Anoushka Shankar, daughter of legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar, on Wednesday said she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, at the hands of a man her parents trusted implicitly. Sagarika Ghose(IBN) discusses with a panel of experts whether child sex abuse is more widespread than we realise.
Below is the full transcript of the show:
Sagarika Ghose: Yes, a very powerful and courageous statement today from sitarist and composer Anoushka Shankar daughter of Pandit Ravi Shankar. Anoushka said she was a victim of sexual abuse as a child, at the hands of a man her parents trusted implicitly. Anoushka said this while lending support to the One Billion Rising Day on safety of women to be marked tomorrow. Now a new report has said that more than 7200 children are raped every year in India. One in three rapes in India is the rape of a child. Is child abuse in India much more widespread than we realise?
Joining us Harish Iyer, child sexual abuse survivor and activist. Vidya Reddy, Director of Tulir-Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse. Bharti Ali, Founder and Co-Director of HAQ: Centre for Child Right. Utsav Bains, advocate and Child Rights activist. Thank you very much indeed. We will hear from our panelist in just a bit, but first Anoushka Shankar spoke to us earlier in the day telling us why she has now felt the need to speak out against the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.
Anoushka Shankar: I felt like sharing a little bit of my story was an important part of showing that it can happen to anyone, from any walks of life. You know, I fell it is something which needs to be addressed. There are misconceptions has shown to come out recently. People have been talking how it is happening to certain type of women, and walks of life and so on. I any way my sharing the story helps to change the conception that’s important.
Sagarika Ghose: And Anoushka just as you have done, should others who have suffered this kind of abuse as children, also speak out so that things can be done to make the environment safe for them to speak out.
Anoushka Shankar: I think should is a dangerous word because for every person their experience is obviously personal and difficult. So I wouldn’t presume what anyone should or shouldn’t do, it obviously depends. What’s important is to create a safe environment for people to share their stories, whether it is in school, home, I think that’s what is important. Then we can create safe environment.
Sagarika Ghose: So the culture should be made safe for people to speak out about this just as Anoushka has done in that very powerful and courageous statement. And thank you very much for joining us Anoushka Shankar. Harish Iyer is joining us, he is in fact a survivor of child sex abuse and he is now an activist. Harish you heard Anoushka saying that the abuse she suffered came from someone her parents trusted implicitly, someone she knew. Was this your experience as well that you had this abuse, you suffered this abuse from the hands of someone who you knew and who within your family circle perhaps was even trusted.
Harish Iyer: The same was the case with me as well. It was somebody whom my family had trusted. And all the cases I hear, most often it is somebody whom they trust. And it cuts across barriers of age, gender, for that matter I was a boy and I was abused by a man. So it is a myth when we say that only girls get abused and male children don’t get abused. So it is not to do with gender over there, it is more to do with the fact that children are more vulnerable.
Sagarika Ghose: Children are more vulnerable, Vidya Reddy you are joining us. You know is this the pattern in India that we really need to be aware of, that there is denial in a family, that a child is helpless. A child can’t speak when it is a relative or someone who is close to the parents is actually abusing them, when we were speaking about this subject earlier in the day, a number of people told me that most children have this experience of having one relative who they are scared of, who they are terrified of, but they don’t know why they are terrified – should Indian families stop to be in a denial about the fact that this may happen to children, but they keep quiet, they can’t say anything?
Vidya Reddy: I certainly think there is a conspiracy of silence in ever family. Every family seems to know someone who they try and see children avoid, so I think it is the most public well kept secret in India, about the fact that sexual violence against children does happen in families. But the complexity of the family situations usually the child is hushed. In fact when we did our research in 2006 and had children actually disclosed, there is a big different in disclosure and reporting. Worldwide not more than 24 per cent of children ever disclose abuse. Now of the disclosure a very small percentage makes it to the reporting stage, which is reporting to the authorities. But even when children disclosed, they were either blamed, they were not believed, they were asked to keep it a secret, and I think that is so sad commentary that when a child does even have the courage to talk about something like this, that we do not actually respond in an appropriate and simple way to that child’s disclosure.
Sagarika Ghose: That is a very tragic statement you have made, that in fact a child even when he discloses is blamed. Bharti Ali is that your experience as well that child first of all doesn’t report, doesn’t disclose and when he discloses, he faces anger from his own family.
Bharti Ali: Absolutely, in fact the first thing that comes in the mind of the child is, “am I wrong?” And that is what we need to change. And the only way is the believe children when they say ‘this is happening’, or when they say ‘I don’t like so, and so.’ It is important to believe children.
