the length of a lifetime

Child abuse casts a shadow the length of a lifetime wrote Herbert Ward. Most of us do not understand this has we have never been abused. But this is the harsh reality, one I have witnessed myself. The medias have shifted gear. There seems to be a surplus of meaty stories. And with elections around the corner, the politicians will hog all the space. The horror of abuse of little girls cannot compete with scams, political quibbling and all kind of breaking news. Yet children continue to be abused as we carry on life as we know it. Yesterday evening at 7.45, as we were maybe sipping our sundowner, watching TV or otherwise engaged,  the little five year old who had been brutally raped 12  days ago and was fighting for her life in  a Nagpur hospital breathed her last and gently passed away without fuss. We will never know what went on in her tiny and innocent mind for those long 12 days and 12 nights. She will be mourned by her loved ones but they too will have to move on as the game of survival the poor in our country are compelled to play does not allow you the luxury to grieve for long. She might make a few headlines, spark off some protest but then she will become a statistic to be added to the horrifying number of children abused in our country: 48 838 is the official number of children raped in India in the last ten years. These are the reported cases. You can easily multiply the figure by four. And if you add the children groped, molested, fondled and assaulted within their homes, then the figure is staggering. Yet we keep criminally mute.

If you have the strength to read what child abuse is all about then I urge you to read this article. I know it is not easy but do to read it, just to honour the little girl who passed away yesterday because of our indifference. You cannot begin to imagine the horror a child goes through because of us , adults. I use 'us' responsibly because we are collectively responsible. I know many of you will not read this article in its entirety. I had to brace myself to do so. Allow me to just reproduce one story before we go further.

To begin with, hear the story of one child. On 17 December 2012 — just one day after the gangrape of a young paramedic in New Delhi shook the world — a three-and-a-half-year old baby girl returned from school with her clothes streaked with vomit and blood.

Her father, Gagan Sharma (name changed), had moved from Kolkata to a slum in west Delhi in 2003 in search of a better life. The little girl had been listless and reluctant to go to school for weeks. Now, when her mother asked her what had happened, she told the story haltingly, riven by fear.

She spoke of a bald man — the principal’s husband — who had threatened to hang her from a ceiling fan if she dared to open her mouth. She spoke of how he had taken her to the bathroom, made her lie down, and inserted his penis and fingers into her vagina and her anus, blaring music in his room to drown any noise. She spoke of how he had done this to her many times before, forcing her to keep quiet by saying terrible things would happen to her parents if she talked about it.

The girl’s mouth was full of ulcers from a drug the alleged perpetrator — a man called Pramod Malik — had forced her to take to render her unconscious while he raped her.

The fact of the rape is horrific enough. Here’s what came after. According to the parents, it took them 12 hours at the police station to get an FIR registered. They were taunted by a woman sub-inspector for living in a colony of “disrepute”; their own reputation was questioned; the little girl was asked to recount her story in front of three policemen. The woman sub-inspector prefaced the inquiry by telling the little girl: “Tell the truth or insects will crawl all over you and your mother and father will be beaten.”

Despite these threats, the little girl repeated her story exactly as she had told it to her parents. In the magistrate’s court, she was challenged again. She told her story again. The medical examiner, however, ruled out rape and left the report vague. The headmaster was let out on bail on 28 February. On the other hand, Gagan Sharma’s landlord asked him and his family to leave. They are still struggling with the case.

This is not just a narrative of a rape. Every line screams of horror, injustice and pain. First the age of the child: three and a half year old. Take a moment to stop and things of the children of that age you know and love: your own child, your grandchild, your niece or perhaps your neighbour. She is just a baby, someone to be loved, protected, cared for but not to be viewed as a means to satisfy your sexual need! She is just a child whose life till that horrific moment was filled with thoughts of toys, goodies and chocolates, swings and rids, and joy and laughter. And then suddenly a change in mood, a fear she cannot convey, a scream that remains stuck in her tiny throat for weeks. She does not want to go to school. But school is where she is meant to be safe, it is meant to be a happy place. Is it not the preferred space we all want to send our tiny ones to? And then one day the screams breaks the barrier of imposed silence and mutates into halting words impregnated with fear. She recounts the horror she has been subjected to, the pain, the incomprehension, the threats and names the perpetrator. It is not a stranger but the Principal's husband! 

In any civilised society one would want to believe that from this moment the child would be safe and not subjected to any more humiliation and indignity. But there is more, much more. The child has to relieve the nightmare again and again and tell her 'story' to insensitive police officials, even a women who tell her to Tell the truth or insects will crawl all over you and your mother and father will be beaten. She has to relieve the horror again in front of a magistrate.

The end of the matter was that the medical examiner ruled out rape! How could he do that when the child had described as graphically as a three year old can do the acts perpetrated by the man. The main is out on bail. And her parents have been thrown out of their home by their landlord, their reputation sullied. I do not know what logic works here. I am speechless and seething.

The equation is skewed. It is not a case of 1 victim and 1 perpetrator. It is the a matter of one tiny victim   just three and a half and a slew of perpetrators: the rapist, his wife under whose watch this happened, the police and their taunts, the medical examiner whose report is shocking, the magistrate whose understanding of rape is beyond one's understanding and last of all the community who as always lands  up blaming the victim. How can a child be heard.

I can only quote Heather Mc Claine's words when she says The only reason why child abuse is alive today, is because we as adults fail our children when we fail to listen to them. Listen to a child today!

There are several more stories like this one in the mentioned article. 

The reason of this post goes further. The rape of these little girls is abhorrent. One has to have a sick mind to think otherwise. But there is another from of sexual assault that happens every minute within the walls of homes of all strata of society, assaults that are never or rarely reported as the equation is again skewed: one girl versus family honour and the equation is again skewed. What chance does the girl stand and as sometimes it is not rape in the legal definition - penetration- it is often poo poohed away by the elder one goes to for help. What many do not understand is that child sexual abuse is NOT  only intercourse. Even a single instance of groping by someone you trust is sufficient to scar a child for life. The incident takes on the form of a predator that lives for ever in some dark recess of the survivor's soul and raises its ugly and monstrous head at the least expected moment, often when the survivor feels she has healed and wants to live a normal life, or when she dares to dream. The beast is a hydra headed one and can take many shapes: an unexplained illness, a sombre mood, anything to ensure that the survivor does take that one step that would spell release and freedom.

Many of us do not know that. There was a time when I too did not. But this is the raw and stark reality faced by a child sexual abuse survivor simply because a trusting adult broke the trust in a vile and reprehensible way.

The survivor is scarred for ever. As a survivor who was raped at the age of 16 and could not remember the faces of those who violated her:“All I remember from that night is a smell” . A smell that impregnates every part of her memory forever.