A social activist from Kolkata has conceived a novel method for healing women of Nepal those who were forced into prostitution and abandoned street children surviving abuse.
Sohini Chakraborty, director of Kolkata-based Sanved, received the prestigious Ashoka fellowship in 2003 as a tribute to her work of rehabilitating young sex workers in West Bengal using a unique method of mental healing - dance therapy.
Now, helped by US-based NGO Daywalka Foundation, which has branches in Kolkata and Kathmandu, she has brought the therapy to Nepal, one of the world's poorest countries from where thousands of women and children are trafficked to India each year.
In February, a 10-day dance therapy session was organised here for residents of transit homes and shelters run by Nepali NGOs for women and children, where Sohini taught 21 participants how to feel positive through body movements.
"The therapy was a mix of movements, meditation and psychological counselling," Renu Shah, a counsellor and psychologist with Saathi, a Nepali NGO that runs shelters for battered wives and children, told IANS.
"It was like a breath of fresh air for the residents, who have known little happiness in their lives. Their lives are strictly regulated by law and even in their transit homes and shelters they are forced to follow a schedule. There's little entertainment.
"But the sessions brought happiness into their lives. You need happiness to survive."
The concept of dance as therapy started evolving in the 1920s. Its basic tenet is that since body movement reflects the inner state of human beings, by moving the body within a guided therapeutic setting, a healing process begins.
The therapy addresses conflicts and issues at the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels and creates a full integration of mind and body.
American dancer and choreographer Marion Chace is regarded as one of the pioneers of dance therapy. She taught in schools and hospitals and founded a training programme in the 1960s for dance therapists at a New York music school.
Chace believed dance was a form of communication, fulfilling a basic human need.
"It was amazing," said Nilufer Chaulagain, who works with the Daywalka Foundation here.
"There were two mentally disturbed women among the participants, women who had totally withdrawn into themselves and even stopped talking. The therapy sessions made these women, who are being given electric shocks as part of their psychiatric treatment, open up to others."
Chaulagain feels the therapy is important for trafficking victims.
"There are women who have spent years in brothels where their bodies were subjected to the worst kind of abuse," she said. "It made them feel polluted and unclean. The sessions made them realise the sanctity of their bodies."
Though Sohini's courses have several levels, so far only one session could be organised. She is expected to return to Kathmandu for a second course in summer.
Meanwhile, Chaulagain wants to start a branch of Sanved in Nepal. "I was to go to Kolkata for further training but exams came in the way," said the 21-year-old.
She is planning her trip for April. If the trip is successful, another avenue will be opened to heal Nepal's battered women.