Monday, April 25, 2011

CSAAM April 2011 - Eve Teasing Or CSA?

This is a simple question to the adult women. 
Do you think, that if you faced any of the instance of eve-teasing or molestation, groping, touching in public places, that you faced in your growing years, today, you would be much stronger in your reaction, more enable to defend yourself?

I look forward to knowing what you think, but my belief based on myself, and informal discussions with friends, leads me to believe, the answer would be yes. Simply the process of growing up makes us stronger, wiser. It is much tougher for an adolescent or child to even understand the situation, let alone react to it. In an age, when they are coming to terms with their own sexuality, grappling with surging hormones, trying to figure things out, an event of molestation or even eve teasing has much worse impact, than, when faced as an adult.

It is not easy for a child, to believe it is not their fault, or sometimes to even comprehend the event. Often enough its simply fear, and nothing beyond. The perpetrator often being much older to the victim, further inhibits any form of defensive reaction, in a culture, where we are taught to respect our elders, and leaves a psychological impact too. When one has faced it as a child, and felt shamed, humiliated, its likely to be a feeling they carry forward to the coming years. And even though wiser and stronger, the feeling of humiliation is likely to be stirred up at every similair incident.

As an adult, if a man tries to grope me in public today, my defences will act up much faster with outrage and anger, than it did when I was a teenager. I will yell, scream, hit or whatever else that seems possible at that time. I will not be intimidated, and anger and outrage will be the only emotions overwhelming my senses. I will be enraged, and I will react. But this is not what happened when I was younger, the first emotion to come to me would be fear and a sort of shame. I would not do anything, simply not to attract any attention to the incident or myself. A sense of violation would build up, but it would be held back by my fear. And that led to much worse scars in my mind than the way it would affect me mentally today.

Almost ten years ago, I remember traveling in a DTC bus in Delhi, one afternoon. It was relatively empty, and there were two school girls, not more than 12 or 13 going back home, sitting and chatting. A man  alighted the bus a couple of stops later, and stood close to the seat where the girls were sitting, and while I was not keeping a watch, one of the girls just stood up and shouted at him. She made him apologise, told him to turn and stand away from her. For women who have travelled in buses in Delhi, we all know , how often the shoulder of a sitting woman, is used as a massage tool by these men. I am guessing something similar happened in that case, and that was nothing unusual at all. But what really caught my attention was the way the little girl handled the situation. Shaming the middle-aged man publicly. But its a rare instance, of a girl so young, able to react and tackle the situation thus.  While most others her age would just shut up, deal with it and possibly shed a few tears of anger, outrage and disgust.

There is a reason the predators try and get away with children rather than try it out with adults. Besides the pedophiles, there are those who know its easier to get away by misbehaving or molesting a non-adult. Simply because the victim is less likely to react, or defend themselves. And that is the reason I believe that public acts of verbal or physical sexual abuse done to a child or teenager needs to be named differently, and treated otherwise too. The age of the victim makes a drastic difference in the severity of the crime. And hence should be treated as such, passing comments on a 30 year old woman, is not the same as doing it to a 13 year old, and that needs to be acknowledged and dealt with accordingly.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Culture Versus Person story

This is a discussion I had with my cousin a while back, and there was so much to be said and realised from it, that I wanted to write it down. The very loving aunt to the BB, who is still a kid herself if you ask me, during a recent conversation with me, asked me, how would I imbibe the Indian culture in the BB, living in a land far away, not being a part of any Indian associations here,esp since most of them are regional and The GP and I belong to different regions of India, without as much as Indian television channels at home. I told her straight up, that I cared more for the kind of person the BB became than the so called 'cultural' values. If Indian cultural values are what is displayed on Indian television, I would rather he not know.  And so on it went.

For every example she came up with, I could tell her, how a good person would automatically do the right thing, no matter to what culture he/she belonged. And if it is Indian music or arts that is our culture, I am sure there is enough Indian music playing at home for the BB to pick up, if he has an inclination for it, the rest of the arts, neither The GP, nor me are great connoisseurs,  so well, we cannot really help on that front. And what if he did not pick up Indian art forms, but Western ones, or even African ones for that matter? Does it make him any worse of a person. Things like communication, familial ties, respect for adults are something that is a part of this household, like any average Indian household, imperfect, but that is the way it stands, and so that is what he will observe. But to me the more important question is will he offer his seat to an older person on public transport, will he help a blind person cross the road. And honestly I don't think it is a part of Indian culture, atleast not the India that I have lived in. There are some amazing people who do it, but not enough to call it our culture. And at the end of the day, I believe its just a matter of the kind of person one is. And that is why, that is the only thing that counts for me, when it comes to my child.

