Despite child sex abuse (CSA) affecting more than 53 per cent children in India, according to a study conducted by the Indian government in 2007, it is one of the issues that we generally do not discuss, in India. Whether it be through films or on television.
Nirman Foundation has released a short film titled '5 O'Clock Accidents', which addresses this very issue - both its existence as well as the fact that we are averse to discussing it.
The film, directed by FTII graduate Ruchir Arun, whose diploma film 'Mandrake Mandrake' won the National Award for best short fiction film in 2014, portrays the sexual abuse faced by a young boy, and how he and his family deal with the problem.
You can watch the film here:
The film starts out with grim musical notes which are perhaps a tad more suited to a horror film, but the subsequent arrangement manages to create the sombre atmosphere which one assumes the filmmaker was going for. We see a young boy, played by child actor Ayush Khedkar, who keeps having "accidents". As it turns out, he keeps inflicting himself with injuries to get out of attending his private tuition class.
The film successfully creates the aura of claustrophobia, fear and the utter helplessness that a victim of child sexual abuse experiences. The film boasts some decent, though often over-dramatised acting.
What is interesting is the use of a male child instead of using a female actor to portray the child who is being abused. Traditionally, only girls are considered potential victims, and have been given protection against such crimes, if at all. The very idea that men or male children are as much at risk and suffer equally, is only just being discussed in Indian society. Using the young male actor deftly highlights that boys are also subject to the same sexual violence, without doing so in a preachy manner.
The characterisation of the tuition tutor as someone who doesn't look overtly evil or lecherous is also interesting and drives home the fact that sex offenders and abusers can be just like you or me - or the family's favourite uncle. The sex offender comes through as a normal, well-adjusted individual, who the family resides faith in. This usually is true in cases of CSA, where the offender is mostly someone trusted by the child as well the parents/family of the child.
Lastly, the most important aspect is that films addressing such issues are finally being made and being helmed by well-known actors such as Tillotama Shome.
The fact that child sex abuse, including offences like child pornography, institutional harassment (in schools, coaching, sports etc), are finally being recognised as realities of everyday life, globally. But India's cultural and sociological prejudices and mores, combined with the culture of silence that persists in India about such issues, makes the situation even worse.
The fact that the film depicts an otherwise "normal", urban family is also symbolic of how CSA is not limited to just rural, uneducated or low-income families. In fact, sexual abuse takes place as much in urban, upper class-caste settings as in their rural, uneducated, lower class-caste counterparts.
According to a report by Human Rights Watch, child sexual abuse in India is "disturbingly common", especially in schools and state-run child care facilities.
It is about time India starts talking about child sex abuse as a serious crime, especially the kind that takes place within the house or school by people that are usually trusted by both the child and parents. The film highlights the fact that we need to build awareness of the problem and find constructive solutions to it by increasing discussion and dialogue on the issue.
Note: Nirman Foundation is an organisation that is working for the implementation of social change through communication. The organisation is currently looking for producers for the film so that through it, the issue of Child Sexual Abuse can enter mainstream debate, discussion and subsequent ministerial policies.