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15

I am glad they took up the subject of Child Sexual Abuse today on Satyamev Jayate. However, today's episode left me vaguely dissatisfied. The uncompromising truth seeking of the previous episode seemed missing. It was good to see adult victims of child sexual abuse, but obviously, they were no longer children, and their having come to terms with their history, or been permanently scarred was more about adults with a history of child sexual abuse than children. The child's perspective, which was possible, was missing. Not necessarily through interviewing children, but even by showing the all encompassing scope of the problem. For example, the show seems to consider parents or teachers as safe people. Newspapers tell us that it is not so. At other times, a child's protector may be socially handicapped to help. For example a mother in an abusive family. Then there is Child Sexual Abuse perpetrated by older children. Consider the abduction, rape, imprisonment and starvation of the girl from Malad last year.

While I don't want to sound fatalistic, some amount of darkness becomes inevitable when you have 53% of children who have suffered from sexual abuse at some point. The show failed to explore the magnitude of the problem in my view. There were a lot of black and white stereotypes, which are not necessarily true with Child Sexual Abuse. For example:

  • Child Sexual Abusers can also be "safe" people like parents, teachers or school principal, though the clear talk that a doctor shouldn't be touching them privately without parent present was welcome.
  • The impression that a Child Sexual Abuser is an adult - is not necessarily true. They can also be school bullies or older children
  • The impression that Child Sexual Abuse happens with children staying with their families is the tip of the iceberg. Boarding schools, trafficked children for begging, slavery, prostitution, for example, or the role of traditions or religions - temple girls, pedophilia by religious figures, cultural sanction to using boys for sexual abuse among some communities... Those are kids let down by every protector you could imagine. There are many things that people can resist in the world around them if they know to look for and confront them.

I did not like the idea of labeling parts of the child's own body as dangerous. Such thinking is also at the root of a lot of sexual inhibitions in adults - the idea that a part of their body is dirty, dangerous, forbidden, etc.... It is the abuser's action that is dangerous and this must be clear to children. For example, a person who has touched them inappropriately continuing to rub their arms when asked to stop is not safe either. Also the fear factor that comes with danger leads to paralysis. Would have been more useful to assert that the child's body is their own and they have the right to grant or refuse touch. If a touch makes them uncomfortable, they have the right to forbid it and draw attention, escape, confide in their "bodyguard" etc. This would also help children confront other abuse like hitting, for example. A more empowering way of looking at it by putting the power of rights over their body squarely in the hands of the child, would go a long way in helping combat the helplessness of being in a potentially (or actually) abusive situation.

Other grey areas like what happens in an ambiguous situation? Where an adult's touch may have an innocent intent, but feels invasive to the child? It is important to clarify the need to ask the adult to back off anyway and make it clear that their affection (or whatever) is not perceived by the child in the way they intend. Failing that, there is a whole playground for perverts to claim innocence and bank on the child's inability to detail the situation as abusive.

There should have been more attention to pre-verbal children or children with mental or physical disabilities that make them unable to narrate their experience to ask for help. The need to monitor them closely, because they cannot tell. Including one of the parents staying home to take care of the child in the absence of absolutely trustworthy support or occasionally monitoring the child's environment in their absence through say a hidden camera or wiring them for sound, if needed.

There also was relatively less attention to older children. Statistics say that the incidence of Child Sexual Abuse is highest among children 10 years and older, peaking around 15 years. Do we consider these to be "adult" and "consenting" like the pedophiles that the sexual danger that comes with visible physical maturity was ignored altogether?

There was data from only one study used. There are statistics on the NCRB website, for example, lots of research on Child Sexual Abuse in other countries and such. This should have been used to create a fuller picture.

There should have been a better look at the lack of laws. What are laws in other countries, details of the proposed bill, etc. Successful prosecutions or failures from other countries or India, for example would bring the realities to the front.

All in all, I got the feel of push button activism from this episode. Here is a possible problem, if you encounter it, push this button. Send an SMS to get a law that will bring about justice. Nirvana. The Hindi filmi happy ending feel, when the reality is far more grim. While I absolutely adore Harrish Iyer and loved seeing his mom, and the faces of the victims brought realism, the overwhelming takeaway from the show was people rather than information. It seemed to lack the meticulous research and diversity of the previous episode on Female Foeticide.

All this said, the show is still something I am grateful for, because it is most certainly better than nothing. If people start thinking of these things, it is a beginning, and hopefully they will also join the dots on their own.

4

Children are the most unrepresented and powerless minorities anywhere. And a large many fall prey to the sexual appetites of adults around them. Not knowing whether what is happening with them is appropriate, seduced or coerced, pleasured or pained, they have little power to expose the crimes against them and find justice.

