Behind the veil of silence

Let’s talk about India’s “worst kept secret”

There is a conspiracy afoot. A conspiracy of silence. Of turning away from a heinous crime happening under our noses. As close as our own homes, neighbourhoods, schools, parks and places of worship. Perpetrated by family members, family friends, neighbours, teachers and instructors, and domestic help.

The silence surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse (CSA) gives it tacit support to continue unabated. Despite evidence to the contrary, people are curiously reticent to talk about it and acknowledge its existence. A 2007 study by the Ministry of Women and Child Development pegged down 53 per cent of Indian children as having been sexually abused. But having exchanged notes with others brings one to the distressing conclusion that the numbers are in fact far, far higher. Here it is in black and white: A vast majority of women and quite a few men have been forced into non-consensual sexual acts during childhood and adolescence. Someone recently pointed out that you would have to have been extremely lucky to have grown up as a girl in India without being subjected to some form of sexual abuse. This is not to sideline male survivors, but just to point out the position of women in a deeply patriarchal structure.

It could be speculated that an overarching reason for the low rate of reporting and documentation of CSA — and thus a minuscule amount of redressal and counselling for survivors — is that the perpetrator is often someone the child knows well or is closely associated with. It could be a neighbour, a family friend “uncle”, or even a family member. The position of the perpetrator in the family or social circle and the power exercised by them over the child results in a majority suffering in silence. Or worse, being made to suffer in silence because the immediate family would rather not risk rocking the boat by making such “shameful incidents” public. Yes, incidents, because statistics also show that CSA survivors are usually abused repeatedly.

In a culture that glorifies the sanctity of the patriarchal family, the dos and don’ts are very clear-cut, especially with respect to the position of women vis-à-vis men. A testimony of a CSA survivor I read recently recounts how the perpetrator, an uncle, continues to hold his exalted position in the family despite the truth being known to all. This is an all too common story, and perpetrators are often secure in the influence they have over the child or in their standing in the immediate community. All this, of course, is reinforced by the aforementioned conspiracy of silence, of sweeping uncomfortable issues under the carpet of respectability.

But what’s a dark tunnel without a light at the end of it? There are number of groups and individuals coming to the aid of CSA survivors through support and counselling. Equally important is raising awareness for prevention and intervention. RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest) is one such organization, working with adult women survivors of incest and sexual abuse.

On 1 November 2009 I will be running the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon on behalf of RAHI. Please consider supporting my run with your contribution. Your money will help RAHI provide individual and group services to survivors of CSA, and also in their work of education, training and research into incest and sexual abuse of children. In addition, it will be used for office equipment, space to conduct workshops and programmes, print literature and so on.

Your donation can be as small or big as you like, but rest assured it will make a big difference; it will be your contribution towards breaking the silence on our society’s worst kept secret.

To support my run:

Run donations closed; please visit to support RAHI in their work

There is no good reason to stay silent about children being abused.


4 Replies to “Behind the veil of silence”

  1. This is horrible, 53% makes most Indians sexually abused. Or do you just mean the children? Me’s a bit confused at the definition since children eventually stop being children, and adults were all once children. It is complicated.

    Anyway, that’s an enormous number. Especially considering that the victims could have been abused any number of times.

  2. Niklas, thanks for your generous support to my run. 🙂

    As for the stats, well, it doesn’t matter how you look at them; they make 53% of Indians survivors of CSA. But as I pointed out in my post, a lot of us believe the numbers are far higher.

  3. I feel so badly for all of the people that have had this done to them by abusers, and I hope RAHI helps.

    Here’s to breaking the silence as much as can be done at a time.

  4. Thanks Kate for supporting my run. 🙂 Hopefully altogether we can make a lot of noise about CSA.

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