Longing for Dignity

Transforming  human trafficking ecosystem

Sometimes we need to walk to the edges of our civilization to see deeper truths. Human trafficking is one such edge. It is a story of how human can reduce humanity to an object for flesh-trade.

I was ignorant and apathetic to the world of human trafficking until two leading non-profit organizations, working on anti-trafficking, invited me to facilitate a dialogue. They asked me to help them solve complex systems challenges in their field that was leading to internal ideological conflicts and impacting their collective work.

We convened a group of men and women committed to fighting against this gruesome act of humanity. At the end of the first day, we sat in a circle and shared painful stories of how young girls and boys are sold, how their innocence is manipulated, and their dignity is destroyed. As they introduced me to the dark world of human trafficking, I felt deeply sad, angry and helpless. I had no courage to facilitate a dialogue on such a painful topic. At some level, it was hard for me to relate to their complex challenges.

Honouring the FieldKali trampling Shiva. Chromolithograph by R. Varma.

Coincidently, the workshop was scheduled during Navratri (April 2017)– a festival where Hindu’s worship nine avatars of Goddess or Divine Feminine over nine nights. On that particular night, it was Day 7, Kalaratri pooja. I invoked the Goddess in my meditation and confessed my limitations as a man holding a conversation that related to deep dishonouring of the feminine. I asked her to help me in my role as a facilitator. Image of Kali with Shiva lying on her feet popped up with two clear insights: 1. Listen to the body (Kali doesn’t like anything heady) and 2. Surrender (as Shiva did)!

Next morning, instead of conversations, we used an embodied contemplative theatre practice called 4D Mapping to understand the social system that leads to trafficking of girls. 4D Mapping is one of the practices of Social Presencing Theatre developed by Arawana Hayashi. In this, we work with complex systems challenges, embody key stakeholders and co-create a social sculpture of current social reality. This process makes visible the hidden dimensions of the social field and generates in-depth data about the shifts that could move the whole ecosystem towards its wellbeing. Most importantly, this process required us to surrender our agenda and listen to the wisdom of our bodies.

Participants played different roles representing victim girl, her family, her dignity, police system, shelter homes, anti-trafficking NGOs, the justice system and customers. As we embodied the roles and relationships between various actors, all the stories from last night and many generations, become alive. We were uncovering the primal patterns of systemic oppression: where suppressed-sexuality turns women into objects of sex; and upheld-morality fights back to give her justice. She suffers on both ends. Sacrificing her dignity and freedom. While we walk the clean streets with our pants zipped and collars upright.

Collective Resonance: 

When we sat back in a circle to reflect on what we just experienced, the whole room went in deep impregnating silence. There was an unspoken resonance vibrating through space, transforming words into tears. After a while, few spoke from their heart. Others nodded in deep acceptance.

A man who played the role of a ‘victim girl’ shared that while embodying her role, he could feel her trembling fear and pain in his body. He added that while every other player in the act were pulling or pushing the girl to justice, all that she longed for was acceptance and dignity from her family.

A woman who played the role of a ‘policeman’ shared that while playing the role, she felt exhausted and misjudged by others. All that policeman wanted was appreciation and dignity for his work.

Another woman who embodied ‘family’ found herself powerless and filled with shame. All through the exercise ‘family’ kept lying on edge away from ‘dignity’. She said, “I know the girl longs to come back, and everyone else judges me (family) for letting her go, but I have no dignity left within myself. I have no agency or power either.”

Everyone in the room, including me, cried as we embraced the fact— we all were somehow victims and contributors, unfairly stuck in this systemic suffering. And each one, irrespective of our gender, longed for acceptance and dignity.

Collective Resolution: 

Slowly our heart-felt reflections transformed into collective resolve.

A program leader opened her heart and said “I think we got it wrong from the beginning. We got so invested in our idea of justice that we turned insensitive to girls need. How different are we from the trafficking ecosystem that robs her of her dignity? We need to redefine our purpose from anti-trafficking to pro-dignity”.

A young man who works with communities and shelter homes said “I have been feeling this for long. Her dignity dies at the source: when her family sells her due to their vulnerable social-economic conditions. We should work at the source instead of trying to fix the problem after she has lost all hopes in the trafficking system”. Another leader declared: “Let’s redirect our attention and funds for bringing dignity to girls and working with their vulnerable families”.

In following days and weeks, insights were translated into new projects. Relationships between the partners has deepened and so is their collective advocacy for draft bill on anti-trafficking in India. However, there was another piece of the puzzle lying in the outer circle.

Customers & Citizens: Two sides of the same coin?

Throughout our reflective dialogue, I kept wondering about the mysterious role of the customers. How could men be so inhuman to turn a woman or a child into an object for the sex-trade? Don’t they get curious about her feelings, her fears, her helplessness?

In the paralysed stuckness of the customer, I could see wounded masculine energy that falls prey to their own repressed sexuality, and, gets stuck in corrupt game of sex, money and power.

Towards end, my attention shifted to yet another invisible role– bystanders or citizens. Those of us who are aware but choose to disengage from the dark quarters of sex-trafficking or prostitution. We do not want to get our linen dirty in this mess. We would instead write college essays on ‘legalization of prostitution’ or share WhatsApp jokes on ‘Bangkok holidays’. Aren’t we part of the social system that creates the ground for sex-trade? Haven’t we invented and upheld morality that shames sexual desires? Pushing it to shadow realms of prostitution and pornography. In that sense, how different are we form the customers who create demand and activate the human trafficking system?

