Neha Mehta, Rukhmini Punoose and Rachel Lopez
New Delhi and Mumbai, Hindustan Times , January 6, 2007
The skeletons that came bursting out of the Noida drain tell only half the story.
In 2005, 4,026 children cases of child rape were recorded across the country and this is only the official figure. Health professionals estimate that in India, four out of every 10 boys and six out of 10 girls have been sexually abused at some point by an adult.
Given that minors form 40 per cent of India's population, such figures are particularly gruesome. But even these numbers fail to effectively describe the horrors related to India's best-kept secret — rampant paedophilia.
See no evil
Mumbai-based sexologist Dr Shirish Malde runs a free helpline every Saturday. On one such weekend, an inconsolable 14-year-old called him and kept repeating that he was from a good family. It transpired that he was being sexually abused but was finding it hard to convince his parents of the same. Dr Malde recounts, "I had to convince him that it's not his fault and he is not attracting this attention, that there are others like his abuser, who behave this badly."
Psychologist Dr Rajat Mitra, who is studying paedophiles lodged in Tihar, recounts a similar incident where a mother was partly responsible for the perpetration of her child's molestation — "A Delhi-based Maths tutor took to patting and stroking his class VIII student on the shoulder and chest each time she got a sum right. When the girl complained to her mother about this, the latter scolded her, rationalising it as shabaashi from the teacher. The tutor molested the girl soon after."
Many health practitioners believe that such sordid tales of neglect are commonplace in a country that ostensibly chooses to remain squeamish about sex and all matters sexual. Says Dr Shekhar P Seshadri, professor of psychiatry, child and adolescent services, NIMHANS, "We are conditioned to believe in the inappropriateness of trans-generational sex. So when a child complains to the mother about his uncle, she tells him — Don't imagine things! My brother can't do any such thing."
The uncomfortable truth of the matter is that uncles, brothers, cousins and other such relatives are often the primary perpetrators of child molestation. This was proved by a recent study conducted by Chennai-based NGO Tulir. The organisation found that the immediate and extended family accounts for 39 per cent of all cases of child-rape. So if the Indian family wishes to protect itself from Pandher-like harbingers of doom, the first place it needs to clean up is its own backyard.
The price we pay
In the event that the country fails to adequately inform itself and is unable to insulate its future generations from this increasingly prevalent menace of paedophilia, adverse ramifications will be immense. Not only will the wronged Indian child not be able to build an intimate bond with his parents, it is also possible that he might want to spend much of his life in isolation. "Many children also go on to develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCDs) and start believing that sexual intimacy is dirty," adds Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty.
Many practitioners have qualitatively proved the prevalence of OCDs amongst child victims. For instance, when a 60-year-old woman was interviewed by the NGO RAHI (an organisation that works with adult women survivors of incest), she confessed to never having been able to talk about her abuse as a five-year-old. "From the age of 5 to 60, she would wash her hands 60 times a day," says RAHI's Anuja Gupta.
They are people like us
Child sex abuse has remained largely unrecognised in the country because we find it hard to imagine that 'normal' people are capable of being child sex predators. So when Moninder Singh Pandher — a 'gentleman' with a St Stephen's stamp to endorse his 'intellectual' acumen — is alleged to have brutally abused and murdered children with his cook Surendra Koli, it raises many a hackle.
The scariest part, according to Tulir's Vidya Reddy is that "99 per cent of child sex abusers are just another face in the crowd." The abuser may have been abused himself as a child. "He may try to re-enact power dynamics, by being the abuser instead of the abused," says Seshadri. But child abuse happens for a gamut of other reasons as well; in many parts of the country, it is commonly believed that having sex with children cures sexually transmitted diseases.
Playing mind games
Dr Rajat Mitra has found that almost 80 per cent of all paedophiles spend time lurking outside schools, waiting for their prey. Others choose professions that bring them close to a profusion of children — like crèche attendants or PT teachers. Like Pandher, the abuser may also live in isolation so that he does not draw attention to his actions. And contrary to popular belief, it is not essential that all such actions are violent.
Says psychiatrist Dayal Mirchandani, "Child sex abusers rarely use force: They may take several months to win a child's trust before initiating any sexual activity." Consultant clinical psychologist Sujatha Sharma adds, "The abuser puts in a lot of time and effort in planning seductions, getting children to comply with his demands."
Singh's cook Surendra Koli allegedly lured several children with sweets. Explains Reddy, "The abuser breaks down the child's defenses by winning his or her trust. This is called 'grooming' and often leads to camouflaged abuse."
Here's hoping that innocence will not have to be buried in another drain for us to rid the country of such 'groomers'.