Post 2 – By Vasavi Nigam

I returned the second day with a lot of energy, ready to start what was going to be 15 days of fun, joy and learning. I rearranged the plan for the workshop for it to span over the 15 days in June with follow ups over 4 Saturdays in July 2015.

The girls were divided again in the same categories according to age, 6-12 year olds and then 13-18 year olds. I had 3 batches, the third batch was a more advance class which had girls that I had already worked with last summer. I took on more disabled girls this summer increasing the number to 10 vs 6 in the past year.

The aim was to start making all the new girls feel comfortable. Be it comfort in their surroundings, being among the other girls or inner body comfort, being comfortable in their own skin. The whole idea of the program was to help provide the girls with a creative outlet, help create a safe space for them where they feel secure enough to come and let their hair down, where they are content with what they are doing and most importantly content with themselves. Through various dance techniques and activities, we worked on achieving healthy bodies and trust among our fellows. Promoting a healthy and positive body image was very important as several of these girls had been through physical trauma and were somewhere feeling disconnected (or disgusted) with their own bodies. Another thing majorly lacking in these girls was confidence and instilling confidence in them was my prime goal.

Meanwhile, I started more intensely training the advanced batch girls as they were now already comfortable with their bodies. For them it was more about learning how to push themselves, set goals and actually working hard to achieve them. The aim for this summer was to have them understand the feeling of wanting something, setting their heart to it and achieving it! Through several dance exercises on a daily basis we would push ourselves further and further be it physically or mentally. Something as simple as push-ups had the girls working hard. We would set a goal for each class as a group and promise to achieve it. Each day increasing by one push up. These kinds of exercises also fostered a sense of community and teamwork owing to the rule of if one stops, everyone stops and then we all start again. This encouraged the girls to keep boosting each other’s morale. They kept encouraging each other not to quit, not to give up and together we would work through whatever pain we might be feeling to achieve the goals we had set together.

15 days passed way too fast for me to even realize, because last summer the project went on for almost 7-8 weeks. Due to shortage in time this year, we were not able to put up a mini-show for an audience like we did last year but we made sure to have our own private party on the last Saturday that we met where all 50 girls got together and just celebrated. I played different songs and we had dance circles, some girls showing off their newly learnt moves and group dancing. Some were still shy, but most participated. The whole idea was to just have them laugh and enjoy themselves.

All in all, it was a fruitful summer yet again and I would not trade this experience in for anything. I will be heading back over winter break to do a small one week workshop (if permissions come through). The past two summers of work at the Nirmal Chhaya home has left me enriched with so many skills, knowledge and life lessons that will stay with me forever. So thank you, Brandeis India for giving me this opportunity to carry my project out!

Post Two – By Marlharrissa Lagardere

Disclaimer: I am not a profound scholar or novelist but I often wish I were. As I attempt to tackle this loaded concept of identity while studying abroad, I must first confess that I am only profoundly knowledgeable of my sole definition of identity and that I am cannot confidently reference literary geniuses or notable scholars who have made it their lives’ work to document the meaning of identity. I make this disclaimer to say that all experiences I will be writing about while in India will be made in the first person, it is not be said that I will not try to gather insight from the sparse population of African and Afro-American individuals residing in India. Furthermore, my goal for these blog posts is not to insinuate that India is a racist country, rather it is to address that, like the United States, racism is inherently apart of their cornerstone code.

I was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. My paternal family lineage has been traced through the soil of Haiti dating back to the nineteenth century. Now how accurate these records are can be left up for debate but as it stands, I am Haitian, my parents are Haitian, my grandparents are Haitian, and my great-grandparents are Haitian. And had it not been for the turbulent reign of Papa Doc and the governmental instability of Jean-Bernard Aristide, my mother would not have fled her home and opt to raise her children within the American borders. Bypassing through all the immigration nightmares my family endeared to secure proper documentation, it seemed as though identity took a backseat in order to protect against possible deportation. Now how realistic were those fears in a nation that seems to only associate undocumented citizens with our neighbors below the border can be left up for debate as well. Yet, the realization is that for ten years, I was warned against detailing my family’s origin and heritage. All sense of inherent Haitian identity was substituted with that of an African-American female, speaking fluent English and from an American household with parents who only may had been taken as Caribbean due to their sun kissed brown skin and mild, incomprehensible dialect of American English.

