While in India over the summer of 13-14 I was fortunate to work with the art therapist Tia Pleiman, mostly in a school with Tamil children. We also visited a women's refuge in Chenai to work with women who were domestic burn victims.
Doll Making, India.
Tia’s warmth and big laugh goes a long way to making the women feel safe. The session means a lot; it touches them. One woman who was being discharged said she would be back for the next session even though she didn’t live anywhere close.
All of the dolls except for the scarecrow are human and female and many are described as modern. One woman named hers Jennifer and told a story of how Jennifer was a modern girl and had won a beauty contest but that she used all the money she received on books! Happy to hear that twist in the story!
Its here the women are able to have therapies of various kinds, operations, physio and eat well to alleviate the effect of the burns which are red, blistered and cover their hands, throat and for some, also parts of their faces. For a time the women can live there and escape their domestic situation. Its shocking to discover often their burns are self inflicted. Their physios say that when they actually do it, it is without thinking. The kerosene is there and they act. Under pressure and suffering abuse they are not able to see any other option.
Sometimes it’s the husband abusing them, the mother-in-law, siblings or other family members and they turn their frustrations on themselves. Subsequently sadly they are then often seen as "additional burdens" by their families.
The women were very happy to see us. After a long greeting and short introduction the scraps of cloth Tia and I carted from our base at Auroville are on
the floor and the potential puppet bodies, bottles, distributed. The women were eager and worked quickly, perhaps for a time forgetting the pain of their scared hands. Mostly they moved easily from cutting to sewing, sometimes chatting, but all absorbed in the process.
Next they drew their puppets and wrote the puppets story in their journals. Then later they were invited to speak, to tell the puppets story.
One woman, new to the center, still very raw literally and emotionally from the experience; more quietly intense than the others, fashioned an asymmetrical Scarecrow.
Her story told of how the Scarecrow had been made to live in the fields and also on buildings to keep away the evil eye and how once the field is harvested and the building is built, the Scarecrow is discarded. This woman had the long fine fingers like those of a pianist. Tia said you never know what caste or status these women have/had outside of the center; that they could come from any kind of background.
I am amazed at their grace, humour and courage. Making the puppets, writing and sharing the story engages them greatly. They now have a record of these moments in the center, away from tormenters and criticism, when they are able to say what they feel through the puppets and the puppet's story.