Ashwini NV from Jain University is helping to assuage the trauma suffered by the survivors of self-immolation
Ashwini NV is a regular visitor to hospitals, nursing homes and NGOs. She visits these institutions to meet women survivors of self-immolations. Ashwini is attempting to fathom why these women chose self-immolation as a means of committing suicide. This forms the basis of her doctoral studies. She is pursuing a PhD Degree in Psychology at Jain University under the guidance of Dr. Shailaja Shastri. Having a curious mind and a fascination for understanding the human psyche, made Ashwini develop a keen interest in Psychology at an early age. Even though she opted for Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics and Biology, as her family wanted her to, Ashwini’s interest in the subject did not waver. “My father found me reading a Psychology book in the bus on the day of the Physics exams. That finally convinced him for my love for the subject,” she recalls with a laugh. Ashwini studied Journalism, Psychology and English for her Undergraduate Studies and later on, chose to do a Masters in Psychological Counselling.
Similar to her love for Psychology, the seeds to work with burn victims also germinated in Ashwini at an early age. “I come from Kolar in Karnataka. While studying there, I witnessed a lot of gender discrimination and gender-based violence. I was intrigued to see how some people violated the rights of others and how some accepted the violation of their rights. I wanted to understand the psychology behind this vicious cycle of violence,” she said.
There are three dimensions to Ashwini’s research – the first being understanding what were the underlying factors that drove the victims to choose one of the most gruesome and painful methods to die. “Usually women from the lower strata of the society decide to burn themselves. This would be one of the pioneering studies to learn about the psychology of these survivors,” said Ashwini.
In the second phase of the study, she would try to understand the intrapersonal experiences, body image and aspirations of these women, while checking the validity of a technique she has developed would be carried out in the third phase. The technique called temporal self-empathy, is aimed at helping these women survivors recover from the trauma of the whole episode of burning themselves.
Ashwini is using the qualitative methodology in the three phases of her research. “I am using content analysis for phase one, interpretative phenomenon logical analysis in the second phase and assimilative method of data analysis in the third phase,” she said.
To validate the method, Ashwini is using three experts who have experience in psychotherapeutic techniques. The second step in validation would be actually using this technique on the burn victims.
Right now Ashwini is collecting data for her research. It involves, among other things, interviewing burn victims which creates its own challenge. “The sketch of the burn victims and their voices remain with you long after you have left the place. At times, it alters your mood. Afterwards a lot of self-care is required so that its implications are not felt by the others who come for counselling,” she says.
Ashwini has already gained some interesting insights into what causes these women to choose self-immolation. “I feel that at times the experiences of these women are so painful that their anger turns inwards and they chose one of the most painful methods to die as well,” she shares. At times the reasons are also that it can be easily dubbed as an accident in the kitchen so that the stigma of suicide is not attached to the death. Further research in the area by Ashwini would throw light on other deep-seated psychological issues that cause women to choose this method to commit suicide.
A brilliant scholar dedicated to her cause, Ashwini has also been invited to the Leaders Tomorrow, a part of the annual symposium organised by the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. She has been selected from amongst several candidates to be one of the Leaders of Tomorrow. The movers and shakers of today would be in attendance at the symposium and are going to be challenged by the chosen leaders of tomorrow on matters of relevance in the present day.
In general, the core area of Ashwini’s practice is domestic violence and child sexual abuse, which also propelled her to look at the victims of self-immolation for her research. “When we look at women burning themselves, it can be deemed as one of the most intense forms of self-abuse,” she says. Most of the studies in the area have been from the sociological perspective. Ashwini’s study, which takes a psychological angle, is trying to understand the deep-seated reasons behind these occurrences and develop techniques that help heal the survivors of these traumas.