Imagine this, and you begin to have a small measure of how deep the inhuman phenomenon of child rapes runs in India.
THIS WEEK, the barbaric story of a five-year-old girl in east Delhi, raped and bitten by two drunk neighbours ‚ÄĒ who inserted candles and a plastic hair-oil bottle into her before trying to strangle her ‚ÄĒ has brought the phenomenon of raped minors into hard and timely focus.
Since this horrific story hit the headlines, others that were merely footnotes in the country‚Äôs consciousness have started getting foregrounded in the media. How a nine-year-old from Silchar, Assam, was kidnapped, gangraped and found with a slit throat on the same April day as the five-year-old in Delhi. How a 10-year-old Dalit girl was raped by a 35-year-old Rajput in Bulandshahr, Uttar Pradesh. How a compounder in Bhopal would rape his three-year-old daughter while his wife went to drop their five-year-old son to school. And how a 75-year-old man in Tripura was arrested for raping a 10-year-old.
While this intense but delayed media attention is positive, it is still selective ‚ÄĒ privileging only the most violent, the most sensational, and the rapes most ‚Äėsimilar‚Äô to the case in New Delhi. But to do only that would again be to miss the landscape. Violent rape of minors is only one aspect of a hellish self that India must now confront.
A 2007 Human Rights Watch report, which quoted a government survey of 12,500 children from 13 states across the country, found that 57 percent children ‚ÄĒ that is more than one in every two children ‚ÄĒ said they had been sexually abused in some way. Twenty percent of these children admitted to being aggressively assaulted: they had either been penetrated; made to sexually fondle an adult; or been forced to display their own genitals. And clearly, gender is no bias where child sexual abuse is concerned: of the 57 percent children who said they had been abused, more than half were boys.
One of the most crucial aspects of child sexual abuse and rape that must be acknowledged, therefore, is that it is rampant, indiscriminate and cuts across class, geography, culture and religion. It happens in cities and villages, by fathers, brothers, relatives, neighbours, teachers and strangers.
There is a temptation to cast only predatory working-class men in the mould of rapists. Both the paramedic‚Äôs rape and that of the child in east Delhi this week fit that narrative. It is easier ‚ÄĒ even comforting ‚ÄĒ to think such heinous crimes are only done by deviant, drunk men, incapable of processing their depraved sexual urges; men who can be hung and exterminated. It is much harder to confront the dark reality within the walls of one‚Äôs own homes.
As Enakshi Ganguly, co-director of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, says, ‚ÄúMinors who live in slums are certainly vulnerable because, in most cases, both parents work and have nowhere secure to leave their children. But middle- and upper-middle- class children are also vulnerable because they live in such closed communities, they have no one to talk to about their abuse. They are under immense family pressure to preserve ideas of ‚Äėfamily honour‚Äô and not speak up.‚ÄĚ
The scars the 50-year old mother from Punjab carries is emblematic of the wounding and unmapped silence that grips India. ‚ÄúI was sexually abused from the age of 10 until I was 19 by a member of the family who was like a father to me,‚ÄĚ
she says. ‚ÄúThis stayed unaddressed because there was no way one could talk about it. Being abused by a man who you look up to, seek protection from and who claimed to love me, completely changed a part of my soul. I suffered from a deep sense of self-loathing and blame. I could no longer connect with people or my inner self. I have always had trouble trusting people or asserting myself. Soon I found myself attracting the same kind of abusive relationships. There is also a deep sense of shame I feel towards my body. It has been 31 years since I was abused, but I‚Äôm still ashamed of wearing fitted clothes or deep necklines. And even today when I see a man with a child, I feel nauseated.‚ÄĚ
Sociologist Shiv Visvanathan encapsulates the heart of the problem. ‚ÄúI think the Indian family is in deep crisis,‚ÄĚ he says. ‚ÄúThe violence in our families ‚ÄĒ the perversions, the sexuality, the silences ‚ÄĒ are creating a tremendous crisis that we are not looking at; that we don‚Äôt even want to look at. We focus on the ‚Äėscandalous‚Äô nature of these incidents. But it is a scandal that is taking place every day. Unless we look at its everyday nature, nobody is going to understand the heinousness of it.‚ÄĚ
VIEWED FROM a different prism, the story of child rape in India is also a story of deeply ingrained callousness. When the parents of the five-year-old raped in east Delhi had found her missing and gone to the police, they refused to file an FIR and did not even undertake a cursory search. In the end, it was her shrill, insistent wailing that helped neighbours locate her, locked in a room in the very building in which her parents lived.
