• On March 28, 1986, 14-year-old Noorjehan was choked to death by her father. Her mother was away at work and she was studying at home when her father tried to molest her.
• In April 1986, Kadar Mistry was caught red-handed by his neighbour while raping his daughter. The neighbours thrashed him severely, smeared his face with tar, garlanded him with sandals and paraded him around the neighbourhood.
• In August 2006, the Nala Sopara police arrested Satish Chaurasia for sexually abusing his daughter and subsequently getting her pregnant. The girl studied in Std. VI of a municipal school. Chaurasia is reported to have raped his daughter whenever his wife left home for work. The matter came to light when Chaurasia tried to get the foetus aborted.
• The same year, the Tarapur police arrested Nitin Raul (45) for raping his foster daughter. The 13-year-old victim became pregnant but the abuse continued.
• In August 2008, the Virar police arrested Rajendra Yadav (29) for molesting his 12-year-old niece during a game of hide-and-seek. The girl had been living with Yadav after her father died in the 7/11 blasts.
• Ujwala’s (30) parents are both in the administrative services. She has vague memories of a young servant abusing her sexually when she was three and her parents were posted in Kanpur. At that time, she did not understand what was happening. But since it hurt her physically, she decided to confide in her mother. But her mother brushed it aside and did not do a thing about it. This has had such a traumatic effect on the girl that she even refuses therapy because she does not feel she needs help! “My world cracked up at that moment since, like all children, I thought my parents were God!”
• Naseema, 14, was raped by her father thrice because he was advised by someone that sex with a pre-puberty virgin would cure him of STD. The act, instead of curing him, infected the girl. When the father learnt of the daughter’s affliction, he sold the girl to a brothel madam for Rs.500! Naseema’s mother and brothers could do nothing to save her. She was later rescued by a NGO but by then, she was too sick and had to be placed under intensive care at a Mumbai hospital. No one knows what happened to her after that.
The Mira Road rape case in Mumbai and the monster father Austrian Josef Fritzl has unveiled the ugly face of a crime that even the family either backs, like Anjana Chauhan supported the repeated and systematic rape of her daughter by the husband and the tantrik, or hides and pretends it does not exist lest it shame the ‘honour’ of the family! Following the Mumbai sisters’ revelation, a 21-year old college student in Amritsar saw a television news coverage and gathered the courage to complain about her father who sexually abused her for eight years. The girl’s traumatized mother who knew about it all along said, “My husband would always find a pretext to send me away so he could be alone with our daughter.” Likewise, a 15-year old’s complaint of prolonged sexual abuse by her father led to the 35-year-old father’s arrest in Nagpur.
There is just a single case of a Nagpur slum housewife who killed her husband with the grinding stone when she came back from work and caught him red-handed raping her 11-year-old daughter. She surrendered to the local police and confessed to her crime but was later acquitted on grounds of having committed the murder to defend her daughter. At the other extreme, is infamous case of government under-secretary Satish Mehra. It is a horrible example of the judicial machinery’s absolute patriarchal bias in cases of child abuse when it happens within the family. Satish Mehra, the under-secretary, was accused of repeated sexual abuse of his eight-year-old daughter since she was three years old. The abuse involved vaginal and anal penetration with a finger and forcing the child to have oral sex. Neither the district court, nor the high court nor was the Supreme Court willing to acknowledge any of the penetrations as rape. On the contrary, the observations by the Supreme Court were shocking in their repeated allegations against the mother of the little girl. They accused the mother of suffering from ‘some peculiar psychiatric condition.’ They said that the accusation levelled against Mehra was ‘seemingly incredulous.’ They said these were ‘concocted to wreak vengeance’ on her husband. Vengeance for what? If it was vengeance for raping the little girl does this not imply that he was guilty of the crime? The court ordered that the daughter be returned to the custody of the father while the wife, it was suggested be sent to an institution!
