Sudhesh Dahad: What Survivors for Peace means to me
March 5, 2014 | admin
Sudhesh Dahad was travelling to work on the Piccadilly Line when a bomb exploded on his train on the 7th July 2005. Although only twenty feet away from the explosion, Sudhesh walked away that day aware of only minor injuries.
When something that you consider unlikely to ever happen to you does happen, then all at once, all your worst nightmares become more than a possibility. When I emerged from the tunnel at Russell Square station, I was overcome with a short-lived sense of relief that was quickly overtaken by a fear of what might happen next. My fear was reinforced when a bus exploded in Tavistock Square, within earshot of Russell Square.
If somebody in a luminescent yellow jacket approaches you and asks for your name and contact details, you feel assured that you are being looked after by officialdom. People attired in this way approached me on three separate occasions while I waited for treatment at Russell Square. As there were far more seriously injured passengers emerging from the tunnel, I began my journey home to North Hertfordshire, about thirty-five miles from London. Before reaching home, a visit to my local hospital gave me greater confidence that I was “in the system” and would be looked after in some way. After a short examination, I was cleared to go home. Apart from the local police visiting me on the same day to pick up my clothes and shoes, I heard nothing more from any authorities. A few weeks later, I visited the 7th July Family Assistance Centre near London Victoria to talk to the Red Cross, to tell them I had been on one of the trains. I had a sympathetic ear from a kind lady at the Red Cross, and also gave a statement to Scotland Yard’s representative there as they realised how close I was to the explosion, but when I left the building, I was on my own again.
Eventually, I heard about the dedicated Trauma Clinic on Charlotte Street in London and managed to get referred there for a series of consultations. No amount of medical or psychiatric training prepares specialists to really help survivors of terrorism. This is not something that can be lifted out of textbooks or research papers and applied in a normal setting in a medical facility. The textbook treatment for anxiety did nothing for me. I wasn’t interested in keeping the logs required in the cognitive behavioural therapy approach. And I didn’t want to rationalise or put my fears into context using statistics that show I am more likely to be run over by a police car than to be blown up on a train.
Three years passed by with the flashbacks lessening in frequency but no sense of purpose of direction other than to immerse myself in my job, using it as a distraction from other feelings about what happened in 2005. Then the 2008 financial crisis arrived to increase the pressure at work even more. There was no outlet to relate or understand my experiences of 2005 other than with over survivors of 7/7. But there was still something missing.
At work and outside work, well-meaning people would initially say do what you feel is right or they would comment on how lucky I had been and how grateful I should feel. Then, within a few months, everybody else forgets what has happened. If you’re not involved, life goes on with the events consigned to the part of memory used for news archives. This is perhaps as it should be. I needed to hear from others who had similar experiences. I needed to hear from the authorities involved in responding about why they might have responded the way they did. And I needed to have a chance to share my experience with others with whom they would resonate. Of course, I didn’t know this was what I needed at the time, and hardly any of the 7/7 survivors with whom I spoke regularly knew this either.
Whether it was the Red Cross, the Family Assistance Centre, psychologists, psychiatrists or other well-intentioned organisations or individuals, counselling or other forms of treatment, all have limitations for victims of terrorism.
In 2010, a chance meeting with Jo Dover from the Foundation for Peace set me on a different course in coming to terms with what I had experienced in 2005. I had no idea what to expect when I casually remarked to Jo that if she needed any speakers for the events she organises, I would be more than happy to volunteer. Neither Jo nor any of her team ever claimed to be able to help me and were always unequivocal that none of them had any counselling credentials. What they did was to bring together people with similar experiences in other parts of the country, and indeed internationally, to share what they had been through. Their conferences and workshops give everybody a voice and an opportunity to contribute positively to authorities involved in emergency planning and emergency response. Some of the most cathartic moments for me were after sharing my experience with such authorities and receiving immediate feedback that it had made a difference to them, or that they would revise their procedures in some way to take into account what I had shared.
Every Survivors for Peace event I have participated in has contributed in some way to helping me understand my physical, mental and emotional responses to my experience in 2005, much more so than any clinical treatments. The Foundation has a unique blend of experience with victims of terrorism and their families not found anywhere else in the country. I cannot say for sure where I would be today without having had the chance to participate in the programme but it is possible that I would not have continued working for quite as long, and would not therefore have paid as much tax as I have done. Taking 7/7 alone, if the programme had helped just a hundred people to stay in employment for the last eight years, on a national average salary of £25,000 per year, at basic rate tax of 20% on £15,000, that is £300,000 in tax revenue to the exchequer every year, or a total of £2.4m. Had those people not been working, they would in fact have been drawing benefits. As 7/7 happened in London, with a higher than national average salary, the contribution to the exchequer would potentially have been greater still. Instead, many of my fellow 7/7 survivors are either no longer working or have emigrated, in the absence of a publicised national framework for supporting victims of terrorism.
My story does not end on this note. Eight years after 7/7, after enduring increasing physical pain, it was finally noticed that I had suffered a spinal injury as a result of being exposed to a bomb explosion. The Foundation for Peace has built up quite a knowledge based on their years of experience with survivors from various incidents but they have managed to do so on limited resources. Their expertise needs a chance to continue developing so that they are in an even better position to provide signposts for victims of future incidents.