Look at the shocking data, based merely on reported cases, and you can almost hear the clamour of children still waiting to be found. The story of raped minors in India then is also the story of its missing children. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child goes missing in India every eight minutes. (Recall the gruesome Nithari murders when panicked parents from an east Delhi slum kept reporting their lost children but no action was taken till their bodies started turning up in raped and cannibalised parts.)
In a room cramped with young girls, the air thick with perfume and whispers, Reshma, 18, a sex worker in Mumbai, is no stranger to the epidemic of incest and rape in India. ‚ÄúWhy do you think fathers or brothers are any different?‚ÄĚ she asks with a hard-earned worldliness, ‚ÄúHai toh voh bhi mard hi na? (After all, they too are men, aren‚Äôt they?)‚ÄĚ
Trafficked from Chennai at the age of six when her mother died, Reshma was raped in every way imaginable ‚ÄĒ or ‚Äútrained‚ÄĚ to use her words ‚ÄĒ at seven different homes in Mumbai before being sent to a brothel madam when she turned 14. ‚ÄúThe first time, I was asked to set his clothes out on the bed before he went to work. He came out of the bathroom, picked me up and forced me face down on the bed. He lay down on me. I started to cry and said, ‚ÄúUncle I can‚Äôt breathe, why are you doing this?‚ÄĚ The man told her if she shouted, he would tell everyone she had tried to steal from him.
Reshma soon learnt the easiest way to stay out of brutal harm was to remain silent. Soon after, she was sent with a pimp and groups of young girls to London, Dubai and Malaysia to sleep with men as old as 60 or 75, for a premium rate. She doesn‚Äôt flinch when she says civilian women in the country are safe only because there are sex workers in the world ‚ÄĒ warriors of a different kind ‚ÄĒ to ensure there is a vent for baser male desires. Each girl in the room has stories more barbaric than the other: chilli powder applied to genitals; hands and legs tied while one customer after another uses their bodies in any way he sees fit; daily beatings; in-house abortions. ‚ÄúWives and daughters cannot withstand what we do,‚ÄĚ says Reshma.
|¬†Child C – AGE 14 |¬†Kannur, Kerala
Occurred 2010-11 | Convicted in 2011
It was only when she could take it no more that this 14-year-old girl confided to her schoolteacher that her father, a daily wage labourer, had been raping her for the past year. After the intervention of Childline, the girl was shifted to a shelter home and her father sentenced to life imprisonment.
|Child D¬†- AGE 13 |¬†Delhi
Occurred 2012 | Accused out on bail
This three-year-old came home from school with vaginal bleeding and vomitsoaked clothes. Her principal‚Äôs husband had been raping her, and had threatened to hang her from the fan if she told anyone. The medical examiner ruled out rape and registered a vague report, and only when local NGOs and political parties got involved did the case come to court.
Aastha Parivar, the Mumbai-based NGO, routinely finds young girls in brothels, who claim to be adults but are no older than 14 or 15. Asha ‚ÄĒ who had tried to help Neelima ‚ÄĒ recently rescued one such girl. She travelled to her village in Rajasthan, found her birth certificate, got a letter from the gram panchayat and finally came back to Mumbai to threaten her pimp to release the girl. But when she took the girl home to Jodhpur, the family, who had been perfectly happy to pick up money orders from the post office for the past six months, was suddenly too ashamed to take her back.