New Delhi, September 28, 2020: Sakshi, a rights-based NGO, through The Rakshin Project, a programme in partnership with the Directorate of NSS, Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, launched its pilot phase in March to empower and educate NSS Volunteers across the country to prevent, prohibit and resolve gender-based violence with a focus on Child Sexual Abuse. On September 26, 31 Rakshin Champions, (NSS Volunteers) from seven colleges, selected from 2500 students across 25 colleges in Tamil Nadu, were awarded for successful completion of the Rakshin Fellowship (Level 2).
The online event saw the unique presence of all the stakeholders: the Ministry, the educational institutes, the funding partners, participating students and their families. Present as the keynote speaker for the event was Dr Amerandra Kumar Dubey, a member of the Central Administrative Tribunal and Former Secretary of the Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, who had issued the directions to Sakshi in 2018. The Chief Guests were Shri Rakesh Kumar, Chairman and MD of NLC India Limited, and Shri Asit Singh, Joint Secretary, Department of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Govt. of India.
The Rakshin Project has three pillars: The Rakshin Fellowship for Education and Skill Building, Resolution Mechanisms for Cultivating Resilience and Sustained Engagement for Forming Preventive Actions. Recognising that violence begins at home, the Rakshin Project is dedicated to addressing child sexual abuse within the context of the home and the community. Through the Rakshin Fellowship, the NSS volunteers are educated about the multiple facets of prevention of child sexual abuse as they are equipped to become Rakshins — the preventers of child sexual abuse.
In her welcome address, Dr Jayashree AG, Head – Tamil Nadu, The Rakshin Project by Sakshi, spoke about “the uniquely designed Rakshin Fellowship Programme, with its 5 levels, 12 certificates, and 18 modules, spread over two years.”
The participating students and their families highlighted their experience and learnings and shared how through the comprehensive modules, questionnaires, surveys, focused group discussions and tasks for peer and community engagement, they had for the first time had conversations amongst the family members and friends, analysing gender-based violence; how they practised the tools for de-escalating conflict in real-life scenarios, and how again, for the first time, they understood the relationship between consent, NO, constitutional right to equality and child sexual abuse. They shared how they had informed their peers on the issues of child sexual abuse, and built a network of people within the family to address the issue of child sexual abuse, if an instance of such were to occur.
Dr Aditi Kishore, Head South India, The Rakshin Project by Sakshi, elaborated the critical criteria for selection of the volunteers into The Rakshin Fellowship Programme, emphasising that to be a Rakshin, the student has to be prepared to “primarily build one’s own self – breaking the barriers of silence, shame, stigma and denial and speaking the right language”. The students selected for this round were from seven colleges from Tamil Nadu – Guru Nanak College, National Engineering College, Madras Institute of Technology, SRM Easwari Engineering College, Kamraj College of Engineering & Technology, Annamalai University and Vellore Institute of Technology.
The NSS Programme Officer, from Vellore Institute of Technology Chennai, Dr Balamurugan was explicit in his affirmation of the programme relevance and importance. “Sakshi is doing a wonderful job and it is very important because there is a need for creating awareness among students as well as the public. I urge the NSS directorate to include awareness against Child Sexual Abuse as one of the key activities and focus areas of the NSS.”
Shri Asit Singh, Jt. Secretary, Dept of Youth Affairs, Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, GOI, in his special address reaffirmed the Ministry focus for empowering the youth in this movement to eradicate child sexual abuse. “As Director-General of both NYKS in the Centre and NSS, these two are the largest volunteer organizations of its kind in the world having more than 75 lakh volunteers at this point of time all over the country, and about 2 lakh youth clubs. In the general term, Gender Equality and Responsible Sexuality is there, but at this point of time, it is not part of the focus area of the NSS. In the new guidelines that we are about to revise (and we are revising the entire manual for NSS), we would like to include this not only as a focus programme for NSS, but also as a criterion for judging the NSS awards wherein the Hon’ble President of India gives awards to about 30 volunteers and 10 programme officers every year on NSS Day on 24th September. Sakshi has been doing a wonderful job, and today’s event is evidence of what we have been doing and what the Rakshins have been doing in Tamil Nadu. We are partners with Sakshi in other States, and our experience with them has been extremely fruitful. I am sure that the partnership with Sakshi will take us to the greater heights of achieving these goals which are so very important for both male and female young children in the country.”
So far, The Rakshin Project has its footprint in 185 colleges across every State in the country and has equipped over 12,000 NSS volunteers during the COVID months. The 25 colleges in Tamil Nadu have been supported through CSR by NLC India Limited. In his special address, Rakesh Kumar, Chairman and MD, NLC India Limited, spoke about the need to address the safety and security of children above all else. “The Rakshin Project workshops have firmly established a positive shift in mindset, and the NSS volunteers who attended the programme have become real champions of change. I congratulate all the Rakshins, and I congratulate Sakshi for resonating a massive motivational spirit across the country. I request all the Rakshins to work consistently as preventors [of child sexual abuse] to keep achieving the impact of the workshops by helping more NSS volunteers to take the information forward, and create a culture of accountability.”
Dr AK Dubey, Member, Central Administrative Tribunal and Retd. Secretary, Youth Affairs, Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sports, Govt. of India, who had initiated this project under the Directorate of NSS, applauded the work done so far, “I would like to congratulate Sakshi for undertaking this task and carrying it out in such a way that it comes to an example for others. A day should come when people should talk to a trained Rakshin and say “where do you get all this knowledge and these skills from? I also want it.” That would be the day when once can say we have succeeded in our ways.”
Smita Bharti, Executive Director, Sakshi – a rights-based NGO, charted the next action for the Fellows, “After Each Teach Two, which we are certifying today, the next stage of The Rakshin Fellowship is Each Teach Ten, where the students, will be equipped to lead conversations around prevention of sexual violence, create safe spaces for disclosure, and secure the child in instances of abuse within their communities.” She summed up the sentiment of the people present in the room, through her statement, “Through our collective action, we can dare to imagine a world where sexual violence against children will cease, where the youth will be empowered to speak up and stop inequalities that they see around them.”