By Sonall Jamuar:
Perhaps all these years, I have lived in a denial mode. But as it is said, you cannot run away from the past. We maintainÂ OmertÃ Â throughout; a code of silence about abuse in Indian households prevails. Aren’t we all proud of it?
We have conquered, overcome, mastered, won, surpassed, and excelled at concealing cases of child sex abuse happening around us. A lot many of us have been at the receiving end too. A home is the safest place for a child to be born and brought up in, but what happens when the child grows in the environment of fear. A fear that the child cannot explain to anybody, cannot or does not know how to voice it. I hail from a reputed middle class family of north India. A joint family to be precise, consisting of doting uncles and aunts, of many relatives and neighbours. But then too, there was an instance when I felt unsafe and did not know what happened or preferred to delete that experience from my memory.
It is not just me, many of us suffer similar mortifying experiences. These experiences are then followed by experiences of silence, deleting the memory and pretending that it never happened.
It was the year 2012, I was living in an upscale society of Bandra West, Mumbai. I had reputed neighbors, usually not much socialization happened other than society meetings or festivals. I have always been loved by children, and bond with them easily. There too, I developed a close bond with a ten year old girl Srishti.
She used to play in my flat and usually ended up bringing her school homework at my place and completing it in the night. I knew her mother and we too became good friends. It was in one of the conversations that Srishti started asking me about rape and what it was. Totally taken back by her innocent question, I dismissed it as the product of watching news. But eventually, she confided in me about her fears. Harrowing details of what that pedophile was doing to her. He was her mother’s boyfriend who used to visit them often, even when her mother was not around. He had the keys to their home. She did not know what was happening to her, was as confused as I had been but more determined in the fact that she did not want more of it and needed help. Where I had the privilege to be born in a family which was full of people to love me and protect me, Srishti was from a broken home. All the more difficult to seek help and support. I confronted her mother, butÂ her mother supported her boyfriend instead of supporting her ten year old daughter, stating that her daughter was jealous and possessive. Se then added, in a mild note, that single girls like me should focus on our life rather than snooping around. What disturbed me most was that before this incident, I was their favorite neighbor. Now I am a neighbor who is a possible threat to her reputation.
Srishti’s mother dismissed me with eye-rolling disdain. I kept on wondering how can a Mother be so detached, indifferent to her daughter’s pain. Mothers are the caretakers of children they bring in to the world. I could never let this happen to anybody’s daughter nor should be allowing anybody to do it to their daughter. Alas, they were just thoughts in mind which I never put to action. I pride myself in having very strong maternal instincts towards children, that explains their natural affinity towards me but how I reacted in that situationÂ haunts me even today. May be that’s why I am confessing it here.
Work occupied most of my waking hours but this incident gave me sleepless nights. I was afraid, convinced myself that I am helpless and that I did enough. As expected, the little girl was not allowed to visit me and long hours at work did not give me time to check on her.
My maid informed me after a few months that the mother and daughter have moved out, possibly to that pervert’s home. Leaving no forwarding address.
Life moves on. I have relocated to a new city. However, there still remains that guilt of not protecting Srishti, not being able to do anything about the fact that she trusted me enough to confide in me. I did not even discuss it with anyone. I too convinced myself that soon it will get over and silence is the best option. I did not raise my voice against child sex abuse.
The past can sometimes come back to haunt us in strange ways. This Saturday was such a day, in a workshop which I attended purely by chance. I had gotÂ the non refundable flight ticket to Mumbai cancelled.Â Till the lastÂ moment, I was not sure if I would attend the workshop. The reason was not my plans for Mumbai, but the fear of facing the past.
The workshop was conducted by Srishtilife foundation. It was titled Science and Signs of Emotions. The particular name reminded me of my dear friend Srishti and brought back a flood of unpleasant memories.
I was scared yet again. But this time, I decided to face the reality and attend the workshop. Miracles happen when we expect it the least. It happened to me. As I write this, I send my prayer of thanks to the divine for finding a way for me to fight the ghosts of the past.
What moved me was the maturity and sensitivity with which the whole issue of creating awareness against CSA( child sex abuse) was dealt with in a short span of time. In the last part of the session, the whole idea was explained.
The workshop didn’t get too heavy for me, as I had expected. Nor did it deal just with the ‘do you know’ facts or retelling of the horrifying incidents one by one. The whole workshop was designed in such a way that when after the workshop one stepped out from the hall, he/she had gained a mantra which if used is going to empower and change his/her life forever for good. I do not mean that we need to change the way we are but on introspection, we would realize that how a simple mind shift helps in dealing with particular issues that are a constant threat to our peace of mind.
What impressed meÂ was this amazing team of dedicated people united in a cause, working together to create a society free of Child Sex Abuse. The website says that they are neither funded nor do they accept donation of any kind. These workshops are conducted on a regular basis on various issues.
The idea of writing this long article is just my way of summarizing the inner turmoil which I had gone though and how I got the answer. I got a voice.
I thank Srishtilife foundation for conduction such a value adding workshop. I appeal to everybody who is reading this, to every mother, to the survivors, to all the single girls like me – do not hesitate to speak up. Let’s give the children a safe society. Let’s make our homes/schools safe. Let’s give our children a happy childhood, beautiful memories and smiles. I wish to bring my child to a safe, abuse free society and in an effort to do so, I have to start now!
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at [email protected] You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.