I have never been able to forget that one workshop that I had attended in college some 15 years ago. 25 of us were a part of 3-day long workshop on female sexuality organised by the Women Development Cell of our college. We wanted to discuss the subject which is restricted by the norms of the so-called society and does not find any place in any discussion within the families. We wanted to talk and ask questions, we wanted to challenge some myths.
And it started with a very basic question, "How many of you have been abused? Sexually, verbally, physically?" It took a moment to raise our hands. And then came the most difficult question, "How many of you have been abused by your near and dear ones?" It took one whole day to talk about that, to get over some of the inner fears, to let it get out of our systems. Talking in a group has never been easy for most of us anyway, and then, this was a topic we mostly avoided broaching.
All of us had experienced at least some degree of sexual abuse and 5 out of 25 of us had been abused by their own fathers. We cringed and cried together for the pain that most of us were living with. We pledged to move ahead and we promised each-other that we would let the pain go. We promised that we would still be happy and we would still believe in the goodness of others. That was the first lesson I had taken back with me from the workshop.
But there was another person who was the foundation of my belief of "the world is not is not such a bad place after all". Even when I choose to share my feelings here, at this platform, I can only talk about that belief we must have in ourselves, and in others. I credit my father for this innate belief, and I credit that workshop for making me realise that if there are moments and people who could dent our spirit, there are people who mend it and protect you from that damage.
My father is an introvert man, someone who would never show his emotions through any physical display - no stroking the hair, patting the cheeks kind of display. I don’t remember getting close to my dad ever in my life except twice. I have hugged him and cried only twice - one, when I hadn’t done well in my XIIth Board exams, and two when I was leaving home as a bride. Other than that, he wouldn’t allow us the luxury that came naturally to other children of our age with their fathers. My father always maintained distance. He always got upset when I would leave my long and curly hair open. He would tell me sternly that I wasn’t supposed to apply nail polish or make up. I was expected to look like a Plain Jane, I was to grow up with the glasses hanging loose on my nose, I was to grow up isolated from the world and I now understand why. Now I know why he would get extremely upset if I childishly tried to get close to any male member of the family. Now I know why he would be so protective, even when he didn’t know how to express it.
We came from a joint family set-up where each family unit got only one bedroom. So, our parents shared their bedroom with three of their kids. I remember one instance when I had just barged into the room thinking no one would be there. I had opened the cupboard to take out my nightsuit. Papa called out from behind the mosquito net. “I am right here. Switch on the light and go to the bathroom to change.” I left, embarrassed, but grateful. Papa had saved me from a bigger embarrassment. Papa would be watchful if we would sit in a group of family members to chat and gossip. He was extra vigilant if anyone's body language looked suspicious or uncomfortable. Very subtly he taught me why it was important to maintain distances. He never objected if I would hang out more with boys, even when we came from a very narrow-minded middle class family, as long as I knew how to take care of myself. He was the one who told me to raise alarm when anything uncomfortable happened around me.
Papa, you are the reason why I believe that the world is not such a bad place after all. You are the reason why I have learnt to be cautious, and not paranoid, when it comes to my children now. Papa, you are the reason why I can survive all the stories of abuse and violence. Papa, you are the reason why I still believe in men.
Keep your children safe. What you should do, as a parent
1. Be vigilant, but not paranoid. Your paranoia will make your children uncomfortable.
2. Talk to them about "good touch" and "bad touch", more in a normal conversation than a sit-down chat.
3. At about four years of age, you can tell them about how they should be careful when Mum is not around.
4. Talk to them. Talk to them as much as you can. They will come back to you to share everything eventually.
5. Stay alert. Teach them to stay alert.
6. Minimise the chances of any such mishap. Be vigilant. And make sure, there is someone around them. Someone you trust.
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