Pinki Virani’s pioneering book Bitter Chocolate gave a powerful voice to the issue of child sexual abuse (CSA) in India. Through the book, Virani, who speaks up as a victim of incest and rape, recounts her own experiences of abuse as a child and narrates countless CSA cases of boys and girls from infancy to their early teens. This Worli-resident was awarded the national Stree Shakti Puraskar, honouring her role in women and child empowerment and her contribution towards the issue. Here is her take on CSA.
Whom to fear?
Post the release of Bitter Chocolate, I have been conducting interactive talks with parents through Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) at schools and some colleges across the country. As parents and schools discover how simple it actually is to prevent the crime, they introduce steps to protect the children. In schools, this needs to be done with the active involvement of PTAs, especially when it is not under the exclusive purview of the schools (for example hiring yoga/ dance/ swimming coaches, peons and school bus attendants—people who can come into physical contact with the child). Ironically, the most unsafe places for children can be their own homes and neighbourhood—extended families included. This is where the parents’ come into the picture—including the father, who can, and must, play a powerful role as the protector of the child.
No matter how well-informed and well-meaning the parents may be, 24/7 vigilance of a child is almost impossible. This is exactly what the perpetrator knows and banks upon. Which is why Bitter Chocolate also spells out how parents and schools must act jointly to draw up their own personalised sex-education curriculum, which is adapted to their own culture–they can call it what they want: moral science, body dharma, physical awareness, etc. There need to be modules, taught by experienced teachers of the same school in a graded manner.
Parents should be a part of some of these special classes because these can provide them with answers for their kids’ questions at home. In this manner, not only is the adult watching out for the child but the children are also being armed with information to watch out for themselves, to be able to recognise what is wrong and quickly report it, so that it does not happen to the next child.
Law against CSA
Such sustained crusading since 2000 has assisted the process of the parliament passing a law against sexual abuse of children—The Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) 2012. The law includes four of my suggestions to the standing committee; it also incorporates several suggestions from the book.
Short and long-term effects
Child sexual abuse runs across class, caste and gender. Bitter Chocolate lists, in detail, its after-effects and does so with a note of caution: that we must neither generalise nor be politically correct. Keeping this firmly in mind, here are a few ways in which it manifests itself: the child can start sexually abusing other children (irrespective of gender) and academic performance may drop. As the child grows into puberty, he/she may become hyper-sexualised or begin to think of himself/herself as of a different sexual orientation. In adulthood, men may display criminal-minded behaviour and turn into abusers themselves; women may become indifferent mothers.
Dealing with it
Victim. Survivor. Exit. These are three key words. Those who have been victims– and we are far too many–slowly must find the strength to move from being mere survivors into–and through–the exit cycle. We should work towards being the sum total of our experiences, not be defined by one (even if it is the worst) and self-labeled forever thereafter as just a survivor.
I have spoken to specialists who provided inputs on the exit cycle, which I have spelled out in the book. There is a reason why it is called a ‘cycle’ because no matter how strong one becomes, no matter how long it takes, that downward spiral into feeling like a victim all over again can be very swift, sudden and catch one unaware to feel vulnerable—all over again—like a very confused, frightened child. This is the kind of evil which is perpetrated on a child all the way into adulthood, when one man lifts one finger or one object to sexually abuse a child. And this is the evil which can then get carried through generations—to destroy even unconnected and unrelated humans, like a tsunami of collateral damage—as some of the long-term effects also prove.