Friday, April 29, 2011

CSA - my two cents worth

I saw Ummon's post about child abuse as specifically happens in the Gulf to desi families and it got me thinking how the US also has it's unique circumstances for desi families. In the past, there have been people that have argued with me that child sexual abuse is limited to the West and that it "never" happened in India when they were growing up and if it happens now, well, it just goes to show the negative influences of the West! To these same people, in an effort to convince them (quite unsucessfully), I have pointed out that almost all of us women who have been in a PTC bus in Madras have been felt up and groped and touched inappropriately and many times as very young girls. If that's not a form of abuse, what is? I have asked them. When I was in my third standard, one day, my mother sent me to buy a coconut from the market. Besant Nagar those days was a quiet, unassuming locality with hardly a car in sight during midday and for that matter, not more than a few handful of people on it's wide tree lined streets. As I was walking, someone from a few yards away called out to me, not by name but somehow I looked up. He had his zipper open and was jerking off in the middle of the street. I was young enough not to know what it was, but still grossed out enough to run away from there. Years later, I made the connection as to what the guy was doing and repulsed all over again. When you speak of such incidents to people to say "hey, we didn't grow up in such pristine conditions as you assume", most people get this shuttered look in their eyes and you know nothing you say will get through to them because they do not want to acknowlege that there is a problem. When I have pointed out examples of women I know that were abused by "riksha karans" as young as in the first standard (around the age of 5), or by a dad's best friend(so they cannot use the excuse of "uneducated people will do such things"), I get almost accusatory looks (which I am sure is a case of shoot the messenger) and people get uncomfortable and change topics. Many of these same people tell their young children to "give Aunty/Uncle XYZ a big hug and a kiss" and I cringe. They truly believe that as long as they stick around with other desis, the big bad West(and all the things it brings with it along with child abuse, but that's another post for another day) cannot touch their children.
Growing up, my mom never allowed sleep overs at friends' places. Her take - everybody cannot be good all the time. When opportunity is presented, there is no knowing how the mind might sway and even if it is a one-off for the abuser, that incident will live with the child for the rest of their life. I did not understand this when I was young and used to rail at my mom for her "old-fashioned" beliefs. In retrospect though, I agree. The same uncle that has always been so fatherly and kind to you may not feel the same on another day, quite suddenly. Parents have to acknowledge this - (s)he may be your best friend and you may trust your family's finances with him or her. However, accidents do happen. , Again, whenever I was going to visit a friend, my dad used to call them and under the guise of getting an address or something equally innocent, he would ascertain that there would always be more than one adult around the entire time of my visit. Again, it used to drive me nuts as no one else I knew had their parents calling mine when they came over, but our rules were set - no exceptions. In the middleclass US we live in, we believe that we are insulated from the problem because we or our friends take care of our children, rarely a maid or a driver. There is no rishakaran, we do car pools with friends and don't we trust them all - educated as they are from schools similar to ours, families and husbands and wives just like ours, why, even a son and/or a daughter at the same age as ours!! This blind trust bothers me quite a bit, as much or more than it bothers me to even think of mistrusting my friends. People remember more about how they never heard about child abuse growing up(so it never occured then of course) , any attempts to say otherwise makes you a kill joy or some one that wants to find fault with India needlessly. I don't believe this is an India problem or a problem only in the West or only in the Far East or isolated to Mars. I believe this is global and we must all wake up to it. It's not a problem isolated to the "uneducated", it happens in all social circles and is definitely opportunistic. Many of the friendly "uncles" or "aunties" that end up being abusers would not make elaborate plans to abuse a child - more often than not, such instances happen as the opportunity is thrown their way. Parents abroad have to acknowledge that being born Indian does not make someone an instant pillar of trustworthiness.