Analysis

Why is a deafening silence prevailing over child sexual abuse in Kashmir?

Whenever any child sexual abuse case makes it to the headlines, a stormy reaction against the society’s ‘wavering’ moral compass starts. But the larger deafening silence against such cases not only breeds the abuse, but also emboldens the offenders. Here, a child rights activist shares his field research on the crime committed in the Valley.

While working on a case related to mass child sexual abuse in Kashmir in the past two and a half years, I came across a number of survivors of child sexual abuse. When studying these cases, there was never any consistency, nor a clear pattern as to who the perpetrator was.

A 12-year-old girl was raped by her teacher in Srinagar. Although the teacher was later convicted for 10 years in prison, the trial continued for more than two years. In those years, the girl and her widowed mother lost pretty much everything they had.

Instead of shaming the perpetrator, the relatives and the neighbors of the victim continuously put pressure on her widowed mother to withdraw the case.

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According to the girl’s mother, they were repeatedly harassed by their own relatives and neighbors for filing the complaint. They were blamed for bringing shame to the family because they chose to fight, rather than succumb to social stigma attributed to rape victims in our society.

In fact, everyone in the society had suggested the girl’s mother to settle the matter outside the court. However, despite all the harassment and pressure to withdraw the case, the girl’s mother pursued it and didn’t give up until justice was served.

This is one of the very few instances, which I’ve come across so far, where a parent didn’t succumb to family or societal pressure. I believe it’s very important for all the aspiring parents to understand this: if their child is ever subjected to sexual abuse then they must stand strong for their child rather than succumbing to the societal pressures.

I’ve seen and heard many young parents today complain about their decision to have children and regretting it as they lose the freedom they had before having children.

Therefore, it’s important for all aspiring parents to understand and prepare themselves in every possible way before taking the decision to bring a child into this world. It’s a huge responsibility that demands a number of sacrifices from both parents.

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Bringing children to this world without any preparations, and without having a clear vision about the future is a huge mistake that one can’t afford to make, because it cannot be rectified.

Infact, the current state of affairs with regards to parent-child relationship in our society is disastrous.

A couple of months ago, I spoke with a girl who was sexually abused for more than 10 years by her maternal uncle. Since her parents were continuously arguing, and as a result neglecting the girl, the abuser took advantage of the poor soul and made her believe that he is the only person who loves her, and will take care of her.

The abuser still visits the family and is regarded well by her parents.

To this day, the girl hasn’t mustered the courage to speak up to her parents to tell them about her abuser.

Although the uncle has stopped abusing the girl, she is compelled to see her abuser several times a month.

As a survivor, you want to run away from all those traumatising thoughts of childhood abuse that occupy your mind day and night, but it is almost impossible when your abuser is a close family member.

You’re left confused and traumatised for a lifetime, fighting your own thoughts whether to break the silence or not.

I have a few questions in my mind that I’m trying to find the answers for. In our society, why is it so difficult for children to communicate such things to their parents? Why can’t parents create a safe environment in the first place for their children so that they can express their feelings freely? How difficult can it be?Do parents have no clue about child sexual abuse? If that’s the case, isn’t it a crime to be ignorant?

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I even fail to understand why is it difficult for parents to talk about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ with their children? Why is sex education considered a shameful subject? Isn’t it shocking that we let our children suffocate in isolation rather than helping them break the silence about abuse and let them breathe in peace?

How can this notion of shame be so strong in a society like ours to the extent that we consciously or unconsciously let our children suffer?

The most astonishing and common thing that I find in almost all survivors’ stories is the fear of their parents getting to know about the abuse.

Unfortunately, this sorry state of affairs with respect to parent-child relationship will continue as long as we are not open to new ideas and change. We can’t live in denial and keep thinking that our society is immune to child sexual abuse.

According to a study conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) across 13 states in India, one in every two children was sexually abused in 2007, in one or more forms, before reaching the age of 18.

On an average over two children were born per woman in India in 2017, which means, figuratively speaking, that in every household there is at least one victim of child sexual abuse.

I fear that if we don’t take necessary measures immediately to prevent child sexual abuse and create a safe environment in our homes, a day will come when MoWCD will publish yet another alarming study.

Another major concern in preventing child sexual abuse is the conservative mindset of the majority of our teachers, especially in primary and secondary schools.

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I remember when my science teacher refused to teach us ‘Life Process I and II’ in my Class 10. He was too shy to teach topics like ‘sexual and asexual reproduction’ to a class of 37 students, which included 29 girls and 8 boys. Again, I fail to understand why is anything sexual considered a taboo in our society?

During one of my sessions dedicated to raising awareness about child sexual abuse, a senior lecturer from South Kashmir talked about how he was subjected to sexual abuse in his childhood. There were more than 100 senior lecturers from all 22 districts of Jammu and Kashmir present in the hall. Due to fear of social stigma attributed to rape victims in Kashmir, it took him more than 30 years to gather the courage to speak up about the abuse.

Almost everyone in the audience applauded him for being brave enough to speak up and welcomed him for having finally broken the silence.

Two months later, I received a call from him and he sounded upset. When I asked, he told me that he regrets breaking the silence in front of his colleagues. He told me that the past two months had been very difficult for him because he had a hard time dealing with people around him, including some lecturers who confronted and blamed him for having openly talked about his childhood abuse.

This makes me question our education system, as well as our teaching community.

If an individual is trying to make a difference by speaking up against child sexual abuse, instead of supporting him or her, why do we start giving them lectures on morality?

It is important for all of us to understand that child sexual abuse is a crime, and the only person that should be held accountable and shamed for the act is the perpetrator and no one else.

Not all parents in a society like ours are educated enough to understand the causes and consequences of child sexual abuse. Therefore, the role of a teacher becomes more important in such a society.

However, if our teachers are not even comfortable to have conversations around sex and sexuality, how can we expect them to make our next generation aware about social evils like child sexual abuse?

It’s important to understand that the casualties of such a mindset are catastrophic.

Musab Omer is a researcher and child rights activist, who has been organising awareness programmes on child sexual abuse in Jammu and Kashmir. Sign his petition on Personal Safety Education in School Curriculum here. 

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