The murder of innocence

Sheetal pulled at her uncle’s hand as she watched her favorite cartoon channel. He was sitting on the bed, a few feet away from the TV, and holding her as she stood between his legs, swinging from side to side, and holding his hands and knees for support. All of 5 years, her eyes were transfixed on the screen as she watched keenly the antics of Tom and Jerry, her favorite characters.

So absorbed was she that she didn’t realize that her uncle was holding her still, and had nudged her closer to himself. As she watched the screen, she suddenly felt something. Something wierd. She looked down and saw his hands on her chest. They were rubbing her. She couldn’t understand the significance of the action and was puzzled, more so by the fact that it felt wierd. And wrong.

She took her eyes of the screen and looked back at his face. He smiled at her, and pointed to the screen and told her “Look! Look at what Tom is doing!”. The rubbing continued, and she began to think she wanted to go away. But she couldn’t move, being locked in by his strong, adult legs. She pulled at his hands, trying to pry them away. It didn’t work – she just felt the pressure of his hands further. She felt his body envelop her, and a whisper next to her ears “Don’t worry. Just stand. Nothing is wrong. Don’t tell anything to mummy. She’ll scold you”. And with that, the hands began to proceed lower.

Repulsed? Disconcerted? Angry?

Well, you can be one or more of those things, but you certainly can’t be in the shoes of Sheetal. You can’t feel what she felt as a child, and can’t understand the pain. You can’t understand what’s going through her mind, even as she grapples with coming to terms with something she cannot comprehend. The pain of trusting someone and having herself violated by that very someone. The pain of being unable to defend herself, or stop what was happening, because she was scared. And worried. And traumatized.

Fear. He taught her what it was to fear. He made her think that what he was doing was right. She needed to be afraid only because she was wrong. Wrong to not want it to happen. And she would be more wrong. If she spoke out. Because then, everyone would abandon her. And they, her family, would suffer.

Because it seemed like he could make them.

This is a true story; of not just one Sheetal but of several. Several little girl children who encounter one or more forms of abuse, every day. Abused by random strangers on the road. Abused by teachers, drivers, watchmen, guardians or friends. Abused by family. Abused by people who’re their very own – a parent or a brother.

Indeed, it isn’t even just girl children. Boys are abused too. The person, the age, the gender, the religion, the family, the economic and social background, the language, the country – nothing matters. Abuse happens each day, each second.

When adults get abused, they know instantly that they have been wronged, for no fault of theirs. They know they have a voice that’ll get heard. And a choice.

When children get abused, they have none of these. They can’t understand that they have been wronged. They can’t understand that they can speak about it to someone and they will be understood and protected. They can’t understand that they have a choice to be pulled out of their pain and trauma – and a choice to rebuild the fabric of trust that they had within them. A fabric that was ripped to shreds by an adult.

An adult. A psychopath. Some who took care to be funny, and nice, and understanding. For long enough to build a child’s trust. Someone who everybody in the household instinctively trusted. Someone who would be left alone with the child, without a thought. Someone who would wait for a defenseless moment to do the most despicable act: sexually abuse a child.

And then such children grow up. Dysfunctional. Untrusting. Overtly cautious. Promiscuous. Confused. Even demented.

More than 53% children report facing one or more forms of sexual abuse.

Are you one of those 53%? Or do you know of a child, who, unbeknownst to you, could end up being in that 53%?

If so, protect our children. Speak up against Child Abuse. Vouch to fight against those who murder a child’s innocence. And be aware. Aware that any moment, your belief in the trustworthiness of a person, can be destroyed the moment, he or she touches your child in a way that should never ever happen. Keep your eyes open, tell children what they need to know: that they have done nothing to deserve it if it happens, that you are there to fight for them, and that you will be able to handle it – and protect them, and all they need to do is to come and tell you.

* * * * *

This is a topic that’s very close to my heart and something I have wished to write upon for years – and for sure, this is not the last post on it. I have personally experienced abuse as a child, and I know several women – almost every other woman I know – have had one or more experiences of being fondled, or molested, or sexually abused as a child. April 2011 marks a month-long initiative by CSAAM – an effort by bloggers, parents and non-parents, to bring this topic to the fore, and spread awareness on it. The initiative has a presence on twitter – @CSAawareness – and Facebook

Several blogs have been written already, as part of the blogathon:

Monika Manchanda

Mad Momma

CSA Survivor Story

Recognize Child Sexual Abuse by Desi Girl

Let’s laud the effort of these bloggers to talk about a topic that hardly gets the attention it deserves.