It went on then further to family values, and how they will differ for the BB compared to what it is for her or was for me. She wondered how would he adjust if he needed to live with them for a while. And while the food habits maybe a bit different, I don't think there are cultural issues at risk, besides the fact that he may never learn Bengali. A simple thing like eating on the dining table, we as a family very very rarely do that. We are more of a sit around the TV and chat over our meals kind of a family. We have always had dining tables wherever we lived, and it has pretty much always been a dumping table. But my point is, if I am a sensible and sensitive person, and I am visiting someone, I will automatically adapt to their way of life. I will eat on the floor, if that is the way they do it, or the table, or from a communal plate. I will pretty much follow things their way, unless it clashes with my sense of personal values or hygiene. And that is what is the most important thing to me. It is about being sensitive to people's feelings and genuinely caring for them.

Then what is it about the Indian culture that me or anyone for that matter may desperately want in their child. It is but obviously always the positive, good bits, like warmth, helping people, being respectful. And I think all of those are essential bits of being a person, the rest automatically falls in place, if we have that in place. Coming back to the previous example of eating, we ate on our dining table, when my aunt and uncle were visiting us, because they are elders and that is the way they did things. Common sign of respect. But unfortunately, their child would not join us around the centre table for meals, when he came to visit us alone. The fact is, that a nice person, would have jovially joined in on the fun around the centre table instead of sitting aside in a corner alone. Also if our culture involves, as I see widely around the country, eve teasing, pick pocketing, aggression, lack of patience or even politeness, then I would rather that my child not learn it at all.

What do you, other parents feel about this, or even those who are not parents yet? How do you define Indian culture, what do you think is a culture specific thing that should be imbibed in a child?

Friday, April 8, 2011

CSAAM April 2011 - In the Mind of Pain and Shame

[ This is my contribution in the month long campaign against Child Sexual Abuse. To read and know more about it, the views and tips shared by many others throughout this month, hop onto the CSAA blog. ]

Sex, abuse, children, pain, shame, fear, life-long mental agony. These are the things that come to mind when I hear, Child Sexual Abuse.These are my perceptions, my ideas. And I doubt they are very different from anyone else's, besides the perpetrators of such heinous acts. Has it been happening for generations, possibly, I don't know. But I know that it definitely exists. The point is, what do we do about it, and how do we deal with it. A lot of rather, stellar, and informative posts have already come your way about this. So what does a person like me, who has fortunately neither experienced it, nor do I personally know anyone who has been abused say? I tell you what I think about it,  and how the very thought wrings my very insides.

A child, is in a state of growth, mentally and physically, it is the stage, where they learn, observe, understand, try to make sense of the world around them. And while no one has a perfect childhood, we make do with the normal. And then there are some unfortunate ones, who are dealt with a blow, that renders them helpless to go on normally. Sexual Abuse is physically discomforting, even painful, depending on the level of abuse, but the mental trauma it causes is what does not heal even when the scars go away. There are few who have access to counselling, or can share the pain with friends and family and lighten their pain, but there are many who live on with a sense of shame for life. The one time I remember witnessing CSA was in the movie Water by Deepa Mehta, and it shook me to my core. It was on the television late one night, and I remember going to the bedroom and tightly hugging my little boy, while he slept blissfully unaware. And while I knew it was just a movie, I could not calm down, and remained disturbed for days about what I had seen. And this is just me, a passive, distant observer. What happens then to a child who actually experiences this?