It was not until my Hindi professor asked me, in front of my classmates, what my mother tongue was that I realized whatever identity I was clinging to, whether it is Haitian or African American, was suddenly berated. I stood there, dressed in traditional Indian attire, a kurtha, leggings, my Vibrams Five-Toe Shoes and my kinky black hair twisted back into a slight up-do, staring at her. I could not even fully comprehend her question before I heard slight gasps and gentle hints of laughter coming from my peers that I realized she was insinuating that I was not raised speaking English. I could not understand how after being informed that I was a student from the United States and hearing me speak several times in class with a mild Southern American accent that she would ask if English was my second language. And as if my muted response was not evident enough that I did not want to entertain her question, she continued on to ask if my mother tongue was Swahili, a language spoken vastly in East Africa; 12,000 kilometers from Haiti and Georgia-my birthplace and my place of residency. I should stop and explain that my Hindi teacher is an elderly woman and that her questioning may not have came with bad intentions but is that enough reasoning to compensate for her questioning. Would the assumption that she simply did not know better allow for her to non-so discreetly claim that my difficulty in learning Hindi was because I was raised speaking Swahili, instead of English like the rest of my classmates, who, coincidently, were also struggling to learn Hindi. At what point will ignorance be unraveled from the shield of lacking knowledge?

In Which the Anthropologist Goes Fossil Hunting – By Holly Walters

If anyone had ever told my 12-year-old self that one day I would be fossil hunting in the high Himalayas while simultaneously conducting anthropological fieldwork in Nepal, I would probably have laughed myself sick. However, as it turns out, that is exactly what I have spent the last two days doing. More along the participant side of participant-observation, I have found that wandering the mountain sides and river banks looking for Shaligram stones is the perfect morning activity for meeting both Shaligram sellers and Hindu pilgrims, respectively. While I had never expected my childhood fascination with dinosaurs (I think I still have some small fossil collection buried in the basement somewhere) to come to fruition in this way, or at all really, such is the fluidity of anthropology. Also, the next time someone asks me if anthropology is where you dig up dinosaurs, I guess I will need to come up with a better answer than my usual reference to Indiana Jones.

In any case, ultimately, it is the links between these stones and those who scour the country-side in search of them that will form the basis for my research going forward. I say this because it is the mobility of both people and objects in both physical and sacred landscapes that are at the heart of the complex system of identities, boundaries, and meanings that make up Mustang District’s everyday lived world. In short, my fascination with religious co-participation has led me down a path where religious boundaries have become fluid and national and ethnic identities have begun to blend together because of shared sacred spaces all subsumed under the icon of an ancient ammonite fossil found no where else in the world. Time I got myself a pickaxe.

Broken ammonites are not considered Shaligram. A broken stone such as this one is unfortunately, “a blind eye.”

This particular bed of ammonites was revealed in a landslide after the April Gorkha Earthquake.

The fossil bed manages to produce only a single unbroken stone for the day.

Read more on Holly’s blog.

Jaggery Festival – By Sara Taylor

Originally published at

Dawn hit the Angadibail forest center, freshly dressed after its final construction, and stirred a frenzy of excitement for the day. Ashish began what would become his 24 hours as a chauffeur and went to pick up our participants. We all peeled back our layers of jungle which had built up in our previous days of preparation and took hold of the celebratory mood. We heard squeals of delight sound from the jeep, barreling down the red-dirt road. Our eccentric group poured out, wide-eyed at the landscape which they’d just been thrown into. Bharat’s flute hung over the place, the most fitting and soothing soundtrack you could imagine to first discover the beauty of the jungle. We greeted everyone warmly, arming them with our homemade soap-nut pouches and bamboo shoots of charcoal tooth-powder in our effort to keep the stream water clean which flows through the forest center.

