Nineteen per cent the of world’s children live in India and children constitute 42 per cent of India’s total population. In 2007, the ministry of women and child development, presented the “Study on Child Abuse”, which among many reported facts, stated that 88.6 per cent of physically abused children in the country suffer abuse at the hands of their parents.
It is ironic that in a country which invests childcare in the hands of parents and family, believing that home is a safe and secure haven for the "future of this country", is quite literally a breeding ground of violence and abuse. The recent case of a Delhi University student complaining against her parents for subjecting her to physical and sexual abuse, therefore, should come less as a shock but more as a wake up call for all of us, as citizens of this country and as cohabitants of the society.
I was sexually abused as a child by someone in my family who was as respected as my own grandfather. I know that some of my female cousins have been sexually abused too, by someone or the other within the boundaries of the seeming perfectness of the middle class relatives community.
One of my own brothers was sexually abused as a child by one of our female relatives. Back in college, some of my hostel friends confessed of being abused as children within the confines of what we call "home" or "family".
My mother, aunt, grandmother - all have suffered sexual abuse at some point of time in the past by people as close as their own grandfathers, brothers-in-law and fathers. My previous and current female colleagues at work, at least once in their childhood (at least eight out of ten), have admitted to sexual abuse, covert or overt.
The study conducted by the government, therefore, did not come as a shock to me, when it announced that 50 per cent of child abuse came from people known to the child or from positions of trust and responsibility. Instead, what amuses me the most is a hypocritical sense of hope that we latch on to when it comes to protecting the ideal image of a home, set of family members and our unbelievable trust in the institution of motherhood.
As a society, which knows and faces this harsh reality of child sexual abuse within the cosy confines of homes and families, why are we so shocked to confront that mothers, more often than not, play a pivotal role in letting this abuse happen? By keeping mum and/or by scolding an assaulted child, thereby robbing the child of the basic human security of trust and love, she is as much of a culprit as the one who assaulted her child. The media has reported the recent case of the Delhi University girl registering a case of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her mother, as being "rarest of rare".
Social media pronouncements have declared this case as "one-of-its-kind" – almost unbelievable and as an aberration. The sentiment behind this lurking shock is the stereotype attached to motherhood that thrust a sense of purity upon the act of being a mother.
It is revealing and telling for us as a society how we choose to discuss an issue as sensitive as child abuse. Almost every day, we watch, hear or feel cases of child abuse reaching us. There is some Sonu lurking at a chai dhaba on our way from Delhi to Himachal on the highway who suffers abuse at the behest of his employer. There is a Chhotu braving it all with his employer behind the wheels of a truck he works on after he ran away from home facing intense economic and emotional abuse. He has accepted sexual abuse as a normal fate.
There is a Shanti from some poor state in some corner of the country who lives and works in a household at one of the metropolitan homes. And however much we would want to shed our tears on the fate of these "street and poor urchins", there is a ghastly reality peeping violently within our own "cute, little, happy home", sometimes with the silent nod or studied silence of the women who allegedly make this home "perfect".
I know an aunt in my neighbourhood who abused one of my childhood friends calling him over to her house on motherly pretexts of "he is like my son and I like to watch him study", "I want to feed my new recipe to him" and "He makes me feel my son is around".
I know my friend’s mother had asked her to shut up and not discuss the issue with anyone when my friend reported that her own brother tried to force himself upon her. I know my cousin’s helplessness when she was branded as a "liar" after she talked about a certain uncle in the family making sexual advances whenever she was alone. I know my own mother had suffered for more than a decade till she got married with the silent ignorance of "nothing is wrong in the grand happy large family" she came from.
It is time we redefine relationships in our lives. It is time we question the apparent good health of institutions like home. It is time we move beyond the definition of a family, uncoiling the strands of our collective social and political DNA and wash away the acids oozing from festering beliefs.