We generated powerful felt-insights when we created the embodied map of the stakeholder, oppressors, rescuers and oppressed in the social system. I wondered, how we would place the feminine, masculine, child, shame, sexuality, dignity within our hearts? Who oppresses whom? What accentuates the customer? What disempowers the bystander? What is the divine within us really longing for?

Returning to the Woman within

After the workshop, I sat alone in the room, feeling the resonance of the dialogue we just had. Unresolved, I turned again to the Goddess, the divine feminine. She responded from within:

A woman is reduced to an object for sex
So you can strip her of all her dignity
And redeem yourself from your shame

A stone is turned into a revered Goddess
So you can project her dignified presence
And redeem yourself from your guilt

Where have you lost it, O civilized man?
Couldn’t you pause and feel the woman within?
She longs for dignity and your presence!

—————
This experience led me to a poetic exploration of the inner dimensions of masculinity; and it’s journey from woundedness (exploiting feminine) to wholeness (honouring feminine and healing the world); in my upcoming book “Trading Armour for a Flower: Rise of New Masculine
—————

– Manish Srivastava


Gratitude:

I am grateful to the leaders and team members of Kamonohashi Project and Save The Children India for this opportunity to learn and work with them. They are doing incredible work to transform the trafficking ecosystem. Pls, visit their website to learn more about their work and contribute to their projects.
Kamonohashi Project: https://www.en.kamonohashi-project.net 
Save The Children India: https://savethechildrenindia.org 

Invoking the Goddess

In the auspicious week of Navratri, I felt an inner longing to reconnect with the divine feminine within. She has shown up in my dreams and life upsets earlier. I have been reluctant, and little scared, to understand her. However, this Navratri, she knocked my heart’s door again. Offering me a path to journey from hurt, ignorance & rage to love, wisdom & grace.

Since, I am not well versed with our scriptures, rituals or mantras, I started running to invoke the divine goddess. The rhythm of my body became a hymn & a chant. Silence of my mind allowed me to contemplate on the essence of  3 powerful goddesses I have known since my childhood. As a child and an adolescent, I used to adore their magnificent form, nurturing gaze and voluptuous figure. Now, I could relate to them as a collective energy or consciousness. In some way, I am invoking their felt-sense within me and my environment. Offering my experience to my blog-mates as a shared gift from the Goddesses of Navratri.

 

From hurt (scarcity) to love (abundance)

Maa Lakshmi Namh..220px-Ravi_Varma-Lakshmi

Give me love, give me healing
Teach me abundance, and, teach me giving
Make me a source of your boundless love
Help me see it in every one

When I am hurt, it feels as if something is snatched away from me. Leaving a deep void & incompletion within. Projected as victimhood created by others. Either ways, I am living is deep scarcity and longing for love and healing. Believing that it can be compensated either by others mercy or my revenge. Neither approach fills my void or honours my self-esteem. I become further hurt, insecure & manipulative. Stuck in an endless cycle. Goddess Lakshmi helps in breaking this cycle by filling me with boundless love for self and others. When I stand on the reservoir of her abundance, I feel internally secure, assured and complete. What was deep hurt earlier transform into the pain necessary for my growth. I become open to wisdom hidden in advertises (the realm of Goddess Saraswati). This evokes deep gratitude and compassion for the prosecutor. Goddess Lakshmi when invoked in one heart transform the whole field by reminding us of the endless love and wealth that we naturally inherits.

From arrogance (of intellect) to humility (of wisdom)

Maa Saraswati Namh..220px-Saraswati

Give me wisdom, give me learning
Make me humble for my shortcomings
Show me how my life is my creation
And how will it help me in my evolution 

When confronted with complex, emotional challenges, I feel hurt and helplessness. All I want is to fix the issue, the person, the problem, forever. Ego makes me believe as if I am in-charge of the same. However, I have spend lifetime, striving to solve, fix, eradicate these issues. Yet, they surface again and again. Often I am oblivious to the patterns and my own blindspots. When my intellect fails me, I become even more cynical and hurt. I invoke Goddess Saraswati to bless me with wisdom to understand the larger whole. Help me see my part so I can transform from within. Give me courage to learn from my challenges and turn them into crucible of my evolution . Make me humble to honour the wisdom in others.

From rage (outer madness) to grace (calm strength) 

Ma Durga Namh…

Give me courage, and, give me faith
To take a stand with resilience 
Teach me how to forgive with grace 
With outer calm and inner strength 

When hurt & cynical, my anger manifests as wild rage. Like an erupted volcano, my outburst creates more damage and hurt for self and others. It gives me a momentary sense of power but soon leaves me very weak and powerless. I end up becoming the part of same drama— displaying the same animality that led to my hurt in first place. On others times, I am frozen by fear of such rage within me or other. Either ways, I loose my centre and calm. I give away my capacity to listen and influence. And worst of all, I miss the opportunity to learn and transform myself and others. In such possessed moments, I seek the almighty Durga to invoke within me her grace— a powerful presence with inner strength and outer calm. I seek her courage and faith to stay centred in the middle of fire. Her magnanimity to forgive self and others.

May divine mother goddess energy show in all our life. May they bless us and our worlds. May we all shine in their love, abundance, wisdom, humility, courage & grace.

 

Om Hrim Shri Lakshmibhyo nāmahā
Sri Sarasvatyai nāmahā 
Oṃ Duṃ Durgāyai nāmahā

(above mantras & pictures from wikipedia.com & hdgodwallpapers.com)

 

from the sacred well

on March 27, 2015