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Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Meet the woman who has rehabilitated over 15,000 people, including sex workers & women inmates

Over the years now Reshma has touched the lives of more than 15,000 people, including sex workers, women inmates, outcasts, and youngsters who had lost their way, across the slums in Mumbai and several villages in Marathwada of Maharashtra.

A quintessential Dharavi child, Reshma Parab had an upbringing that epitomized the life of an underdog in India’s glittering metropolis: Mumbai. Inside this over burgeoning mass of humanity, young Reshma grew up like any other Dharavi kid – with more family members than their shanty could hold, playful with a sense of abandon, imitating the mannerisms and language used by adults around them and witnessing crime as a normal way of life.

Nothing changed — until 2001, when Reshma’s paths crossed with the Art of Living movement. 

“They had organized a meditation workshop for the adults,” Reshma tells Platocast. “But the adults, most of them daily laborers, were not interested. Instead, it was the children who showed up out of curiosity! That is how I took my first steps towards a different life.”

At a very young age, impressed by the changes she saw in her own life, Reshma completed the Art of Living’s Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) for social projects and started working in earnest to uplift the people around her in the slum. 

She reminiscences: “Some magic happened by the end of the program. My mind stabilized and gained focus. It brought a sea change in my perspective of life.” 

Reshma became an integral part of a very inspired team of dynamic volunteers. Soon enough, they were able to bring to life a free school for the underprivileged slum children. After knocking the doors of about 400 homes and trying to convince parents about the importance of their child’s education, the team was able to get 50 students admitted to the school.

This path was never bereft of its own set of challenges. Too many people shut doors on their faces, saying that they didn’t want to miss their daily soap!

When in school, Reshma contracted Tuberculosis. The slum conditions coupled with ignorance of precautionary measures made it worse. Fear of the end loomed large over her and her family, until when her Art of Living teachers stepped in. 

With regular practice of deep diaphragmatic breathing practices like Sudarshan Kriya, before even her course of medicines was halfway through, she started feeling better. It only worked to strengthen her faith and determination. This time even her parents could not be untouched by the faith in her Guru.

With a renewed vigour Reshma resumed her work, and intense learning followed. One such instance was conducting the prison rehabilitation programme (Prison SMART program) for women’s remand home in Mankhurd, Mumbai. 

She recalls: “So many of these girls were well educated. Young and inexperienced as they were, they either got duped by their boyfriends or ended up doing illegal work for the want of money.” 

Being a woman herself, this was a heart-wrenching experience for Reshma. The first day of the programme, they could hardly sit due to restlessness and trauma. Reshma had to find ways to endear her to them and then things began to fall in place. An ocean of love emerged as they calmed down with the processes taught in the program. By the end of the program, it was not just the girls who underwent a sea transformation, Reshma too emerged a new woman. 

She says, “I lived so many lives in those six days.”

In the course of events she also stumbled upon hardened criminals from Mumbai’s infamous underworld, who were, incidentally, very keen on learning yoga and meditation. Knowing that spirituality can reform a person, Reshma never turned them away. She knew she was meant to take her spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s vision of creating a stress-free and violence-free world to the ones who needed it most. 

Over the years now Reshma has touched the lives of more than 15,000 people, including sex workers, women inmates, outcasts, and youngsters who had lost their way, across the slums in Mumbai and several villages in Marathwada of Maharashtra, with the Art of Living rehabilitation and empowerment programs, also helping youth quit substance abuse, alcohol and cigarettes, making them shine from within.

Even during the lockdown, Reshma and her team of Art of Living volunteers were at the forefront in distribution of grains and ready food in areas like Dharavi, under Parel bridge and for the relatives of cancer patients outside Tat hospital, so that no one begged for food. Simultaneously, she took online stress-relief workshops, and people from Dharavi joined in large numbers too.

A new lease of life for about 200 sex workers

With the help, assistance and guidance of Reshma, about 200 sex workers from Kamatipura in Mumbai took The Art of Living’s breath and meditation program, where apart from learning meditation, deep breathing yoga, by ways of beautiful and uplifting interactive processes, they also learned several transformative yet simple keys to have a happy mind, more positive emotional well-being, and a healthy body, as part of an initiative undertaken by the social worker, Parvati Khanduri.  This was unlike anything they had experienced before. 

learn ways to deal with severe chronic stress and anxiety, that they have had to face owing to the pandemic led lockdown and loss of income. So severe is their situation that they have had to serve clients for as less as Rs.50 and Rs.100 to get some food for their family and children. At such a time, the training came as a boost of hope, rekindling faith and confidence in themselves, while teaching them ways to take care of their mind and body. The program aimed to instill such unwavering strength and resilience that no situation could take the smile away from their faces.  

Sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed, Rihana Ansari (name changed) smiled to herself, with tears flowing too, perhaps after a long time. “Nobody wanted anything from me this time. They wanted me to be happy,” she said.  

“I feel feather-light as if all tension, pain, and sorrow has left my body,” Rihana added.  “I had always seen others do meditation and I wanted to learn too but never had access before.”

While you may get to read a lot about the rising stress and anxiety problems in society in general, the data on psychiatric morbidity among female commercial sex workers (FCSW) is worth taking a look at. The lockdowns have had a particularly back-breaking effect on the community, with the number of clients dwindling to a halt. An unorganized sector that it is, there has been no financial cover available for the community during the pandemic driven economic crisis. 

This has also led to a dangerous rise in the cases of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders among FCSWs. More recently, with no income, they were found selling their services for Rs.50 and Rs.100 to get basics such as food, causing severe stress and uncertainty in their minds.

A study found that, of the 100 FCSWs observed, 9% of the respondents reported had major depressive episode (current), 25% of the respondents reported major depressive episode (past), 3% had major depressive episode with melancholic features(current), 21% of the respondents reported posttraumatic stress disorder(PTSD), 8% of the respondents reported having alcohol dependence, 3% of the respondents reported having non-alcohol psychoactive substance use disorder, 8%of the respondents were found to have generalized anxiety disorder, and 9% of the respondents were found to have an antisocial personality disorder. But there is hope.

“My mind is at peace,” said Akhi Aftab Ansari, one of the participants. “I am feeling very light, nice, and happy. This is the first time in my life I have attended something like this and I feel very relaxed. This is the first time in my life that I actually knew what happiness feels like.”  

There is a vast body of research now available that demonstrates the therapeutic benefits of wellness practices like yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises on mental health, reduction in anxiety and sleep disorders and severe trauma, and restoring positive emotions. Particularly in the treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms, 11 studies have reported a correlation between spirituality and trauma-related mental illnesses. 

On the last day of the program, every participant was handed over food grain packets which included 5 kg wheat flour, 5 kg rice, 2 kg dal, 1 kg sugar, salt and oil, which can feed them for 25 days.  

A quintessential Dharavi child, Reshma Parab had an upbringing that epitomized the life of an underdog in India’s glittering metropolis: Mumbai. Inside this over burgeoning mass of humanity, young Reshma grew up like any other Dharavi kid – with more family members than their shanty could hold, playful with a sense of abandon, imitating the mannerisms and language used by adults around them and witnessing crime as a normal way of life.

Nothing changed — until 2001, when Reshma’s paths crossed with the Art of Living movement. 

“They had organized a meditation workshop for the adults,” Reshma tells Platocast. “But the adults, most of them daily laborers, were not interested. Instead, it was the children who showed up out of curiosity! That is how I took my first steps towards a different life.”

At a very young age, impressed by the changes she saw in her own life, Reshma completed the Art of Living’s Youth Leadership Training Program (YLTP) for social projects and started working in earnest to uplift the people around her in the slum. 

She reminiscences: “Some magic happened by the end of the program. My mind stabilized and gained focus. It brought a sea change in my perspective of life.” 

Reshma became an integral part of a very inspired team of dynamic volunteers. Soon enough, they were able to bring to life a free school for the underprivileged slum children. After knocking the doors of about 400 homes and trying to convince parents about the importance of their child’s education, the team was able to get 50 students admitted to the school.

 This path was never bereft of its own set of challenges. Too many people shut doors on their faces, saying that they didn’t want to miss their daily soap!

When in school, Reshma contracted Tuberculosis. The slum conditions coupled with ignorance of precautionary measures made it worse. Fear of the end loomed large over her and her family, until when her Art of Living teachers stepped in. 

With regular practice of deep diaphragmatic breathing practices like Sudarshan Kriya, before even her course of medicines was halfway through, she started feeling better. It only worked to strengthen her faith and determination. This time even her parents could not be untouched by the faith in her Guru.

With a renewed vigour Reshma resumed her work, and intense learning followed. One such instance was conducting the prison rehabilitation programme (Prison SMART program) for women’s remand home in Mankhurd, Mumbai. 

She recalls: “So many of these girls were well educated. Young and inexperienced as they were, they either got duped by their boyfriends or ended up doing illegal work for the want of money.” 

