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“It’s Part Of Growing Up In India”: Reactions When I Open Up About My Sexual Abuse

Trigger Warning: Child Sexual Abuse

I was 5 years old when I was sexually abused by a male servant in the sanctity of my own home. Sporadic episodes continued into my teenage years. Today, it does not define me, but it sure has shaped me. It was difficult talking about my abuse until I realized that shame, guilt, and denial are the ingredients that allow for this silent epidemic to grow. So instead I decided to be part of the solution and have the courage to talk, to be the voice for many young people who are abused every day in India and around the world.

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Here are some responses I have heard since I have opened up about my past!

“Oh My God, I’ve Known You For So Long, How Come You Never Mentioned It”

As a child, I lacked the basic understanding that it was wrong and I did not have the emotional vocabulary to express myself and to tell somebody about what was happening.  I was always warned about not accepting goodies or chocolates from strangers. But nobody warned me about the people who were in my circle of trust- the people who I loved, who were supposed to protect me.

By the time I realized that I had been abused, it seemed too late to tell. It’s not something that comes up when you have spent so long trying to forget about it. For years, I felt worthless and was paralyzed by fear of being labeled, of not being believed, not having any proof, and feeling complicit.

“Uncles Will Be Uncles! It’s Been Going On For Generations, Don’t Waste Your Time.”

Child sexual abuse is insidious and has been plaguing our society for generations. I know of many friends and relatives (both boys and girls) who are an unfortunate statistic of child sexual abuse. I was expected to put my degree to good use, make money and raise a family. I just couldn’t accept this as a reality for our children.

In the words of Robin Roberts, “My mess is my message.” Change begins with an uncomfortable conversation.  So let’s unruffle some feathers and unburden ourselves of this baggage that we never should have had to carry in the first place!

“Why Would You Talk About This Publicly?”

Ghar ka naam (the honor of the house)’ at all costs cannot be tainted. Even if it means leading a life with a facade and stifling your inner voice so that you can adjust to the acceptable ways as you dance to the popular monotone. As a society, the popular discourse is victim-blaming, hushed voices reeking of judgment, laden with stigma and absolute denial.

Children pick up the clues at a very early age and over time the brushing of awkward questions under the carpet, the changing of TV channels with a sanitary napkin ad, and pet names for private body parts make it abundantly clear that there is no room for discussion on matters of sex and sexuality (even in private). Telling is when my healing began. And now, I have finally found my voice. I never knew that my pain will be an inspiration for many and it will help them heal.

“It’s Part And Parcel Of Growing Up In India”

In an awareness training at a school, I recall a teacher saying if we included strangers passing sexual remarks and groping on streets, no girl would be left out. My cousin and I would take the local train in Mumbai whenever we visited a friend in Mulund. We found it odd when some boys across the platform would whistle and say “ay jhagmag”. I remember being groped at croft market and a stranger trying to shove a finger between my legs. I froze and tears came streaming down my face. I was in a crowded place, nobody seemed to have noticed. We are conditioned to accept and surrender to our fate and move on. But I refuse to do so.

If you have any more interesting responses to my apparently ‘shameful’ revelation, please feel free to reach out to me at info@circlesofsafety.com

In the meantime, play your part in putting an end to child sexual abuse. Here’s how:

  1. Take part in our April Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month campaign on Instagram @circles_of_safety and Facebook @circlesofsafety
  2. Prevention through Education: Promote holistic sexuality education in schools so that children receive age-appropriate information on essential aspects of growing up and learn to set healthy body boundaries.
  3. Educate yourself:  Adults that surround the child need to educate themselves on the issue – what is child sexual abuse, how to spot it, and stop it. Look out for our awareness workshops!

Remember, no topic is too cumbersome or awkward when the safety of the child is in question. So play your part!

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 dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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