Charcoal toothpowder in bamboo shoots & re-fillable scrub bags of soap-nut

After a brief exploration of the new center, we fed out hungry travelers (with plenty of jaggery for idly on their banana leaves) and challenged them to our first task of cutting down sugarcane. Just as the sun started its blistering effect on the forest, we set out to give pooja to the earth and began our harvest. We handled machetes and tried our best to cut and clean the sugar cane as well as Eshwarana had demonstrated. Meanwhile the four youngsters went back to the center to create their own statues of Ganasha for our final pooja after harvest. Our most experienced and enthusiastic participant in the harvest was Savita’s Appa by far. He held a wide grin and laughed joyously, reliving childhood memories of sugarcane harvests past.

Appa gleefully demonstrating sugarcane harvest technique

Krissy & Luci hauling back some of our harvest

After our sweaty efforts, we hauled what sugarcane we harvested back to the center and cooled off with a glass of kokum juice. We had a beautiful (thanks to those artistic Ganesha figures) harvest pooja where we thanked the earth for letting us take her fruits. Everyone enjoyed a cool stream water bath and we settled into lunch, again filling our banana leaves with jaggery-flavored dishes. After a nap and some quiet time, I headed out to the house where we’d be camping/watching jaggery production with Poornima to put some last minute touches on our festival area. Meanwhile everyone at the center revved up for the site-visit by watching a cooking demonstration of Bangli Rotti, a local cake-like jaggery treat.

Bangli-Roti, traditional jaggery recipe that uses burning coals to bake

Ashish managed to get everyone in the truck and the participants arrived at the campsite with anticipation and eagerness to participate. We fed them the traditional roasted peanut and jaggery snack to welcome them to the house and quickly made our way down the road to see the traditional style jaggery production before dusk. There, many local friends and villagers joined us in the celebration of traditional jaggery processes. The bulls that pulled the gaana were calm but monstrous in size. The farmers guided us on how to push the other side of the gaana and quickly the children and a few brave participants (shout out to my fellow students) joined in on the work. All the while we sipped fresh sugarcane juice which our hosts poured for us abundantly.

Traditional GaaNa, pulled by bulls, to extract sugarcane juice

More ‘bulls’ to help the process

We were just in time to see the farmers take the sugarcane juice which had been cooking in an enormous vat over a large fire and filter it through cloth. We could smell the caramel-like aroma of the finished jaggery and soon we were served a healthy dose of the stuff which we hesitantly slurped down, trying ignore our bodies cry of: enough sweets! But the local treat was just too good for any sane sweet-tooth to turn down. As the sunset left us with a pink sky, we walked back to our campsite to continue the festivities. There at the house, we ran three stalls: 1) a bottle rope-wrapping station where participants decorated recycled bottles to fill with jaggery 2) a cow/bull bell beading station and 3) a cooking demonstration of a crispy crepe-like jaggery treat, todedevu. As the crickets began their symphony, we quieted down from our bustling day and enjoyed sitting still, working with our hands. Soon everyone had crafts to show each other proudly. We leisurely had our dinners and the strongest among us even ate more jaggery treats. A bonfire crackled by the tents and once by one we trickled down to sit by its warmth and hear stories and songs from each other until sleep took us over.

Sugarcane finished cooking down to liquid jaggery, about to be filtered

A dewey morning came and we had everyone russle up their belongings to head to the location of a house that did mechanized jaggery processing. Sleepily, we somehow piled even more people and items in the truck and bounced along the back roads through the sweet-smelling jungle. Our new hosts welcomed us and led us to their processing site where we learned how the modern, mechanic technique works. More sugarcane juice and the caramel-like taste of the jaggery ‘cream’, filled our mouths with sweetness again. We sat down to a breakfast of jaggery dosa and green chutney as the sun began to heat up. After a farewell, we piled back in the truck and headed toward a near-by water fall. Our short trek to the falls was full of wonderment as we stared up at the beauty of ancient trees and playful, vibrant flowers. At the sight of the falls we were elated, a few of us unable to contain our excitement and jumping in right away. The water was cold, even by Luci’s Minnesotan standards, but it came as a relief to the sun, humidity and layer of camping we’d acquired.

