Skeletons in our closets

Monday Musing

[ Karyir Riba ]

Some of the most interesting things to watch on television these days, other than the screaming and shouting wannabes of reality shows, are crime investigation programmes like ‘Crime Patrol’ and ‘Savdhaan India’.
These programmes show us different crimes that have been committed in our country, and how the police managed to crack these cases and send the criminals behind bars with suitable incarcerations.
While many of the crimes seem possible to have been planned and abetted, many others leave us aghast, wondering if these programmes are really based on true occurrences. How can the human mind be so corrupt?
Some of the most horrendous crimes shown in these programmes are the sexual crimes that are committed against women and children. And with almost all the episodes of these crime investigation programmes consisting of such stories, rapes and molestations seem to be so common in mainland India. It leaves us wondering if such cases are limited only to mainland India. Are women and children really safe here in our state? Or have things gone unreported?
Some of the cases that have occurred in our state in the recent past indicate that little children left at the disposal of hostel wardens are the most vulnerable to being sexually exploited in environments where the children are away from their parents. Fortunately, these cases came into light because these children spoke up; but what about the ones who never had the courage or the understanding to do so? Also, what about the children who live with their parents? Are they really safe?
A few women were courageous enough to recall incidents from their pasts, which they said were engraved vividly in their memories because of the way those moments made them feel about themselves and their bodies – and the experiences shared by these women tell a different story.
Putting all their stories together, one of the most common forms of molestation that girls are subjected to is at the hands of their teachers. Almost all of them remembered how they had male teachers in their schools who would touch them inappropriately.
“Putting their hands on our backs and then caressing, trying to feel our bra straps, staring at our breasts instead of our eyes while talking, were so common. These lecherous teachers didn’t realize how uncomfortable they made us feel,” said a woman.
Another woman said that she had stopped going to school for quite a long time to escape the bra-pulling by her maths teacher.
“During class, he used to walk only across the girls’ seats, and he would touch our backs and pull our bra straps. Whenever the bra strap would smack us the boys would laugh out loudly along with this teacher,” she remembered.
She said she barely passed her maths exam, with only pass marks, as she was already weak in the subject but dreaded going to school to be humiliated everyday at the hands of her teacher.
These women rightly questioned that when the ones who are supposed to teach good manners behave like this, what would the young boys learn? How would they know how to tell right from wrong? How would they learn how to respect women?
According to another woman, she had to leave her tuition classes for good because her tutor would deliberately touch and stroke her legs with his underneath the table. “At first I thought it was just an accident and that his legs must have accidentally brushed my legs, but then accidents do not happen every day. And the look on his face said it all,” she said.
While most of the women have had unpleasant experiences with their teachers, some had to fend off lechers at home, too. As one woman narrated, she was alone at home one day when an acquaintance of her parents visited and, on being told that her parents weren’t home, he asked her to get a glass of water for him.
“When I brought the water for him, he grabbed my breast instead of the glass of water,” she said.
This plot of molestation was also a common story. Most of the girls had faced the same situation where some acquaintance of their parents would arrive while their parents were away and in their absence they would grope the girl.
What enjoyment do these people derive from such sickly actions? It sends chills down my spine to realize that there are way too many paedophiles moving about freely. While some of the molesters have died, some are roaming about freely, their heads held high, knowing that nobody knows how they have been molesting little girls; knowing that nobody knows that they are paedophiles.
A few can even be seen participating in puja pandals year after year, as if they have deceived god like they have deceived fellow human beings into believing that they are pious and that they respect the dignity of a woman, a child.
These women had many more stories of relatives being involved in sexually molesting them. On being asked why they hadn’t spoken to their parents about it, they said they did speak to them but it was futile.
“We are asked to remain quiet and to not bring disgrace to the family name,” they explained, adding that such things get suppressed within the family.
Some of their experiences are so bad it doesn’t give me the courage to put it down here.
These women had one more thing in common. They said that half of their lives they were under the delusion that it was all their mistake. Their mistake to be touched inappropriately, their mistake to be stared at inappropriately, and their mistake to be objectified.
As we can see from all these stories of different women, apart from the groping by strangers in public transports, their molesters were someone they knew.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2013 annual report, 24,923 rape cases were reported across India in 2012. Out of these, 24,470 (98 percent of the cases) were committed by someone known to the victim.
When almost all the women of this small group that I spoke to had experienced molestation at some point in their lives, it is really frightening to even imagine how many incidents will come to light if a large number of women shared their unpleasant sexual molestation encounters.
While parents should be more vigilant at home, every school must have periodical interactions with their students, especially girls, to learn about any misdemeanour by any teacher, and to keep a check on any unwanted activities that might later cause untoward happenings in the school. It is the prime duty of the school authorities to provide a safe learning environment to all their students. Scarring them during adolescence will scar them for life.
Like they say in the crime investigation shows, what’s happening with others today might happen to you tomorrow. Remain alert, remain safe.