers and caretakers, to provide rehabilitation services to women burn survivors after hospital discharge. Outreach services assess needs, follow up with patients after discharge and deliver services such as home rehabilitation and wound care, and motivate women to join our ‘Recovery and Healing Center for Women Burn Survivors’.

The residential and rehabilitation facility offers round the clock care such as physical rehabilitation, wound and scar care, individual psychological counselling, family counselling, peer support and activities that promote social inclusion.

This Comprehensive Model of Care covers the spectrum from hospital and acute care to ongoing treatment, rehabilitation and reintegration to society. The model encourages women burn survivors with a simple and powerful message, “you can get back to living a life of your choice, we are with you through that journey…”. We have witnessed the journeys of nearly 5000 women burn survivors – from being victims to survivors to thrivers- leading lives of their choice. Over the past 6 months, we have extended our work to 11 more government hospitals in the state with the sole aim to provide support to every woman impacted by burn injuries in the state and a dedicated National Support-line for Women Burn Survivors providing emergency assistance and guidance to nearest burn units, first aid options and post discharge follow-ups up to recovery. Our work also encompasses stakeholder engagement and capacity building for civil society organizations, paramedics and health care providers across the State.

A dedicated team of 25 social workers and psychologists work tirelessly to attend to the emotional and physical safety of acid and burn survivors, in strengthening their capacities to deal with multiple complex issues that they face in accessing safety, recovering from the traumatic effects of acid and burns, domestic violence and other lifetime abuses, and rebuilding their lives. We have pledged to work together to ensure that acid and other burn survivors have access to services in an environment that is inclusive, welcoming, destigmatizing, and non-traumatizing.

2020 happens to be our 20th year of working towards achieving our goal of ending violence against women. Ahead of marking our upcoming 20th anniversary, two years ago we asked ourselves ‘who else but us’, and with all determination initiated the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a 24-hour multichannel hotline for women facing domestic or sexual violence. Still in its infant stage, the hotline receives on an average 5 new calls a day from women or their families, friends, colleagues or employers. I am happy to share with all of you that the infrastructure of the Hotline room was supported by the Consulate General of Germany at Chennai and inaugurated by the First Lady of Germany, Ms. Elke Budenbender.

As a service provider, providing support to women post violence, we at PCVC are aware that when there is a ‘kick with the boots’ or a ‘throw of words on a woman’, it doesn’t happen in a vacuum, its ‘historical’. We believe that to end violence against women we need to eradicate it from the roots. For this, we work with people across the society to bring a positive shift in the attitudes, mindsets and practices which perpetrate violence and discrimination against women.

A momentum is gathering, awareness is rising, and we truly believe that more and more women will – not just reach out for support when it happens or report violence – but will work together to prevent violence in all our lives and take collective action.

This award is a great honour to the tireless work of my colleagues and team back home. I dedicate this to every one of them and take this opportunity to thank them for their priceless time and effort towards this cause.

To my co- founders, Usha Rani and Hema Ramachandran, for your vision and dedication in the infant years of PCVC that has allowed us to get here. Thank you!!

This evening is also very special to me as I have a handful of people here from my life’s journey, who have shown how much they value my work, by traveling 1000’s of miles from across the globe to stand by me at this moment. My brother and sister in law, Dr Ravindra Gettu and Padma Gettu, my children, Dr. Abhinav Valada and Dr. Divya Valada, both of whom seem to have chosen to work in a totally ‘no human environment’, the field of robotics and veterinary sciences, perhaps a result of growing up witnessing my work; my closest childhood friend, Sharmila John who has come here all the way from the US and friends I’ve won over the years of doing this work; my dear and first German friend Karin Griese, and members from Medica Mondiale, a big thank you for trusting and believing in PCVC’s work and valuing my contribution and nominating me for this prestigious award. Friends from the Frauenhilfe Foundation, Dorothea Schneider, Marion von Gerlach, Silky Haug and Christine Schmidt, who for more than 10 years now, have been giving their most valuable time fundraising for PCVC every single year and have been most passionate and committed supporters of our work.

At times we meet people who we instantly connect with and that connection goes a long way, Didem and Achim Fabig, who are with us today. I met them when Achim was the Consulate General of Germany, Chennai. They demonstrated an absolute, unconditional faith in our work that was humbling to say the least. And its they who made it possible for the First Lady to come to PCVC during her visit with the President in 2018 and understand our work.

Thank you Heinrich-Böll-Foundation for making this event more than an award ceremony for me, a day that will go into the chapters of my organization as a Landmark Day.      

I have a heavy gift for all of you today, greetings and loads of love from my mother, who couldn’t make this long journey to be with us today.