Everyone piled up in the truck!

The waterfall

Smiling and soggy, we came back for our final meal together at the forest center. We chatted, napped and reflected on our journey. We came together to share our favorite moments and everyone got to try the bangli-roti they’d learned to make the afternoon before. As a parting gift, we gave out jaggery recipe booklets filled with traditional delicacies our friends could try to make at home. A successful first annul jaggery festival had us already planning for next year. The weekend finished as it had begun, with smiles and sweetness flowing between BuDa friends in the forest.

Recipe booklet binding, one of the preparations for the festival, enjoyed by the BuDa team

Post One – By Marlharrissa Lagardere

Disclaimer: I am not a profound scholar or novelist. My biggest goal in life is to simply live and luckily not make any enemies along the way. I have traveled to India in order to fulfill the mandated international experience required for all International and Global Studies majors at my respected university. I chose India on a whim, simply because it was one of the countries that I knew the least about and would possibly give me the greatest cultural experience. And that is what has lead me here: writing a blog about being a brown-skinned woman in a country living in a country once colonized by the imperial strong arm of England and is currently combating systematic hierarchies, deeply rooted with hints of racial separation, such as the caste system that has plagued their country for centuries.

I have never experienced racism. Actually I am lying; in kindergarten, I had accused three white girls of being racist towards me because they did not sit next to me at the lunch table. My teacher’s attempt to address my accusation was to have me to point out all of the people who were my friends and as I single-handedly pointed out people one by one, I was taken back at the end of her exercise when I noticed I had pointed out an astonishing number of white classmates. Even at six years old I had been bested by my own ignorance, an ignorance that would follow me for years to come, believing that racism was simply a white and black issue. It would not be until my second year of college that I would have another run-in with covert racism. One of my professors had taken the liberty to count the number of African American students out loud to illustrate his point of the percentage of students who were not closely related to Neanderthals in contrast to white students, who are the closest related descendants of Neanderthals. As if clearly stating the researched fact was not enough for college educated students to comprehend, counting out the number of brown-skinned individuals had to be added to add a slight flair to his point. Was it even fair for me to count this incident as my professor being racist, I am unsure; but I know that in that moment I had never felt so singled out before. Yet, even then I still believed that racism was a black and white issue because of how the incident presented itself.

I have been in India for over forty days. And within those forty days I have been asked what my “mother tongue” is, if I really was a student studying abroad from America, and generally ignored on a daily basis. I am studying in India with sixteen other students from America and who all happen to be white, expect one Asian student. I am not here to pass judgment on any of my fellow peers but I am here to properly paint a picture of my experience. I have lost count the amount of time that I have subtlety and overtly been overlooked in order to get near my white peers or have the opportunity to have a picture taken with the “white Americans”. I know that this sort of behavior is not specific to just India but in a city who has one of the largest foreigner populations in India, my ignorance of racism and of the heritage of this country made me assume that I would be as widely accepted as my fellow Americans. Instead, I am attempting to understand the still paralyzing effects of the caste system and how it has left me as brown as a common Indian and as African as my very distant ancestors. How I once believed that people saw me is no longer because that would imply that people actually see me. In a country with over one billion residents, it would be futile for me to think that I would be received with open arms and sought after like a rare gem, yet when I have seen almost three white-skin foreigners to my black-skin ones, one cannot help but wonder why the minority is not favored?

Post 1 – By Vasavi Nigam

As I boarded the plane at London Heathrow airport, several different thoughts and questions came running to my mind. I was nostalgic looking back on the beautiful 6 months I had spent studying abroad in London, and as usual excited about going home and being able to see my family in New Delhi. One thing that definitely made me chuckle was the contrast between being back in the scorching Indian heat after about 6 months of dealing with gloomy English weather. Surprisingly, the sky as I flew out of London was actually clearing out and there were beautiful rays of sunshine falling through the clouds on London while upon landing in New Delhi the next morning and heading to work on permits for work, it was in fact raining.