Often they will not be believed. They can be asked to stop talking such things about elders for the sake of family honor. Other times, their protectors are the ones abusing them. Still other times, the people who can help them are victims of that predator too, and advocate silence as safety. It takes something outrageously inhuman to grab attention. Then condemnation is swift as all disown any similarity with the criminal. There are a few days of anger, and then people move on.... Till the next gang raped child hits the news.

We have absolutely no right to talk platitudes of children being innocent and fragile, if we subject them to conditions worse than we expect for adults. Get this straight. If this is too difficult to fight, the answer is not shutting up, and leaving it to children with even less ability to fight it. The answer lies in getting our guts together and going at it with all we have, so that it doesn't land on the fragile innocents. Be the shield for children. Because you wish someone shielded you when you needed it too.

We have no reliable data for the extent of Child Sexual Abuse in India. There are rising incidences, and a survey commissioned by the government in 2007 estimated that a mind boggling 53% of all children have suffered from CSA. This is not funny at all. What is even more unfunny is that these numbers did not ignite any change. The Cabinet passed a bill to prevent Child Sexual Abuse, but little awareness about reaches public space. It is unclear what exactly we are DOING to prevent this problem.

This status quo is unacceptable, yet we do nothing. More and more instances dot our newspapers and we keep reading them, feeling disgust and moving on.

This month, we raise awareness on Child Sexual Abuse. The different forms it can take, the factors that support it, the factors that prevent prevention and effective justice. We inform you on what you can do to monitor, prevent or report CSA. We walk you through the skills of sensitizing children on CSA and affirming their right to their autonomy in such a way that they feel empowered to be bold and report any alarm they may feel. We help you understand which of your actions will help, which may seem appropriate but aren't. What do you do when a child tells you that they have been subjected to CSA? How can you find out more from them without causing them trauma, or influencing their words unacceptably for an investigation?

Whom can you approach for help on behalf of a child victim? What avenues are open to you in your quest for justice and a safer world?

We arm you with information, so that you may be a change agent in your world.

We expect you to keep reading, thinking, bringing up these subjects with people you know, online, at work... coming up with ideas, contributing your efforts as you are able. Let this flame become a wildfire.

The intent and scope of MaalChaal and how it matters. Help us with your ideas and by recommending us to people and people to us so that we can engage the diversity that makes this as statement for all people.

I want to begin with saying that the name "MaalChaal" is directly derived as a "translation" of slutwalk. However, we see the scope of this protest as much wider. While sexual crimes are a large part of it, MaalChaal also makes a strong statement for the right of people to be themselves. With this in mind, I see the MaalChaal stating categorically:

  1. Every person has a right to dignity and safety. Any quality of a person is no reason to victimize them.
  2. Sexual aggression is less about attraction and more about an attack on a person. Whether it is eve teasing or rapes, Child sexual abuse or men being raped or older people.... the common factor is always that the victims refusal is overruled by force and their space is invaded - to whatever extent. Any non consensual sexual approach is a crime, regardless of the victim's clothes, looks, profession, area, or any other quality.
  3. Stereotypes play a large role in justifying abuse in society. Women and children in particular suffer for being attractive and vulnerable. Any sexual misbehaviour even within family or social circle is still criminal.
  4. There are certain stereotypes that are looked upon as fair game for sexual insults - women who wear "revealing clothes", women who smoke or drink, homosexuals, transgendered people, prostitutes, among others. We hope to challenge the notion that the guilt of a crime can be transfered to the victim because they belong to a certain "kind" of people.
  5. Police are used to dismissing the distress of women if they don't approve of their clothing. Prostitutes often cannot hope for an investigation into a robbery in their home because of their profession. The MaalChaal questions this discrimination and urges the police and the justice system to stop discriminating between citizens and providing or denying their rights on individual discretion. We state that as citizens of India, they have a right to protection from the state.
  6. At work, it is common to see homophobia or different treatment for women where people may be discriminated against for their gender or sexual orientation or they may be preyed upon in order to
What kind of people will attend the walk? We are hoping to have as wide a variety of people as possible. Some people we are reaching out to:
  • Colleges and universities
  • Corporate and other organizations.
  • Maid unions and other groups with members where victims of such abuse are common
  • Prostitutes
  • LGBT people
  • NGOs working with social victimizaiton - domestic abuse, women's rights, rescue of child sex workers.
This is an evolving idea and this page will keep getting updated to reflect the growth of our attentions and scope.
If you think of other statements we can make, or people we can approach, do help out in the comments. We invite you to share your thoughts and resources and volunteer to approach people you can to spread the word and help more people assert their vision of a society respectful of human dignity.
You can also send in your ideas on the MaalChaal page or by tweeting them to @MaalChaal or @Vidyut