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Letter to the Subalterns: From one survivor of child sexual abuse to another

Editor's note: In this series titled 'Letter to the Subalterns' equal rights activist Harish Iyer reaches out to marginalised, oppressed groups and individuals.

Dear Roshan,

This letter is for you, but in many ways, this is a letter to myself too. And a letter to every boy with story similar to ours, who is living though the trauma of child sexual abuse.

While I was also gang-raped as a child, I cannot claim to understand in entirety what your young mind went through, during your ordeal. But I make an attempt to understand.

When you agreed to be featured in  Insia Dariwala’s series “End The Isolation” — a photo essay on male survivors of child sexual abuse, I hope you know that this act of yours — to stand up for yourself — has had a stirring effect. It's led to people coming out with their stories, on the internet. That's all people need, maybe — a story so similar, yet so different — that strikes a chord.

 Letter to the Subalterns: From one survivor of child sexual abuse to another

Representational image, courtesy Kay Pat/

Roshan, I know your empathy doesn't rise only when you hear the story of a child being assaulted and murdered in a school. You are as empathetic when you hear of any child who has been touched without consent or shown a pornographic film or simply forced to feel a sense of titillation by “flashing” — an unholy secret that needs to be hidden under several layers of shame, because if you ever attempt to open up, you will be blamed. “Why didn’t you tell me before?”, “Why didn’t you fight back?” — well, because we were children; vulnerable, waging wars within ourselves. Deep within, there would be conflicts about “who am I”, “what the hell is happening to my body”, “do we submit and succumb, or do we fight and die” — these were the questions our minds would deal with. Not as articulately as I can put it today, as an adult survivor, but as emotively. And that all-important thing — “reputation”: “Don’t tell anyone; if you do, our reputation will be in tatters”. I know the pain of small shoulders having to hold up the reputation of an entire gene pool.

Ever since the images of the schoolboy who was killed in Gurgaon, reportedly after he stymied his would-be assaulter, surfaced on the internet, what has come to the fore is our scars and agony. We feel like this for everyone. But it is always scary when you have to put a face to the name of a survivor/victim.

I can sense why people dislike you sometimes Roshan, because I can understand why people dislike me. We are a rare breed, who don't mind bleeding openly — leaving our wounds open for the maggots of judgment to build a house upon.

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Roshan, it is true that we can't undo a past so gory, or write a new story for a life that has already been lived. But we can build a story in the present continuos tense.

Our greatest strength is not that we've been brave enough to own our pasts, it is that we choose to live in the present on our own terms.

Our past is not our weakness. It is our strength. It is we who know how difficult it is to live in darkness, and who have come out to the light, who can hold the torch for someone else. We were not 'gifted' in being abused, but it is a privilege that we enjoy this strength and tenacity. With that torch, I would like to share a few tips with all readers here, from us and every survivor of child sexual abuse.

1. Speak to your children. Be a parent who is also their friend. Let them feel free to discuss everything with you.

2. Tell them that no one can touch their body without their consent. Don't tell them that they are supposed to “hit” someone who misbehaves. Mostly, aggression is met with aggression, and life is not Bollywood. They will not be able to put up a fight against an adult.

3. Give proper names to body parts. When an eye is an eye and a nose a nose, there’s no reason why a penis should be choo-cha, and a vagina a pee-pee.

4. Deconstruct the idea of “khaandaan ki maryaaada”. Don't pressurise the child with such ridiculous “responsibilities”. Don't be a douchebag, be your child's protector. Your child’s rape is in no way connected to your family’s maryada.

5. Trust, trust, trust your child.

6. If there is any change in your child's behaviour, please bring it to the notice of your family mental health professional. (Yes, just as you have a doctor for physical issues, you need to have a family mental health professional — a psychologist/psychiatrist.)

7. Please don't ever hit your child. It's a form of abuse that we keep justifying. Beating your child in the name of ‘discipline’ is not okay.

8. Please familiarise your child with the police. It will help your child to think of the police as human beings rather than scary figures.

Roshan, you and I and many others in this world wish to stop the menace of child sexual abuse. We cannot save every child, considering that CSA is more common than we're aware of. But we have made a beginning in making people aware — so that we could prevent abuse in some cases, and ease the pain in some others.

Thank you for speaking up despite the fear of judgments that don't allow survivors to live an equal life. But thanks to those judgments too, for we are propelling the world on the path of equality.


Harish Iyer.

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Updated Date: Sep 17, 2017 18:51:02 IST