Beautiful Delhi sky.

I looked forward to the heat, I looked forward to the summer in New Delhi and most importantly somewhere, looked forward to reuniting with the beautiful girls I had met last summer during the Phase 1 of my Brandeis India Fellowship in the summer of 2014. Since this was a project where I was working with the Indian government at the largest Government girl child shelter home of the country (which was located inside one of the most secure prison facilities of the country in New Delhi), it took a lot to get past the bureaucratic layers of the system in order to obtain permissions and get verified. Definitely, a more harrowing experience than the Summer of 2014 where the rules were relatively more lapse. Due to having established relations with the Residing Officer/Superintendent of the shelter during my first summer there, the process was a little faster but it did not help that she was getting transferred to a different post the month I was about to start. This meant having to convince the new Superintendent about the benefits of the program and working on establishing a fresh and effective relation with her.

After jumping through the many hoops like a circus animal, I finally had all the permissions and verifications in place to see my girls and start my work for the summer. The only unfortunate thing in this situation was, by the time all this came through, they barely had 15 days left for their summer vacation to end which resulted in me having to reschedule and rework my program plan.

I remember standing outside staring at the half broken rusty dusty board that said Nirmal Chhaya – Girl Shelter, Tihar Jail Complex for a couple of minutes. I had all these apprehensions; I was anxious as to whether the girls would remember me, did they want me back, would anyone come to class or will I be able to make a difference this summer given the limited time I had. But I knew I had to go in to find out, so I quickly gave myself a pep talk and entered through the big grilled doors of the home. After doing my entry in the visitor’s log as was routine, going through a physical check and submitting my phone, as soon as I entered the premises I saw almost all of the girls were standing there in anticipation, waiting! It felt like a typical dramatic Bollywood movie where you see characters reuniting after ages. We ran towards each other and they all flooded me together resulting in a big hug. That feeling of meeting the girls after a year can not be described in words. It was such a happy moment for me and them. In that moment, all my apprehensions were gone, I knew this summer would definitely be fruitful. We chatted for a few hours till their lunch time and with a promise to come back the next day, I left with so much hope and happiness in my heart. Seeing the girls so happy to see me definitely boosted my confidence and made me feel like I somewhere did make a difference. I was all charged to return back the next day and begin phase 2 of my project!!

Settling in at 4000 Meters – By Holly Walters

At 4000 meters, the view is not the only thing that’s breath-taking.

It’s a pun I’ve heard a few times now, but it is more truth than humor. The village of Ranipauwa, where I’m slowly settling in for the next few weeks of fieldwork, is truly a fascinating place. Focused largely on the Hindu pilgrims that frequent Muktinath-Chumig Gyatsa temple (only a few hundred meters outside of the village), the main road of the village tends to include mostly guesthouses or dharamsalas (for poorer pilgrims), a few shops selling water and snacks, and some strategically placed permit checkposts lest you attempt to wander the area surreptitiously. As in Pokhara, there are also a few Shaligram sellers and also just as in Pokhara, they are all Buddhist. I suspect my interest in the kinds of religious syncretism and co-participation common to this region will soon be taking an economic turn. The number of stones sold is surprising, and many stone sellers explain that they have a specific supplier. By the sounds of it, as I suspected in Jomsom when I met a few stone hunters on the banks of the Kali-Gandaki, there are professional Shaligram hunters who scour the river beds for stones that they then sell to Buddhist shops all along the pilgrimage circuit. This is particularly interesting because the Skanda Purana specifically forbids the buying and selling of these stones and yet, I can’t help but conclude that the sheer volume of stones being sold must indicate the Hindu pilgrims are buying them. To Western trekkers, they would be little more than a cheap novelty, if they knew what they were at all.

