The mere existence of a person is loaded with the power and capacity to add meaning to the lives of other people around. But to touch other lives in order to make a positive difference is a choice one makes. Sagaya Shanthy made that choice. A strong woman, activist and counsellor, Shanthy shares with RJ Shilok her experiences of how she has helped unfold change in her own way.
Shanthy was born to her parents very late in their marriage. Her mother, a pro-life believer, decided against abortion in spite of her cancerous uterus. Shanthi, hence, lost her mother a year-and-a-half after her birth.
She spent her life being implicitly blamed for her mother’s death. The dissonance of this accusation and life with her alcoholic father filled her with guilt. She was often beaten and punished at school for her low grades. But, indifferent parenting and all the harsh turns of events in her life did not stop her from motivating herself. Encouraged by a teacher who noticed her slow but sure progress, she decided to work hard in her academics. Eventually, she fought all odds, earned a bit of money by teaching on the side, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Science and a Master’s degree in Social Work.
In this interview, Shanthy talks about her unconventional love story, a tale that moves beyond the gradients of insecurities and social norms. She mentions how the relationship she shares with her husband has grown beyond their differences in religion, educational background and patriarchal values. To the rest of the world, though, it still seems like an ill-fated alliance between a double-graduate Christian woman and a Hindu Dalit man with neither a degree nor a job.
Patience and perseverance, Shanthy says, have been her strengths; they have lifted her up when she was low and backed up her decision-making abilities. She has witnessed her husband’s rise from a man who had strived hard to earn a living to become a senior executive. This, she says, inspires her to believe that anything can be achieved with the will and the courage to dream.
For 20 years now, she has worked as a counsellor at deaddiction centres, short-stay homes and several other places. Presently engaged at Vistar, she explains the academy’s work in transforming the lives of women caught up in abusive cultures, such as that of the Devadasis. The organisation facilitates residential schools for Devadasis, their daughters and also for Dalit women in general. The place educates women to make them more aware of the world and reflective of their place in it. Vistar is also an eco-sanctuary which organises and celebrates ‘Bhoomi Habba’ every year.
Shanthy further talks about some of the most moving encounters in her counselling career. She talks about the intense trauma that some women go through in their lives and her state of helplessness in certain situations as a counsellor. All of this, she says, has built her emotional make-up and has widened her view of the world.
The conversation ends on a positive note as Shanthy emphasises self-respect and confidence in oneself.
Written by Vybhavi Adiga.