By Sumit Shrivastav:
I am the youngest child in my family (from the maternal side). So everyone loves me a lot. I have spent most of my childhood days at my maternal uncle’s house without my mother. When I was seven or eight-years-old, one of my cousins (who is 6-7 years older than me), would regularly take me to his house and come to my uncle’s place. He was very affectionate towards me. He always used to give me toffees and bars of chocolate. He always used to take me on his lap and hug me. Sometimes I used to feel uncomfortable but I did not have the slightest clue about what was happening back then. So I did not resist. But then, his behaviour gradually started changing. He started scolding and mocking me often, in front of other elders of the family. Sometimes he would beat me too. Nobody protested as they thought that it was ‘between the brothers’. But as he was 6-7 years older than me, I started fearing him.
I used to sleep with my grandmother. One day he mocked me in front of everyone for being the grown up who sleeps with his naani. I was advised to sleep with them, my brothers. My naani too agreed.
One night, I was sleeping on one of the extreme sides of the bed. It was a hot summer night and we were sleeping on the rooftop. Suddenly I felt a hand on my belly. I thought it was my brother’s. But then it gradually moved towards my back and then slipped into my pants. I woke up. It was him, my cousin. I didn’t know when he had come and lied down beside me. I was horrified. He pretended to be asleep. I went back to sleep. Same thing happened, again. I decided not to sleep at all. The night went by somehow. Next morning, he told my naani that he would take me to his house which was 15 kilometres away from my uncle’s. Naani agreed and asked me to visit my mausi (mother’s sister). I was not left with any choice because he was my mausi‘s son.
There, at night, I had to sleep beside him only, as my mausi would sleep with her husband. This time, he did not do anything at first. He woke me up and asked me to remove my pants. Upon asking, he told me that he wanted to tell me certain things which I needed to know when I grew up. Then he removed his clothes, showed me his privates and said that every child had to go through what I was about to. I was horrified, scared and frozen. He asked me not to share this with anyone because if I did, people would consider me a ‘bad boy’. He did not ‘do it’ but he did and said many other things and had me scared. Next day I asked mausi to drop me back at my uncle’s. I was too horrified to share anything with anyone, not even with my brother. This happened a few times. After one or two years, I became bold enough to resist, putting an end to the abuse.
Now comes the important part. I have never shared this with anyone for 15 years now. Two to three years ago, I was talking to my mother on the phone. It was about the safety of children in general, as we have three little kids in the house now. And then she confessed that she was aware of everything that happened to me. And she also mentioned that I was not the only victim. This happened to my brother along with every other kid in the extended family. I was shocked. All my life, I have been blaming myself, thinking that it was my weak personality because of which I was victimised. I asked her why she didn’t take any action, to which she said that she was afraid of the ‘public indignation’ that we might have to face. This had me shocked even more. Even to this day, I have to touch my cousin’s feet (as we do to our elders) when he comes to our house. He has never been questioned by anyone.
After talking to some of my close friends and my brother, I realised something. All of them had faced this same ‘problem’ and experienced similar incidents and it was because no one spoke up.
Was it just the lack of sex education for which we had to go through this? I think not. Perhaps it is difficult to impart sex education to a five-year-old. But we can definitely teach them about the difference between a ‘safe’ and an ‘unsafe’ touch. We should make kids aware of how they should be treated – mentally or physically. We should teach them ourselves that they might not want to trust everyone under all circumstances. And most importantly, we should listen to our kids and stand by them.
Sexual abuse is never a child’s fault. We must confront the abuser in front of everyone even if the abuser is one of our own. We should file a police case too if the need be. Because if we don’t, the perpetrator might continue to wrong more people for not being questioned, challenged or resisted enough. This is not just an individual issue. We have to fight this collectively. And it starts with making our children aware and ourselves more concerned.
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.