Such is the reality of incest. It is the most under-reported child rights violations in India. In India, there is no single law that specifically deals with child abuse, and there is no clear delineation of sexual abuse in the Indian Penal Code. Indian laws consider only “assault to outrage the modesty of a woman,” rape by penile penetration, and “unnatural sexual intercourse” like sodomy as punishable sexual crimes. Custodial rape, an amendment introduced in 1983 that included policemen, hospital and prison staff who abused women in their custody they were culpable for. But it did not include sexually abusive fathers, uncles, cousins and brothers for whom, sexual abuse is the worst form of custodial rape. The Delhi High Court is considering framing guidelines for conducting investigation and prosecution in crimes relating to incest in the wake of several incest cases surfacing at present. Ms. Sudha Ramalingam, lawyer and activist with the People’s Union for Civil Liberties believes that the existing laws would suffice to punish the perpetrators of crimes like incest and CSA. Ramalingam points out that if a father perpetrates abuse on his daughter, he could well be arrested for custodial offences. “But in a society like India, the family wants to protect both the perpetrator and the victim. That is why most of such crimes go unnoticed. They are anxious to protect the child’s future and safeguard the reputation of the family. The psychological and physical impact it would have on a child is rarely taken into consideration.”
Lawyer and women’s rights activist Flavia Agnes does not agree. She says, “In most cases of sexual abuse, it is the father who is responsible for the heinous crime. He is the custodian of the child. So a case of custodial rape should also look at the father as a suspect. Somewhere, we do not want to interfere with our family values and choose to keep quiet about such cases.” The tight-knit family structure, the domineering role of the fathers and uncles, the submissiveness of women who are mute witnesses to gross injustice and the ingrained tendency not to allow “family shame” to be exposed whatever the cost, are factors that help the abusers get away with it all.
Delhi-based consultant psychiatrist Sanjay Chugh says, “Different theories attribute different reasons for the existence of such an act. There could be psychological factors which drive people to carry out such indiscriminate behaviors. Factors such as the perpetrators own life trauma's, emotional distress like frustration, aggression, personal inadequacy, low self - esteem, pathological personality traits are very often understood as causes that lead to child sexual abuse and other forms of incest.”
Pinky Virani points out in Bitter Chocolate (Penguin, 2000), the first extensive study on the sexual abuse of children, that it prevails everywhere. It happens in middle class, low middle class, educated and illiterate, urban and rural, elitist and slums. Mira Nair’s Monsoon Wedding pinpoints incest in a subtle but powerful way were the victim, now grown-up, still suffers from the deep scars of continuous abuse by a seemingly benevolent uncle. When he propositions her again at her cousin’s wedding under the guise of taking care of her education, she flares up and accuses him publicly of having raped her day after day. The family is in a dilemma. Should they back this affluent and benevolent older brother of the family on the say-so of a chit of a girl? Or, should they give the girl the support she needs? After some deliberation, they choose not to remain silent.
One reason for the silence is that incest, in some pockets of our diverse cultural practices, has social sanction. “It is customary in our culture for uncles to marry nieces among some South Indian communities. Technically speaking, that is also incest. North India does not give social sanction to such marriages but this does not mean that incest does not take place in the north. We just need to use the term carefully. But beyond that, I would say incest is prevalent in India and there should be a separate legislation to handle the crime,” says Dr. Narayana Reddy, a Chennai-based sexologist. Reality however, shows that the uncle-niece marriage among South Indians has almost disappeared because both uncles and nieces abhor the custom. Besides, the rising incidence of love marriages has brought about a decline in the practice.
“Besides the shame of rape, women, particularly children, fear that no one will believe them. This holds especially true of incest, where the girl is dependent on her family,” said Soniya Gill of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association, adding that such cases often go unnoticed because society does not take a sympathetic view and tends to hold the girl responsible.
G. Manjula, an activist with a woman’s organization in Chennai observes “victims of incest persons are bound to have both psychological and physical problems. If left untreated, they would feel a sense of shame, guilt and betrayal. They would have low self-esteem and feel worthless. CSA victims cannot be comfortable in close relationships. Contrarily, they can also be very dependent and clingy. Physical problems include stomach disturbances, illnesses, aches and pains.” Chugh says, “The psychological harm on the victim is huge as it evokes a number of doubts the answers to which are not easy to get. The victim may suppress emotions or be filled with rage. There may be feelings of guilt and shame. It is difficult for such people to learn to trust others later in life. What the victim must realize and understand is that what happened was not their fault and thus to indulge in self blame would be most damaging. They need to learn to stand up for themselves and be strong enough to not let this trauma make them physically, psychologically or socially weak or powerless. Active social support in the form of family, friends must be employed to instill feelings of care and protection.”