Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a topic that renders even the strongest squeamish, be it in India or any part of the world. “Firstly, sexuality in itself is not spoken of much in the country and add CSA to that and you have a concept that is even harder for a society like ours to address,” says Suchismita Bose, director of The Foundation—a non-profit organisation spearheaded by actor Rahul Bose. “Imagining a child as a sexual object is something that most do not even know exists as a problem,” she adds.
The reality is that more often than not, it does not involve a heavily-heaving, moustached and scary-looking man approaching a child menacingly. “It is usually someone who is known to the family that is abusing the child,” shares Suchismita Bose. Project H.E.A.L.—an aptly-named acronym that stands for Help Eradicate Abuse through Learning is a movement looking to “ease discrimination towards CSA survivors” through educating communities and increasing awareness on the much-ignored issue that is CSA. In fact, she goes one step further by explaining that when, for instance, an uncle touches a child inappropriately, the child as well as our society “do not see the actual sexual intent behind it”. Couple that with the fact that the abuser manages to almost always gain the child’s trust and we find ourselves in a catch-22 situation where the victim does not want to tattle-tale on the criminal.
“According to the latest government survey, 53.22% of 12,447 children interviewed were sexually abused. India has 470 million children. If this statistic is anywhere near accurate, CSA is the greatest silent epidemic in the country,” shares Rahul Bose. With actor Kalki Koechlin’s recent admission of her experience as a victim of CSA making media rounds, we cannot help but cynically wonder whether CSA as an issue only receives the attention it needs once well-known names are freckled on front pages. Not quite; Koechlin’s case is emblematic of a greater tragedy that has been unfolding over the years. “When a person like Koechlin talks about her story, we are looking to have others get the strength to publicly speak up against their abuser,” explains Rahul Bose. In fact, with that statement, the director of H.E.A.L. opens up yet another can of worms that is the misconception of CSA being a crime that only affects the lower strata of society. “With workshops all around the city, including in elite academic institutions in South Mumbai, we try to give examples of cases from the same stratum of society. This makes the parents slowly realise that it could happen even in the school that their child goes to or the exclusive club that they regularly frequent,” explains Rahul Bose.
CSA cases are often difficult to prosecute or to prove conclusively. Add to that the lack of awareness on the matter and we have scores of victims slowly having their innocence stripped at an age, much too early to process. H.E.A.L, however, is Rahul Bose’s step forward on a societal quest for eradicating the evil by spreading awareness.