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Sujatha Baliga: Forgiveness of Unforgivable Acts
The Process Of Healing In Giving Your Life A Purpose
Sujatha Baliga is an extraordinary human being who found through meditation and inner healing an outlet to pursue a different justice system in the US and South Asia. A victim of sexual abuse as a child herself, Sujatha has found in restorative justice a different doctrine to help both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse crimes heal their traumas and wounds.
Sujatha is now the director of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency resortative justice project at the National Council on Crime and Delinquency in Oakland where she helps communities implement restorative justice alternatives to juvenile detention and zero tolerance school discipline policies. She uses restorative justice to limit child abuse and intra-familiar sexual violence in the US as well as in South Asia. Her work is equally for those victims and persons accused of crime. She is a frequent speaker at universities and conferences around the world. She speaks publicly about her personal experiences as a survivor of child sexual abuse and her own path to forgiveness.
Sujatha shared how the traumatic experience of being sexually abused as a child by her father drove her to become a victim advocate. “All of the suffering I accumulated made me want to do something about it. During and after college, I participated in many victim advocacy initiatives, but through time I found out that even if I was being effective, I didn’t like who I was personally”. A lot of her work was fuelled by her own unresolved traumas, and instead of seeing within, she wanted to undo her own childhood by fixing other people’s lives.
All the anger and resentment she felt did not generate emotional trauma but it also created constant and blinding migraines and stomach problems. She saw countless doctors but was never diagnosed, and after going through so many different procedures she realized that nothing could really solve it. Even though she wasn’t conscious at the time, she later realized that this health issues were actually caused by her unhappy and angry state of being. Before heading into Law School, Sujatha went to India to help a man she was dating to set up a program for the children of sex workers in Mumbai. The experience of realizing how these women and their children were basically slaves created more trauma that she could handle. It was then when she decided she needed to heal herself before being able to help others.
This experience inspired her to begin a backpacking adventure which took her to Dharamsala in search of a spiritual journey. In here she was blessed to have a one hour conversation with his Holiness the Dalai Lama. “During that hour, the conversation started from the perspective of talking about gender based and sex-based violence which then shifted towards his Holiness sharing very deeply about his own path to forgiveness. At some point, I said that I was so moved by his own personal sharing of times earlier in his life and how he was able to achieve positive ends for others without anger, even in the face of unthinkable mass atrocities”
She recalls seeing “this living embodiment of someone who had let go of anger but was still working on behalf of those who suffered without anger as his motivating force”. During this conversation she was unable to use the words “I was sexually abused by my father”. Instead she told him that anger was killing her but that it motivated her work. She then asked, “How do you work on behalf of abused people without anger as the motivating force?” Without him replying anything, she said: “I want to forgive my father”. She was then surprised with a question he asked and one she will never forget: “do you feel you have been angry long enough?”
After surveying the landscape of the graveyards of what anger had left in her life, Sujatha felt she was ready to forgive, to let go of this anger and resentment. His Holiness gave her two pieces of advice: the first one was to learn how to meditate. He said, “This level of rage is out of your own control so you need to meditate in order to reign it back in. Learn to be the master of your own mind”. The second piece of advice was to open her heart to those who had harmed her. “Open your heart to those you perceive to be your enemies”, he said, but she found this to be an almost impossible task to complete. “I’m about to go to Law school to prosecute all these abusers and child molesters and put them behind bars”, she said.
After this enlightening conversation with the Dalai Lama she attended a 10 day Vipassana course. She recalls this as being “the hardest investing I had done in my life”. The Vipassana scanning was incredibly powerful for Sujatha to dissect where in her body those memories lived and what the physical sensations around those memories were. During this meditative experience she was able to be present in the present moment, realising how her body was reacting to things that were not currently happening. To her, this was a very powerful experience in her own forgiveness path.
During the metta bhavanna or loving practice they teach on the last day of the retreat, she had a spontaneous vision of one of the times in which her father molested her. Before the Vipassana experience, Sujatha used to replay that memory as a tendency to stab him to death instead of him being able to achieve what he was trying to achieve. She then realised that when she started adding the stabbing part to this memory, it was the moment when her migraine kicked in. So instead, she allowed the memory to happen as it had happened in reality. That act of remembering things as they happened didn’t mean that she considered it to be OK. On the contrary, she decided to see it for what it was. She understood that “forgiveness is giving up the hope of a better past”. From that moment onwards she never felt any anger, rage or any feelings for getting back at her father.
This healing experience made her doubt the idea of studying at Law School though, as she felt she wasn’t going to be able to follow a career as a prosecutor. Her Criminal Law professor convinced her not to drop out and she stayed. As a public defender Sujatha even defended folks who had done exactly what was done to her as a child. Not only was this a strong healing experience, but she was also able to realize that the justice system in the US was so fundamentally binary in that it was “us versus them”. She realized there was no room for healing and compassion. When asked about a court of law, Sujatha said that “you couldn’t create a better circumstance to bring up traumatic stress than a court of law. We really victimized victims and it was a damaging process for everyone who got to experience it”.
As she continued enhancing her professional career, she kept in touch with his Holiness office and they suggested her to read a book about the Tibetan system of justice called the Golden Yoke. For her, this was a wonderful book which described many ideals about healing, victim identifying needs and being attentive to emotions like atonement, and reconciliation. “How can we do something like that here in the US?” she asked herself. This was the moment she got to know about restorative justice.
Through time Sujatha has found that this compassionate and collaborative way of enforcing justice, creates a positive path to understand, through compassion, that the justice system should be driven by notions of empathy, compassion, repair, atonement and the most important factor: understanding of relationships. The feel of restorative justice comes from many ancient indigenous pacts, be it the Maoris from New Zealand and many others. These indigenous ways of conducting justice are addressed from the perspective of how we should be in the right direction with the Earth and with each other. Sujatha is a strong believer that there can be a justice system that attends to those same questions.
One of the ways to achieve this system includes a concept of a reversed Miranda rule. This means that nothing that is said in the restorative justice practice can be used in a court of law. Sujatha believes that the current justice system minimizes truth telling because the stakes are so high for telling the truth. When asked about how she viewed a better justice system she said that the system should move forward towards a more positive way and that healing should be viewed in the hope that people don’t ever do any harm again. “Telling people that we are going to lock you up for the rest of your life or kill you, will not allow them to tell the truth. Who is going to tell the truth under those circumstances?” With the reverse Miranda rule in restorative justice, Sujatha hopes that people can start understanding that this is not about punishment but that they are willing to help the perpetrates make things right.
She believes that the justice system should inspire people and communities to solve problems in a more compassionate way. Sujatha says that “if we get the communities in a healing journey we can get really gorgeous tailored outcomes in every case”. She shared an extraordinary case to illustrate that this is a real possibility. There was a homicide case where the outcome was that the crime victims decided the murderer was going to have to serve time for having killed his fiancée and in addition they wanted him, within his 20 year sentence, to learn all about teen dating violence, start restorative justice programs inside his prison and to speak publicly at high schools about taking his girlfriend’s life. “This is really remarkable”, says Sujatha in awe. “The crime victims were part of deciding with him about what it needed to look like for this teenager”
She continues to expand her extraordinary healing work in India but does not consider to be saving the world. When asked how she deals with her challenging work every day, she responded that “every question of what work we chose to do should be aimed at how this will help me advance in my own healing journey because at the end of the day that’s what we are on Earth for”. She concluded this conversation by saying that “all I can do is to work on myself and my intentions. That’s all I can continue to work on”. To contact Sujatha you can visit her website.
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