Sagarika Ghose: You know how does one do that because in a number of families, and in India the case of child abuse is so high, there are so many instances of child abuse, maybe it is happening because people are not aware. They are not aware what a good touch is, and what a bad touch. They are not aware what is affection and what you can say dangerous kind of a behavior with a child. Does this also happen because people are simply not aware, what is abuse.
Bharti Ali: As far as good touch and bad touch is concerned, I think, each one of us has a sense what we are comfortable with, and what we don’t like. And that should be taken as it is. So if I say I’m not comfortable with this, you please take it the way I’m meaning it and that is the first step to go.
Sagarika Ghose: A person doing it may not even be aware?
And the person doing it may in fact not be aware. The person doing it may have various many reasons; if it is a young person it could be exploration of body, so there would be many, many reasons to it. But the fact that the other person is not comfortable with it needs to be respected and understood.
Sagarika Ghose: The fact that the other person is not comfortable, however well intentioned your affection towards a kid maybe. If you are trying to cuddle the kid, the kid is not comfortable and I feeling threatened. Utsav Bains your views on this is very strong, you believe that there is so much child abuse in India because there is no fear of the law. There is never any exemplary punishment.
Utsav Bains: There is of course systemic indifference in our country, but history will have to record that the greatest tragedy in the period was not the abuse of children. The greater tragedy of the period was not that you have 7200 children getting raped every year, but the greatest tragedy of this period is the appalling silence of the good men. The appalling of the Prime Minister when a Human Rights watch says that 7200 children are raped in the country. The appalling silence of a young leader like Rahul Gandhi. That is the reason why this continues. As a 25-year-old I want to make an appeal to Rahul Gandhi that do something. The election which you fight is for a chair, but these children are human. 7200 children are getting raped every year, this should be part of Parliament discussion, this should be debated by all the political parties and there has to be a common consensus that we have to end this rape. We need to bring it down.
Sagarika Ghose: 7200 children raped every year that is the new finding that has come out in that Human Rights study. Harish Iyer is that your experience as well, what Utsav is talking about, the fact that child is not on the just of priority of a Rahul Gandhi, of a Manmohan Singh. The political establishment simply doesn’t care about a child, there may be Women and Child Development Ministry, there may be the NCPCR, but overall politically the child simply doesn’t figure anywhere in the list of priorities.
Harish Iyer: I feel we often wait for some crisis situation. We want something like a Delhi gangrape case to happen, to actually come out to the streets and dos something about it. It is not the number, even if one child is abused; it is the responsibility of the government and of the law, and everyone to that matter of fact that every child is protected. I think India as a country is obsessed with statistics and irrespective whether the number is 7200 or 72000, or if it is just one child, even that one child needs to be protected. I totally agree with what Vidya was saying, we do have a conspiracy of silence. We don’t believe children, the law has to change.
Sagarika Ghose: Did that happen to you? Did you have that experience that nobody believed you?
Harish Iyer: In fact I didn’t have that language, you know, there was no sex education. So how was I to go and tell my mother that where did my abuser touched me. I didn’t even know the names of my body parts. So children don’t even have the language to say. So I think it all begins with sex education, and the law also has to change. There is no staring point, there have to be reforms from all angles, and all the reforms have to be altogether.
Sagarika Ghose: There has to be reform from all angles, but Vidya respond to what Harish was saying that in fact you did speak about that conspiracy of silence, you did speak about the fact that child is not on the list priorities. Where do you feel the reform should begin? Should it being from the family? Should it being from sex education at school?
Vidya Reddy: Ok, I would like to respond to some of these things. I do not believe that sex education is the answer. I believe sexuality education is the answer. There is a vast difference between sex education, which is like reproductory biology, and sexuality education which talks about the psychosocial aspects of sexual development as well, that is one thing. And the second thing is that sexuality development certainly include safe and unsafe. I want to set the record straight here, I think the semantics of what we are saying is very important, that abusers take advantage of the confusing touch between a completely safe touch and a completely unsafe touch. So you know they start with the whole grooming process, where they just touch the child and see how the child responds and then the touching escalates. So I think we really need to get the semantics right on that. I also want to say one more thing about the statistics, you know, I truly believe that when we are talking about sexual violence, worldwide it is the most unreported crime and especially when the National Crime Records Bureau comes with a statistics every March. I think we need to accept the fact that there are lies, there are damn lies and then there are statistics. It can be presented as they want, for example the National Crime Records Bureau devotes two pages to incest, now we don’t have a definition of incest in our laws, so how are they collection these statistics of incest. In fact before coming here I checked out, in 2011 there were only 267 cases of incest in whole of India. Now that is because every person who is collating the data has a different idea of incest then the next person.