At the same time, pls. remember to support, talk about it, educate ourselves, and others, so that the children of this world can get the protection they need. Do you have a voice? If so, please make it count!  (This post tells you how to participate)

A tale of two women

Update:
BlogJunta found this post worthy of an Editor’s Choice mention :). Here’s what they’ve graciously given me:

BlogJunta - An ode to the Blogosphere

Lakshmi, 34, is educated. The youngest of three children, she’s studied upto 10th (her family is poor, but her dad believed in educating all his children, and has managed to provide them with a basic education. As is the practice in their community, Lakshmi got married to her cousin when she was 15. Today, she has two kids, a girl aged 14 and a boy aged 9 – both are studying.

Lakshmi works for a living, as a cook, earning about Rs. 5000 per month. Her husband works at a factory, and earns the same. He gives her Rs. 1500 a month, for expenses at home (spending 2000 for himself, and giving his mother the rest) + her son’s education. He refuses to give her a rupee extra for the daughter because he never wanted the child in the first place – he says she’ll be nothing but a burden. When the daughter was 4 months old, he told Lakshmi he’d kill her. Lakshmi threatened to kill him if he did anything of the sort and he backed off. She’s managed to keep her daughter safe since then, but he refuses to look at or talk to the child – and objects to any of his money being used for bringing up the child.

He loves his son though and insisted that he be sent to an English medium school (even if the fees is prohibitive for a family with their kind of income). To cope with the home expenses (given that her husband’s contribution is meagre), Lakshmi is taking on as much work as possible. She gets up at 4 am, starts work at 5, and finishes at 9.30 pm, and sleeps at 11.00 (after finishing work at home).

This month hasn’t begun so well for her – as is with most months. Her employers pay her during the first few days of the month, and her husband’s been making life hell for her, for the past 10 days – since he’s been eyeing her salary. Today she has had yet another fight with him and has been crying, because he’s asking for more money, as dowry. For the past 19 years, he’s been accusing her and her family of cheating him out of what’s due to him and his family.

Lakshmi’s father isn’t alive, and her only brother doesn’t care enough to negotiate with her husband (or take action against him).

Her only solution? Put on a smile and continue to work every minute of the day – so that her children can go to school, and she is able to provide them with an education that can get them employment in the future. When asked about it, she says, “It’s ok. I and my children will survive. The only anger I have is with God.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Maya is turning 31 this year. She’s working in an MNC, and earning much more than guys of her age. Smart, confident and exceptional at what she does – she’s starting to become a subject of envy more than appreciation. She’s begun to see that there are unseen lines she’s not expected to cross, and though her rise to the current position has been meteoric, she’s beginning to think that the onward journey will need more than credentials, experience and capability. However, despite recent run-ins with bosses, she’s willing to try as hard as possible, and navigate around the prejudices – she’s worked hard on her career, and she can’t afford to give it up all now.

At home, Maya has an entirely different terrain to navigate. Her parents are beginning to fret about her marital status and she sees the worry writ large on her mother’s face, day after day. Maya had her chance at 25, to marry a guy she really liked, and who loved her for what she was. But her parents objected to him, and even threatened her with dire consequences. They argued that they could never face their relatives/friends, and would die of shame, if their Brahmin daughter married a non-Brahmin from a different state. Eventually, she decided to concentrate on her job, and let them look for someone “appropriate” once she was truly over him.

That was 3 years ago. After that, its been an endless ordeal: of horoscope-matching, being visited by prospective groom’s parents, sisters or relatives, getting dressed and being subjected to the same questions over and over again, talking to guys on the phone, to even meeting them more than once, so that they could “get to know her better”.

Some of the initial proposals didn’t go through because she thought she wanted to make sure she was marrying someone she could visualize spending the rest of her life with – and the guys she was meeting didn’t fit the bill. However, soon after, the issues weren’t from her side anymore. Her darker skin met with various frowns, and often, mothers or aunts would ask her mother openly whether she was “white” or “wheatish”. Then, they had a problem with her age. “Why exactly is she single even now?”. And then, it was her career. “Will she adjust to my son’s timings, and accompany him in case he travels to a different country? We don’t want a career-oriented girl for him”. The last straw was “At this age, will she conceive?”

Maya has been mulling on a decision for a month now. She’s had it with the emotional abuse and trauma of each visit from a prospective groom’s side (and the corny/wierd guys she gets to meet after surviving such onslaughts) – and she’s beginning to think her mother’s health is degrading because of the intense worry she carries.

She’s going to ask her parents to stop looking for a partner for her. She’s convinced that she’s destined to be single – after all, if you can’t find a companion to share your life, it’s better to be single and independent, right?

Right. She just wishes though, that this thought doesn’t make her feel like her insides were crumbling.

* * * * * * * * * *
P.S. “Women’s Day” is day after tomorrow. While newspapers and tv shows are all waxing eloquent on the topic, I was contemplating a blog – after all, there are things that need to be said, right?
But today, I came across these two stories (these are people I know – names have been changed though), and realized that this is all that needs to be written about.