The shroud of silence that covers child sex abuse?

My cousin sister’s driver in Kolkata has been missing from work since the past two days. His father, an aging 70 plus man tried to molest his daughter, a 11-year-old in their home. The young girl, whose anguished screams caused him to be caught red-handed, has claimed in her report to the local cops that her grandfather had touched her inappropriately on several occasions. As the case goes to Court today, the victim’s paternal grand-mother has tried to hang herself and her brothers are alleging it is all the young girl’s wicked imagination in an attempt to cause trouble in the family. It’s perhaps hard for them to digest how a grandfather can try and have sex with a child whom he carried home from the hospital in his arms and saw growing up before his own eyes.

In its 2013 report, India’s Hell Holes: Child Sexual Assault in Juvenile Justice Homes, the Asian Centre for Human Rights held that sexual offenses against children in India have reached epidemic proportion. The report claimed that more than 48,000 child rape cases were recorded from 2001 to 2011 and that India saw an increase of 336% of child rape cases from 2001 (2,113 cases) to 2011 (7,112 cases). According to a 2007 study by the Indian Government, of nearly 12,500 children from across India, 53% of children - boys and girls were equal victims of sexual abuse. I salute the courage of my sister’s driver who has single-handedly taken on his whole family and in the interest of protecting his child above all else has filed a police case. Perhaps, this is the beginning of change. A father pitted against another father. A family divided, fighting to save his child first.

Why is child sex abuse always shrouded in a suffocating silence, even as most of the perpetrators are within the same family? Is it because we are scared of the family being singled out? What about making sex education compulsory as part of the school curriculum? How is discussing sexual topics with our children taboo even as we hand them out the latest electronic gadgets and freely allow them to watch adult content on TV and in movies – the way most Indian parents avoid intimacy in front of them, squeamish and immature about touch, let alone discuss the topic freely and frankly. Instead we teach them fear. Make sex the enemy. Confuse consent with coercion. When the rot is deep within us. The stench arising from the disfigured genitals of our daughters – not even the smallest ones spared. What happens to a child who has been raped or molested? Who whimpers on a hospital bed? What becomes of her future? Who will pay for her treatment? Which school will admit her? Will she have friends who invite her to birthday parties? Will her father ever click selfies with her and instantly update them on social media? Will she ever get married? Can she bear children? Will she hang herself? Will some local/village panchayat decide her fate? Has rape made us immune, somewhere deep within?

This level of apathy despite the shocking statistics. In 1998, the NGO, Recovery and Healing from Incest (RAHI) conducted India’s first study of child sexual abuse, with a survey of 600 English-speaking middle and upper-class women, 76% of whom claimed had been abused in childhood or adolescence, 40% by at least one family member, most commonly an uncle or cousin. In 2007, the Indian government conducted a survey of 1,25,000 children in 13 states. Of the children interviewed, more than half (53%) confessed to being subjected to one or more forms of sexual abuse. More than 20 % of those interviewed added that they were subjected to severe forms of abuse. Of those who said they were sexually abused, 57% were boys. Cut to 2013, the Human Rights Watch Report “Breaking the Silence” presented a full 82-page report, replete with case studies and expert comments, which proved that child sexual abuse in homes, schools and institutions for care and protection of children is common.

Which ‘bachpan’ can we salvage? Which child do we sacrifice? What does this pretense of ‘Beti Bachao’ even signify in a nation where fathers rape their own kids? Have we immortalized rape victims when they cease to live? Will we light candles and hold ‘morchas’, if they lived and breathed?