The first time it happened, she was rooted in her place, unable to move, shocked into submission. She didn’t protest, by words or gestures. She just stared into the ground, unseeing. He was saying something to her but she couldn’t comprehend his words. She didn’t know what to do. So she just stayed there.
The next time it happened, she was scared, more frightened than she had ever been in her life. This time she trembled and looked at him pleadingly. He smiled at her and stroked her head comfortingly. “Don’t worry” he whispered. “I won’t hurt you. I love you” So she let him do whatever he wanted to do. It hurt her later, though. Hurt her from the inside until she was deadened from the pain of it all.
Her world was getting lost in a howl of broken images and colours. She couldn’t think of anything else. Ma was angry with her because she was always disinterested in everything and had stopped talking to everybody. Her teachers shook their heads at her as she brought back incomplete homework and her marks plummeted. She stopped playing with her friends; there was no pleasure in games anymore. They gave up trying to talk to her.
At the age of 10, they didn’t know any better.
Nobody liked her anymore. He did, though. He whispered to her, “You’re special to me. This is our little secret. You won’t tell anybody, will you? They won’t understand.” He was right, of course. So she kept quiet.
She grew quieter and quieter. Ma was now exasperated with her. Papa looked at her from over his newspaper. “She’s just growing up. It’s a stage. It’ll pass”. Other numerous relatives would come by, give her a chocolate, pat her head. They all talked about her. They tried to play little games with her; they tried to draw her out of her shell. She wanted to tell someone. But no one took her seriously. They never asked her if she had something to say. So she didn’t say anything.
When chacha smiled at her, she shrank back in fear. He pinched her cheeks but she recoiled in disgust. Ma slapped her when she refused to sit near chacha. Always obey your elders, was her stoic reply. Respect your family. Family is what matters the most. Be dutiful. Be a good girl. Lessons hammered into her from as far as she could remember, until they were etched into her brain. So she obeyed her elders.
Chacha lifted her into his lap and ruffled her hair. He looked at her, his lips smiling and his eyes knowingly searching her, up and down. “She’s getting to be a big girl now. I won’t be able to play with her like she’s a child anymore” Ma smiled at them indulgently and offered him sweets. Ma couldn’t protect her. So she hated Ma, too.
He wanted to teach her, he said. He was making her into a woman. She didn’t want to be a woman. When he wasn’t there she remembered him and what he did. She tried to make sleep her refuge, but that was punctuated with nightmares. She felt hollow inside. Empty. Drained. There was nothing left in her anymore.
Sometimes, she liked it. She liked it but she hated it. And hated herself for liking it. She was sick, twisted. He looked at her, and she knew that he knew. His lips laughed but his eyes were mirthless. “You started it. You tempted me. You like it. You enjoy it. You’re responding to me. You wanted me to do this. You. You. You.”
She went to the bathroom, looked longingly at the razor, at the medicines she could take and never have to feel ever again. But she wasn’t brave enough to do it. She didn’t deserve to live, she knew that. She was a bad girl, a dirty girl, with dirty thoughts. She felt contaminated, tainted. Ma and Papa would hate her if they found out. She could imagine the revulsion on everyone’s faces if they knew. She was repulsed by herself.
“It’s our secret. Our little secret”
* A survey has shown that more than 53% of children in India have faced child sexual abuse.( http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/6539027.stm )
The number is quite likely to be higher. Child sexual abuse cuts across class, creed, and culture, and is usually cloaked under shame and secrecy. The abuser may be anyone, even a close family member. Boys and girls are both equally vulnerable. If victims do not receive proper care and counseling, they can become mal-adjusted adults, who sometimes become abusers themselves. There are currently no specific laws in India to address this problem