A 19-year-old Dalit girl from Hathras was gang-raped on September 14, brutally assaulted by 4 Upper caste men, and died a horrible death at the hands of the country. Just below the fragile surface of modernity in India, lies a brutal medieval mindset, which will take centuries to change. With topics of molestation, sexual assault, and rape popping up on Indian television almost every other day, parents find themselves overwhelmed in the endeavour to break down these gruesome happenings to their young minds. Enveloped in a society where sex is a sacred topic, it is the need of the hour to address taboo-breaking questions. Bingedaily spoke to parents in India and they highlight the importance of doing away with the mumbo jumbo and getting real with the facts of rape.
“We have taught her to say NO to any touch outside her comfort zone.”
Priyanka Moraes, from Mumbai, speaks about how she’s gone about speaking to her little girl Emma about sensitive topics such as rape. At the tender age of 3, Emma is well aware of good touch and bad touch and has even been taught to be vocal about body parts such as the vagina, without any shame.
“Emma asked a lot of questions about her own body and the difference between girls and boys. That's where the conversation began. We also spoke with her about saying no to even a pinch on the cheek by strangers or a handshake, if she’s not comfortable with it,” says Priyanka.
Albeit avoiding the gory details, Priyanka and Ryan make sure Emma is well aware of the rape cases in India and what’s happening. “I haven’t used the word rape, but while bathing her and dressing her, I have initiated conversations about people touching her on her private parts. We have taught her to say NO loudly to anything that is out of her comfort zone.”
Sadaf Vidha, a therapist and researcher by profession seconds this way of going about addressing topics such as sexual assault with kids. She is of the opinion that Indian parents need to first discuss and then follow the concept of boundaries with their children. “How will the children learn to say no if their no was always dismissed by their parents when it came to other issues like homework, sleeping time, eating time or visiting relatives? Children should be given some choices and responsibilities. If parents don’t respect each others’ boundaries or the child’s boundaries, the child will feel it’s a minor transgression if someone else does that to them.”
Priyanka has gone one step further and enlightened Emma as to who can cross these physical boundaries. “I’ve explained to her that kissing on the lips, touching the chest, buttocks and vagina are not allowed to anyone except mama and grandmother while bathing her or dressing her.”
“It’s not a good idea for children to watch TV news.”
Shweta Bhandral emphasizes on being open with children about matters such as rape from the very onset of childhood. The family, previously living in Mumbai, have now shifted to their village in Punjab, which has made Sasha, her daughter of 11, understand the intensity of the situation even more.
While Shweta doesn’t go to lengths to shield her child from the heinous news, she says it’s not a good idea for children to watch TV news. “The way the news is delivered these days can have an adverse impact on the child’s value system and mind,” she says as she goes on to reiterate the necessity of starting sex education at an early age.
From a therapist perspective, Sadaf urges parents to keep children away from all news. “The media do not follow sensitive reporting guidelines for violent crimes and suicides and often sensationalise incidents such as rape in India. This can make the children feel very afraid and uncertain. Therefore, news can be broken down to the children by their parents.” Sadaf further encourages parents to speak to kids about rape at a very early age. “As young as 2 years old is when you can start talking about the body, and can start giving autonomy over not wanting to meet people, not wanting to touch others etc. Around 5 years is when you can start talking about what they are observing around the world, using simple language of ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ and start busting myths around gender and sexuality. When they are a little older and mature, you can start talking about how power and patriarchy often lead to crimes happening – of which rape is one crime. There are many others like harassment, unequal opportunities and misuse of law and so on.”
Shweta who is herself a victim of child abuse, a thought which makes her shudder even today, says it gives her sleepless nights when news reports in India describe how the gory rape was done. “None of us can do anything about it in a society that is so unequal and unjust at many levels. It’s going to take generations to make a society where a woman and her body are respected.” Shweta doesn’t shy away from telling Sasha how women are seen as weak in India and thus are objects of physical abuse or rape. “She is young and we are always around her. When she was 5 I explained to her about good touch and bad touch and drilled in the concept of equality right from the age of 1.”
“He questioned me about sanitary napkins. I thought that’s the best time to broach the subject.”
Manisha Mahatme is extremely open, vocal, and opinionated with her son Harsh when it comes to matters of rape in India. Harsh, a young adult of 23, has always shared a comfortable dynamic with his mom while on matters of sexuality. The duo hail from Nagpur, and have seldom had sticky points or awkward conversations revolving around rape or assault. Manisha recounts how when Harsh was around 12, he pointed to a pack of sanitary napkins and asked Why don't we use this napkin at home? “I thought, this was the best time for me to share with him, what I wanted to,” says Manisha.
Harsh was 9 years old when he asked his mom about rape. “I was a little unsure about how to answer, as he was young. So I went on to explain to him it is the process of how babies are made, but a forced process and a horrible experience. Harsh then went on to wonder aloud if this was singular to women, and I clarified saying it could happen to anyone if it was against their wishes.”
Sadaf speaks of how rape in India and assault stem from how systems are unequal for certain genders. “The Rape Culture Pyramid,” she says “needs to be addressed. Anything that supports cis-het patriarchy needs to be spoken of. Making fun of gay or trans people gives rise to the notion that there are only two genders, one is weak and one is strong and the weak one has to be controlled”.
The solution, she says is speaking of basic respect and dignity for all genders. “Don’t go by the ‘monster myth’ – the idea that some people out there are the problem. Rather, dismantle the role that we all play in perpetuating patriarchy and violence.”
“Girls should not sit back at home and wait for justice.”
With differences in gender roles intensifying during adolescence, Dipali Bhattacharya says she is naturally concerned as a mother. However, she refuses to indulge in the theory that girls should sit at home and wait for justice. “The word justice doesn’t exist any longer in our country. Reading about rape incidents in India every day is making us stronger to confront whatever difficulty comes in our way.” Having articulated what rape in India is right from the time her daughter Jhelum was in her teens, Dipali says she has ensured her 21-year-old is now smart enough to tackle anything that comes her way.
“Jhelum was in her Class 7 when she read about the Nirbhaya case that took place in Delhi. Since then she gradually developed an interest in Journalism. Too young to understand things in that manner, I thought it was the right time to take the initiative and tell her the facts.” says Dipali as she explains how she highlighted the brutality with which the girl was raped, so as to get her daughter to understand about the darker phase of India.
“I do feel awkward sometimes about letting her follow her passion for Journalism, considering the state of things in India, but at the same time, it’s a part of her job to follow the news and research on the topic for her future purposes. So I let it go, thinking I should not affect her interest.”
With closing comments on the matter, Sadaf explains that rape does not happen in a vacuum. “A wholesome conversation on power, gender, patriarchy needs to be had.” She says the child can then be told what steps they can take to dismantle steps of the rape culture pyramid, such as maintaining of the gender binary, sexist jokes etc. They can also be encouraged to take bigger steps.
“Malala Yousufzai was only 11 years old when she took on the Taliban by writing anonymously for the BBC. So let’s not forget the civic and social change young people can bring about.”