New Delhi, India: Rimi was 3 years old when an elderly gentleman first put his hands inside her underpants. It was a game he said. The winner gets to keep the shiny diamond ring. Even at the age where one can’t differentiate one’s own nose from a button, she didn’t like the game. It felt wrong. It wasn’t like the games she normally played. She resisted to the best of her ability, and saw the anger growing in his eyes. It scared her even more. She started to cry. She missed her mom. She wished they hadn’t left her in the care of this so called “trusted” uncle. But he was family after all, their own flesh and blood, and they trusted him. And blood they say is thicker than all human bonds.
Fast forward to ten years later, when she was at the brink of her pubertal development, once again left in the care of the same “honourable” gentleman. This time he didn’t call it a game, he didn’t say a word, just slid his diabolical hands inside her newly purchased sports bra. This time she knew for sure it wasn’t right. She felt disgusted to the core. She ran into the washroom and locked herself until her parents came back. The tears were endless, the trauma was real. Her mother noticed something was wrong, she kept asking — what is it, what’s bothering you. She couldn’t get herself to say it out aloud. She didn’t have the words. She was afraid of creating rifts in the family, afraid of being labelled a neurotic teenager who makes up stories to defame highly respected elders, afraid that her mother would go into depression, afraid that her father might murder the man in anger. She was so afraid that she couldn’t eat, she couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t sleep, for days on end.
As the years went by the pain lessened. But it never really went away. She had to face that man at several family events throughout her life, put on a brave face. The worst was having to pay him his “due respects”, exchange pleasantries, and pretend as though nothing had happened. His life went on, unaltered, unchanged. He was still held up in high esteem in the eyes of all. “A man of principles”, they called him, “a man of high moral character”. And no one knew the truth: he was the devil incarnate.
The problem is ubiquitous and has attained Leviathan proportions. According to the UNICEF, 120 million girls under the age of 20 have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point of their lives. Boys also report sexual violence, but they do so to a lesser extent. https://www.unicef.org/protection/57929_58006.html.
Research has come up with horrifying facts. In my country, India, one in two children have been subjected to some form of sexual abuse, out of which 50% were victimised by persons reported to be well known to these children.
According to the National Centre for Victims of Crime, US, the prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because it is often not reported; experts agree that the incidence is far greater than what is reported to authorities. This is especially significant for countries like India where appearances matter, and social niceties mask the gruesome reality of child abuse.
Abuse of any kind, particularly at the hands of someone well known to the family, can have far reaching psycho-emotional consequences for a growing child. Literature suggests that such children develop low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex as they grow up. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and may even become suicidal.
To get back to Rimi. Many years later she saw women of all age groups speaking up on social media. #metoo was trending. She realised there were others like her, violated by the hands of these predators. Relatives, servants, uncles, drivers, colleagues, bosses, superiors. The worst part is that these crimes are committed by those who were in a position of trust. Those who commit such atrocities come from all backgrounds, including- thé crème de la crème of society, the highly accomplished professionals, the wildly applauded celebrities. Victims all over the world were coming out with the truth. It sickened her to the core. She wanted to speak up too. No, she wanted to shout out the truth with all her might. But her screams were once again silenced. Silenced by her own fears, fear of being judged, of being disbelieved, and she was silenced by the fear of being looked down upon by this harsh world though a heinous crime had been committed against her. The perpetrator of this act of unspeakable evil was going around unscathed. Not a hair out of place on his demoniacal head. Not a shard of remorse on his tainted soul.
Who is Rimi, if you were to ask? She is a girl in almost every household in my country. It doesn’t matter if she is rich or poor, fat or slim, fair or dark. And sometimes when the day has been dreary and the night is dark, she is unable to sleep, tossing and turning in her bed, the screams still echoing within the realms of her mind, only to be muffled into silence by the shackling norms of society.
What is the solution? When predators are everywhere, how can we protect our children? How can we save their innocence? The answer lies in constant vigilance and open communication. Parents must never leave an innocent child unattended and in the company of elders, howsoever close they maybe. All children must be educated about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ from a very early age. They must be taught to raise an alarm, to scream and run if a bad touch happens, and to report the culprit whosoever it maybe. Parents must never let the criminals get away with it. Social relationships, societal norms are nowhere as important as an innocent child.
If you have been prey to such an act, speak up now. Talk to your loved ones, share the pain and warn others around you, because it has been rightly said that all that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is the silence of the wounded and the condonation of the spectators.