My insistent questions have also revealed a few other interesting points of order. Firstly, that some Buddhist sellers are no longer content to wait for the relatively rare stones of the river beds to materialize and are now actively mining them from the mountain side. Secondly, these mined stones (which are clearly not rounded and many aren’t even black) are being met with some degree of resistance. Those who buy stones are obviously less interested in “mountain stones” than they are “river stones.” However, many sellers have commented that “the mountain has so many stones” and waiting for river stones is sometimes difficult. Lastly, the earthquake has been both a concern and a boon in this region in terms of stones. While very few tourists have made their way to Muktinath this season, the earthquake does not seem to have deterred many pilgrims, which is providing at least something of a windfall for the economy here. And while the earthquake did not cause significant damage to Ranipauwa, there are several areas where landslides and fault breaks have revealed new stone beds in the mountain side. Many people have already begun digging in these areas in search of new stones.

My hope now going forward is to try and get more time with the incoming pilgrims. Meeting the stone sellers is one thing, but I now need to know more about who they are selling to.

Read more on Holly’s blog.

These raw “Golden Egg” type Shaligrams have been exposed by a recent landslide related to the earthquake.


Finally, a decent picture of the famous Thorong La Pass to Tibet.


The view taken from just outside Ranipauwa.


On our way up to Muktinath Temple..

Breaking the Boundaries of Women’s Oppression in Rural West Bengal – By Sydney Skov

Recently I traveled to a community just outside of Kolkata, to an area called South 24 Parganas, to meet a woman who is promoting women’s rights from the grassroots. After driving through the lush greenery of palms and cultivated fields, a welcome change from the bustle and concrete of Kolkata, I was warmly greeted by a woman named Runu. She led me into a compound of several small buildings with a central courtyard criss-crossed by colorful laundry lines that was home to her and her extended family. I set up a camera and we began an interview that would shed light on the realities faced by women in West Bengal.

The area of South 24 Parganas is well known for being a source of trafficked children, especially young girls. The realities of growing up a girl in a rural environment in West Bengal are still bleak; many girls have no access to education or if they do, they are not allowed to attend because of prevailing beliefs that girls are an unworthy investment (destined to work in the home and be married off to live in someone else’s family) or they are forced to drop out due to social pressures, household responsibilities, or the myriad pressures of poverty. Families living in poverty can be persuaded to sell their children wittingly to a brothel or can be easily tricked by a trafficker, told that their child will be given a productive job in the city. Instead she is sent to sell sex. Girls who remain with their families in rural areas grow up with little exposure to various ways of life and believe that marrying young and working in the home is the only option for their lives. They grow up in an environment in which community members listen to a scene of domestic violence playing out in a neighbor’s house for entertainment.

Runu is an inspirational woman. Not only has she taken charge of and transformed her own life but she is leading community initiatives to help other women in the surrounding communities do the same. Years ago, she was involved in an abusive and violent relationship with the father of her son and was struggling to find a way out to protect herself and her child.

If a woman, alone, approaches a police station in South 24 Parganas and reports that she has been beaten, abused, or raped, she will be sent away. Completely ignored. Enter Jeevika, an organization promoting women’s rights and access to education and legal recourse across communities in South 24 Parganas. Jeevika is a collaborating parter of Kolkata Sanved, the NGO implementing culturally sensitive Dance Movement Therapy sessions for the psychosocial rehabilitation of survivors of trafficking and violence with which I am currently working. Runu came to Jeevika and found a way to file the appropriate legal documents with the support of Jeevika and the community. Now an independent and well established community action group called Alordisha supports women who are in violent or abusive relationships. Runu is now a leading member of Alordisha. Jeevika also conducts rights and gender workshops which offer knowledge of and exposure to other avenues and livelihood options for girls and women.

The video that Runu and I created together about her transformation and her inspiring work with Alordisha and Jeevika will be shown in two weeks time during the NGO CSW Forum. Her voice will be heard alongside those of Jeevika Executive Director, Dolon Ganguly and Kolkata Sanved Founder Director, Sohini Chakraborty during a parallel event titled, Breaking Boundaries, Building Lives to be held on March 17th. The parallel event is part of this year’s Committee on the Status of Women, Beijing 20+ at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. From South 24 Parganas to New York City, we must remember that the fight for women’s equality is far from over. However, I find hope in the stories of powerful and inspiring women like Runu who are shaking the ground beneath our feet.