Sagarika Ghose: So the statistical approach in dealing with this is completely erroneous, the idea is not to look at the number of cases and say there is a crisis, and therefore we have to act in an official manner. The solution lie in the way students are taught in schools, how their familiars bring them up to believe that if they are feeling uncomfortable with someone, they have to be fearless enough to be able to speak about it. Now let’s look at the laws for protection of children under Sexual Act 2012. Is this law good enough to prevent child sex abuse? Utsav Bains we are talking about the middleclass children and the kind of abuse they face within the family, within the home environment. What about the street children, what about shelters homes like Aapna Ghar – what about those children?
Utsav Bains: You know the sad part about the abuse of street children is that when it gets reported no one gets punished. Sense of impunity fails to die down; there is no one who gets punished. I still remember, I was 18-year-old, when I went to a juvenile home, children there complained sexual abuse. I filed a PIL to the honourable High Court. The High Court summons the DGPs of both the states, even the home secretaries. I go to that shelter house after 5 years, and again there is sexual abuse. This time I reported to the Supreme Court, and after a few months a judicial officer comes and tell me, “Sir, you have given a very big report, you should written like this.” And nothing happens, I mean, where s the redressal for these children, how will the grievance be addressed. Where will these children get justice? The conspiracy of silence, the indifference, and the insensitivity of the people who have the power to give justice, protection to these children must end the indifference. We need to people who have the power to give protection to these children and they should do something about it.
Sagarika Ghose: They should listen to the helpless cries. Those shelter homes have been a scandal for many years now – can this law the protection of children against sexual offences Act, can this act help those children?
Bharti Ali: Definitely if fact it is one of the most progressive laws on child sexual abuse, if fact we were looking in to it. There are some flaws, we are requesting the ministry to review and made those amendments. But as if now it is a law which was much needed and so it does care of abuse and abuse by people who are trusted by people in authoritative positions, as aggravated forms of abuse. So there is penetrative sexual assault, not penetrative sexual assault and also aggravated forms of penetrative and non penetrative sexual assault. One of the most problematic provisions is on actually mandatory reporting. Now the law makes reporting mandatory, but we still don’t have agencies following that provision.
Sagarika Ghose: And the agencies may not even be aware of the law? Vidya Reddy there is this law as Bharti is saying, it is a progressive legislation, it is designed to protect the rights of children we are abused, but is there awareness of this law? Will this law be implemented? Will there be convictions under this law?
Vidya Reddy: I certainly think it has given people like us, who work on cases on everyday bases, much better recourse to actually encourage people to file cases. You know what is happening is that huge lack of confidence about people to report, they might disclose but they don’t report. And one of the reasons and I have to say this, I know it might sound offensive, but media is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t report. I ‘m glad the POCSO ahs section 22, which lays down very clearly so to how much media can report, in shaping public opinion. But taking into account the case they are reporting on, but it is right now completely breached. I’m sorry to say this on a media show. But 100 cases which come to us, 98 don’t want to report because of media intrusion.
Sagarika Ghose: The kind of coverage that media gives to that particular case. Harish Iyer let me put it to you, someone who has survived abuse as a child, what kind of message would you give out as Vidya is saying, the important thing is to disclose? The important that is to report?
Harish Iyer: I think the first message would be to listen to your child and actively listen to your child and don’t ask the child why you didn’t stop it. You know, that was the question that was asked to me by my mother? Saying if you were suffering why didn’t you tell me at that time? If the child was empowered enough why would the abuse happen in the first place. But the fact that the child is vulnerable… so you need to trust your children. You need to listen to your children and you need to believe your children that they would not be lying.
Sagarika Ghose: And are there signs that parents can lookout for.
Bharti Ali: Definitely, and that is something we have talked about now on larger scale, it ever was. So there are symptoms there are signs. We also had cases where children were sexually abused, and instead of looking dull, they were looking cheerful and bubbly. So you would have to be conscious about the change in the behaviour. Either the child shows negative behaviour or over does things.
Sagarika Ghose: You have to be conscience about how a child is behaving, whether there have been change in behaviour. To be in a family situation, you have a relative, or a family friend who this threatening the child. The child can’t say anything but is terrified of that situation and even his or her parents will not believe that this is happening. There is also the abuse suffered to shelter homes, like we have seen in Rohtak, as well as in Aapna Ghar. The kind of abuse children on streets suffer. Horrendous instances of child abuse exist in India that we must wake upto. There is a law that has to be implemented. Thank you very much, Harish Iyer, Vidya Reddy, Bharti Ali and Utsav Bains.