For nine years, Sohini experimented with breaking the barriers of traditional dance and rehabilitation for survivors. Her experiments proved that body movement, when used sensitively, could act as a powerful tool for psycho-social rehabilitation. This tool transforms young victims of sexual abuse from rehabilitative victims into proactive advocates; individuals who have made peace within their violated souls and who are ready to voice concerns as well as stand up for their rights through dance movement therapy.
“In 1996 I was a post-graduate student, dancer and theater actress. As a dancer and student of Sociology it was always in my mind how I can bridge between dance and sociology? I was always in search of going beyond the so called ‘dance performers.’"
After seeing the poster of city based NGO Sanlaap, Sohini decided that she would work with these girls through dance to transform their lives. Initially the organization thought it was a crazy idea, but as there was no financial involvement, they agreed to let her explore her idea with survivors of trafficking and sexual violence within their shelter home ‘Sneha.’
Sohini always believed passionately that ‘dance’ has the power to give more than just ‘entertainment’ or high aesthetics performances. She started quite confidently but practically it was very challenging. The first day was not at all communicative with the participants. “At first I was excited; I had read about the victims of violence in textbooks and newspapers, but now I was going to work with them. During the first two weeks I struggled to communicate. I felt very depressed." That gave her new direction to rethink & review the limitations of her teachings and to use her training in sociology and contemporary dance to modify and improve her approach.
In 1997, she gradually started to work movement into her teachings. This worked like magic. After two months, the girls started to open up and communicate, encouraging her to spend more time with them. Side by side she was driven into research to understand the depths of issues affecting trafficking victims. She found that most of these girls, children and women alike, are victims of sexual abuse and violence on a regular basis and feel guilty about their own bodies. This leads to lack of self-confidence and an inability to come to terms with their past. The majority continue to live in denial even after traditional forms of rehabilitation.
She spent 6 years in a shelter home and community to develop the process. In 1999 she created a project with Sanlaap called Rangeen Sapney (Colorful Dreams) that used dance, drama, mime and music to engage and aid 120 children suffering from mental trauma. This project gave birth to the platform Sanved 2002. “I have been fighting against the mainstream understanding of dance as entertainment or an art form for the elite. It has been strongly believed for ages that socially, politically or culturally ‘dance’ cannot be a medium of social change. Till today this notion remains imbued in the minds of many." Social norms in India, which are largely patriarchal, perceive the bodies of women and girl children as objects, symbols of purity and/or agents of reproduction; their bodies are never seen as creative, free agents of life. Dance has been used as a medium of exploitation of female body over the years.
The success of Sohini's work led to the establishment of Kolkata Sanved in 2004 with five survivors. Not only does Kolkata Sanved bring about positive changes in mind, body and spirit, it also enables the women, children and youth to interact with mainstream society on an equal footing.