Saving Lives Through Dance – By Sydney Skov

Nayani and I were wandering the streets of Kolkata, strolling languidly in the heat and chatting in a mix of Bengali, English and emphatic gesticulation. We stopped to purchase vegetable fritters popping in oil and Nayani asked me with an ironic smile what I wanted to be when I grew up. I grimaced self consciously; at 24 I was sure of my seemingly disparate passions for dance and global human rights but was unsure of my path. Without answering, I asked her what she wanted to be. “I wanted to be a dancer and I became one,” she said with a flippant shrug.

This friend of mine lives in a Muslim slum area deep within the crowded streets of Kolkata and was raised knowing that she would not gain an education like her brother and that, as a girl, she could not pursue her dreams. Despite the obstacles, she did it anyway, becoming a professional dancer and skilled dance movement therapist. At 27, I know undeniably what I want to do and what I want to become; Nayani ’s unapologetic confidence pushed me to believe in my passion to move against human trafficking and gender-based violence through dance despite the fear that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. She remains a guiding force to this day. I have returned to Kolkata to work for a second time with Kolkata Sanved, a non-profit organization which uses dance and Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) as rehabilitation for survivors of human trafficking and violence.

Kolkata Sanved’s main program, Saving Lives through Dance, is based on the belief that all individuals should live lives of dignity and respect and that this sense of empowerment can be accomplished through DMT. In 2011 When I first visited a shelter home with dance therapy practitioners from Kolkata Sanved to watch a DMT session, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. I am a dancer trained in the Western cannon; I grew up doing tap, jazz, and ballet with every intention of becoming a professional. Despite my own love of dance, I couldn’t banish the thought that these children would think dance was a waste of time. The DMT practitioners working at Kolkata Sanved are themselves survivors of trafficking and violence and have undergone the organization’s healing and recovery program and engaged in a two year training program to become skilled dance movement therapists, earning livelihoods as facilitators, artists, and activists. They were completely confident walking into the empty, cement-floored room that would be our dance space. As they began to dance, with 40 children copying every movement, my skepticism fell away and I saw that dance was not frivolous. On the contrary, dance was everything.

The organization’s founder, who has worked with survivors for two decades, has a deep understanding of what regional rehabilitation programs for trafficking survivors are lacking: trained counselors and a focus on mental and emotional health. Many programs offer tangible assistance such as food, clothing, shelter, and sometimes education and skills training. What is forgotten is the immense physical and emotional trauma experienced by many of these youth that is locked within their bodies. Especially in cases of sexual exploitation, the body becomes a source of shame; disassociation occurs between mind and body. The power of Dance Movement Therapy stems from the fact that the body is the tool for transformation, helping individuals reclaim their own bodies, build self confidence, and mend the mind and body connection. Through physical, cognitive, and emotional skill building and expression, DMT provides a non-judgmental and non-threatening environment in which youth living in shelter homes can heal and feel free. The use of DMT in group settings and for the express purpose of trauma release and healing is unique in India as well as across the world. Expressive arts therapies are utilized globally and more attention is being paid to their effectiveness as part of holistic healing programs. However, dance and Dance Movement Therapy are rarely mentioned.

Kolkata Sanved’s work is groundbreaking in the fields of rehabilitation, reintegration, social development, and international development at large. As the organization grows, their ability to make a global impact increases.

I don’t see dance only as an art form or as a tool for rehabilitation, I see it as an untapped force connecting humans across the globe that could change the way individuals and development practitioners alike approach empowerment, child protection, and peace building. It is not the academic jargon, horrifying statistics, or nightmare inducing stories of exploitation I hear daily that propel me to work for justice, women’s rights, and social change. It is the happiness, hope, and unadulterated power that dance and creative expression evoke in once victimized survivors of trafficking and violence that show the power of this work to change lives and that this is the work I must do.

Learn more about Kolkata Sanved at and my own project based on their work at

Kolkata Sanved