I can only imagine. The shock, the fear, the shame. Often the perpetrators, use their power(being older) to intimidate the victim, to scare them into silence. And the poor child is left all alone, to deal with the situation, possibly leading to repeated assaults.The initial shock, soon paves way for a sense of tremendous shame, often laced with a guilt, a feeling of having something to do with the occurrence of the assault. What then? I remember watching a show, which had various women, who had been victims of CSA in their teenage years, talk about it. And they all had the opinion, that being teenagers, their body experienced pleasure, and that made them feel even more ashamed of themselves, because that confused their emotions. While even a single tiny incident leaves a scar on the mind of a child, repeated assaults can and most likely will completely alter a person. Almost every woman who has grown up in India, has at some point or the other been groped, or touched in public during adolescence. I personally was always infuriated, and the inability to retaliate, in a crowd of a hundred unknown faces, is what always got to me. For me it was always fury, but then I was a teenager, with some understanding of life. But, what about a child?

The hurt, the pain, and sometimes, when they dare and tell parents about it, the parents shun the notion right away. What does the child do? If the emotional consequences of the incident are not dealt with properly, it can lead to many abnormalities in the growing personality. Since each person is unique, we cannot generalise the outcome, and hence it can have many variants. Some may become aggressive, and distrusting of people, esp of the sex of the perpetrator.Others can completely go into a shell, and grow up a loner, some have even experienced a change of sexuality after being abused. There are others who grow up and become perpetrators themselves, to either pretend that what happened to them was normal, or as a form of revenge. And then in extreme cases, of highly sensitive individuals, some form of mental disturbance may set in. An act like CSA, not only harms the physical body of the child, but also scars their mind, their very soul. Its one of the worst things that can happen to a child.

I am not an expert, but I believe one of the best ways to help a victim would be acceptance, and believing their story. During my training, as a phone counselor, we were told, that it is very important to believe the story of the victim, because even if they sense a slight doubt, they are unlikely to share any more. And so yes, it is very important to believe. Often new facets of the incident may turn up, as the victim talks, because often the little things come to light , when they think about it. The next step is to reassure them about them being the victim, and having nothing to do with the crime they were subjected to. This is the most important step, for the healing process to begin. To always let them know, they were right, and did nothing wrong, and it was never their fault. From then on, I believe the help has to be tailored to suit the personal needs and mindset of the child, but these are the first and most basic steps. For friends, and family, it is very important to show support, and yes, in such cases, you have to pick sides, one cannot be friends with the both the victim and the perpetrator. It is the unconditional support of loved ones, which is the strongest healing potion for the wounded soul of the child, and from there the healing will begin.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


The beauty is in the eye of the beholder they say. So often in life I have faced situations, or observed incidents where various people have absolutely different interpretations of the same thing. Never fails to amaze me, and then somewhere I feel that is actually a true judge of a person's character, because how we perceive things, is how we think. The GP for example always finds a kind loving reason for everything, even things that make me fume. God! How I love the man for being my calming factor. Coming back to the point, I thought it would be fun to list some things that people interpret differently, and it would be fun to hear if you have some too!

A child running in a mall without any visible adult guardians.
What careless parents.
Its so difficult to manage and hold onto kids that age.
Children today are completely wild and unruly.

A woman drinking.
Aajkal ki 'modern' aurat!
Aah! she is cool.
Who cares?

A woman not drinking in a pub.
Why do these people even come here?
Must be a first timer, soaking it in.
The boyfriend must have coaxed her here.

A working mother.
These kinds do justice to nothing.
Doesn't lover her own child enough to stay with the baby?

A woman open about her sexuality.
Gosh! She has the guts man, I could never talk about myself like that.
Sex is all she has!
Uff! Aaj ki bhrashta nari.

A woman who does not talk about sex or her sexuality.
Pretending to be holier than thou! Its all just an act.
Its just because of her cultural background.
That is the kind of decency I like.
Must have really high moral values, to be this way, in today's world.

There are millions like this, and its just amazing to talk and think about, seeing how we interpret things. I have my own interpretations of various people, incidents, events. Often different from that of others, and yet they make sens e to me. The thing that stays with me though, is how some people always look at the positive, and others almost always at the negative side of things. I know this woman, who claims, everyone wants sex. She can find sexual connotations to the most simple, basic events of life. But then that is what we are. The world is nothing but a reflection of our own minds. The loving one, sees a mother's love when she beats her child, the cynic sees a violent woman, who cannot control her temper, and an average Jane like me wonders, what the child could have done to invoke the wrath!