A play in the city hopes to create awareness on the issue of male sexual abuse in India — a silent epidemic
Harish Iyer is 35 years old. And for 11 years, till he turned 18, he was sexually abused by a relative. And when he says “it is sad that in this country we think only women will be abused”, it makes you pause and ponder. When Iyer told his mother what was happening to him, she was aghast. “But she also said that if I were a girl child, she would have taken care of me,” Iyer recalls.
‘Today, as many as one in two boys are sexually abused in India,’ states a 2013 study on child abuse in India by the Human Rights Watch, championed by Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director for the organisation. Though the cases were documented by the Ministry of Women and Child Development back in 2007, hardly anyone acknowledges this epidemic — probably because very few abused men have broken their silence. It’s this stigma that actor and producer Poorna Jagannathan, who produced Nirbhaya — The Play, hopes to break. She will bring down actor Martin Moran to Bengaluru, who will stage his award-winning plays The Tricky Part and All The Rage, which talk about being sexually abused as a 12-year-old and what happened when he came face-to-face with his abuser at 40.
Jagannathan says she was plagued by the thought of not showcasing stories of boys or men who had suffered abuse. “After every show, audiences would ask how come we hadn’t included any stories of boys or men. The question stayed with me,” she admits. “Meenakshi told us that this abuse cuts across economic and social divides.” Extensive research and several conversations with Ganguly finally led to this endeavour.
Bangalore Mirror, on October 28, carried a report on how a 31-year-old man’s complaint against his brother-in-law who was allegedly sexually abusing his four-year-old son was not taken up until a senior official intervened (‘Boy can’t be sexually abused: cops’). At a time when the city and the country are trying to combat sexual violence against women, we remain relatively blind to its perpetration against young boys and men. The culture of extreme shame surrounding male sexual abuse prevents survivors from seeking help or healing.
“The patriarchal society we live in plays a major role in the refusal to accept that it can happen with a male child,” Iyer explains. “It is sad that we think only women will be abused and men will always be the abusers.”
Abused boys, violent men
“The problem is that when so few voices are attached to a cause, it never gets the attention or political weight it needs. I see the momentous changes in the conversation around the sexual violence against women. But we have left male sexual violence behind,” adds Jagannathan.
She believes it’s important for men to ‘step up’ and join the cause. “I truly believe that when we address sexual violence against boys, we will be addressing one of the root causes of violence against women. We are not acknowledging that this population has been severely affected too. From my experience, if you’ve been affected by sexual violence, you’re much less likely to engage in solving the problem: there’s a tendency to think violence is the norm; you have warped notions of sexuality and a higher proclivity to perpetuate violence.”
But it is easier said than done, Iyer says. “When you are a male survivor, you get emotionally crippled. Society wants you to be macho. As a man, you are still the one who provides. Plus, a man crying is still not accepted,” he says. “I speak about it also because I am an openly gay person and what happened to me as a child has nothing to do with my orientation,” he adds.
Iyer says one can never overcome a trauma of this magnitude. “You only start accepting and admitting that it happened with you. Forgiving is too big a word — I haven’t forgiven him for what he did to me. To dissociate myself from the past, it was important for me to not feel the hate. I am now indifferent towards him.”
Today, Iyer fights for equal rights and gets several calls from adult survivors who have been sexually abused by their mothers, sisters and so on. “All these people want is for someone to hear them out. I don’t believe punishment will help decrease sexual crimes, but how one protects children from sexual abuse is more important.”
Iyer says it is essential for schools and parents to teach their children about intimate body parts, the way they are taught about eyes, mouth and ears. “Kids need to be taught about their genital organs rather than being discreet about it until they reach high school. I would have been able to explain my trauma to my mother better instead of suffering for 11 years if I had known those things.”
As much as we love our porn and Kamasutra, as a country, we don’t openly talk about sexuality and our bodies. The play, Jagannathan hopes, coupled with the right education and awareness, will challenge the prevailing scenario.
The Tricky Part: 7.30 pm on November 11 and 12 All The Rage: 7.30 pm on November 30; both plays at Rangashankara, JP Nagar
What is child sex abuse?
Sexual abuse is inappropriate sexual behaviour with a child. It includes fondling a child’s genitals, making the child fondle the adult’s genitals, intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, exhibitionism and sexual exploitation. To be considered child abuse, these acts have to be committed by a person responsible for the care of a child (for example a baby-sitter, a parent, or a day care provider), or related to the child. If a stranger commits these acts, it would be considered sexual assault and handled solely by the police and criminal courts.
Source: Bangalore Mirror