The choice to make a difference

The choice to make a difference
Highlights

All along, she chose to take courage from life itself, “One of my friends Pranaadhika, who is also a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse says, you can drown or fly; and I chose the latter.  My adulthood shaped me into a strong and outspoken woman with practical out-look on life with little or no trust in men.”

Varsha Bhargavi, a Kuchipudi dancer and an exponent of Andhra Natyam is also an active volunteer at the MV Foundation. A survivior of child abuse, she has dedicated her life to work towards protecting child rights and in preventing child abuse.

She was recently appointed as State Coordinator for Elimination of Child Labour in Telangana by the Labour department. She retells the horrific experiences of her childhood that steered her towards social service and shares her experiences in an exclusive interview.

“I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. I was raped by my uncle at the age of 8 years. I told my parents, but they nothing came of it. My parents split when I was 16 years of age. I and my brother chose to stay with my mother. Due to financial problems, I had to drop out of college.

I began to work to support my family and continued to study,” shares Varsha. She completed her Degree and went to Dubai to work first as a Sales Consultant and then grew to the level of Product Marketing Manager with an e-commerce service provider.

All along, she chose to take courage from life itself, “One of my friends Pranaadhika, who is also a survivor of Child Sexual Abuse says, you can drown or fly; and I chose the latter. My adulthood shaped me into a strong and outspoken woman with practical out-look on life with little or no trust in men.”

Varsha came back to India and began her tryst with travel business. “As I was exposed to multicultural environment, I wanted to start something on my own and I returned to India and set up my travel business, Concept Voyages.

I am not an ambitious tour operator, but carved a niche for myself as a luxury tour operator. My business gave me the flexibility and time to start volunteering, and I began working with an NGO called MV Foundation, which does tremendous work in rescuing children from labour, and has forced governments to change policies for protecting the rights of children,” she shared.

While working with MVF, Varsha gained more exposure to the plight of girls, who are denied their right to education, pushed into child marriages and child labour. She relates, “I started writing reports and presenting papers in seminars on children's rights.

But then my suggestions and ideas were limited to petitioning as a Child Rights Activist. Later, I was elected to be an Advisor for Child Rights Protection Forum that works as a pressure group for government and creates a conducive and healthy environment in rural India for children.”

Amongst the many roles she plays, Varsha is also a member of State Resource Group (SRG). “This compliments my work as children in vulnerable situations are prone to dropping out from schools and eventually end up as child labour. My role as a member of the SRG is to train the trainers in education department in preventing child sexual abuse, elimination of child labour, create awareness about children's rights and gender sensitisation.”

The dancer, who has chosen to dedicate her time to children and protection of their rights has opportunities coming her way that only strengthen her core interest. She has recently been chosen as State Co-Ordinator in Labour department, and she is taking it in her stride.

“My own childhood experiences and volunteering with children, petitioning to government, networking with other NGOs and departments everything is coming handy in getting the job done. There is a lot of paperwork when you work for government.

But I am getting used to it. The job gives me the much-needed freedom to facilitate change in the lives of children in a small way. As my seniors at work say, there is no substitute for political will and official word, I am recognising that every day,” she says.

What keeps her inspired, “If you ask me about my source of inspiration, I would say it is my friends and my fellow activists who offer me incredible support. I draw inspiration from Dr Shantha Sinha, R Venkat Reddy and P Sainath with whom I had an opportunity to work with and learn a great deal about how activism can be used to bring policy level changes.

My association with the women's collective ‘I Will Go Out’, opened my mind in understanding the power of sisterhood. I made friends with some transgender people too who are just as loving as my other friends. I am blessed in many ways.”

By Aneri Shah

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