Being a woman herself, this was a heart-wrenching experience for Reshma. The first day of the programme, they could hardly sit due to restlessness and trauma. Reshma had to find ways to endear her to them and then things began to fall in place. An ocean of love emerged as they calmed down with the processes taught in the program. By the end of the program, it was not just the girls who underwent a sea transformation, Reshma too emerged a new woman. 

She says, “I lived so many lives in those six days.”

In the course of events she also stumbled upon hardened criminals from Mumbai’s infamous underworld, who were, incidentally, very keen on learning yoga and meditation. Knowing that spirituality can reform a person, Reshma never turned them away. She knew she was meant to take her spiritual master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s vision of creating a stress-free and violence-free world to the ones who needed it most. 

Over the years now Reshma has touched the lives of more than 15,000 people, including sex workers, women inmates, outcasts, and youngsters who had lost their way, across the slums in Mumbai and several villages in Marathwada of Maharashtra, with the Art of Living rehabilitation and empowerment programs, also helping youth quit substance abuse, alcohol and cigarettes, making them shine from within.

Even during the lockdown, Reshma and her team of Art of Living volunteers were at the forefront in distribution of grains and ready food in areas like Dharavi, under Parel bridge and for the relatives of cancer patients outside Tat hospital, so that no one begged for food. Simultaneously, she took online stress-relief workshops, and people from Dharavi joined in large numbers too.

A new lease of life for about 200 sex workers

With the help, assistance and guidance of Reshma, about 200 sex workers from Kamatipura in Mumbai took The Art of Living’s breath and meditation program, where apart from learning meditation, deep breathing yoga, by ways of beautiful and uplifting interactive processes, they also learned several transformative yet simple keys to have a happy mind, more positive emotional well-being, and a healthy body, as part of an initiative undertaken by the social worker, Parvati Khanduri.  This was unlike anything they had experienced before. 

learn ways to deal with severe chronic stress and anxiety, that they have had to face owing to the pandemic led lockdown and loss of income. So severe is their situation that they have had to serve clients for as less as Rs.50 and Rs.100 to get some food for their family and children. At such a time, the training came as a boost of hope, rekindling faith and confidence in themselves, while teaching them ways to take care of their mind and body. The program aimed to instill such unwavering strength and resilience that no situation could take the smile away from their faces.  

Meet the woman who has rehabilitated over 15,000 people, including sex workers & women inmates

Sitting cross-legged with her eyes closed, Rihana Ansari (name changed) smiled to herself, with tears flowing too, perhaps after a long time. “Nobody wanted anything from me this time. They wanted me to be happy,” she said.  

“I feel feather-light as if all tension, pain, and sorrow has left my body,” Rihana added.  “I had always seen others do meditation and I wanted to learn too but never had access before.”

While you may get to read a lot about the rising stress and anxiety problems in society in general, the data on psychiatric morbidity among female commercial sex workers (FCSW) is worth taking a look at. The lockdowns have had a particularly back-breaking effect on the community, with the number of clients dwindling to a halt. An unorganized sector that it is, there has been no financial cover available for the community during the pandemic driven economic crisis. 

This has also led to a dangerous rise in the cases of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorders among FCSWs. More recently, with no income, they were found selling their services for Rs.50 and Rs.100 to get basics such as food, causing severe stress and uncertainty in their minds.

A study found that, of the 100 FCSWs observed, 9% of the respondents reported had major depressive episode (current), 25% of the respondents reported major depressive episode (past), 3% had major depressive episode with melancholic features(current), 21% of the respondents reported posttraumatic stress disorder(PTSD), 8% of the respondents reported having alcohol dependence, 3% of the respondents reported having non-alcohol psychoactive substance use disorder, 8%of the respondents were found to have generalized anxiety disorder, and 9% of the respondents were found to have an antisocial personality disorder. But there is hope.

“My mind is at peace,” said Akhi Aftab Ansari, one of the participants. “I am feeling very light, nice, and happy. This is the first time in my life I have attended something like this and I feel very relaxed. This is the first time in my life that I actually knew what happiness feels like.”  

There is a vast body of research now available that demonstrates the therapeutic benefits of wellness practices like yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises on mental health, reduction in anxiety and sleep disorders and severe trauma, and restoring positive emotions. Particularly in the treatment of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms, 11 studies have reported a correlation between spirituality and trauma-related mental illnesses. 

On the last day of the program, every participant was handed over food grain packets which included 5 kg wheat flour, 5 kg rice, 2 kg dal, 1 kg sugar, salt and oil, which can feed them for 25 days.  

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