We tell our children to be wary of strangers.
We tell them, “Beta, koi kuch ulta-seedha kare toh ghar aake mummy papa ko batana.”
But we don’t we tell them to be careful inside the house as well. We don’t we tell them to be vocal if anything amiss happens within the family as well.
As much as we would like to ignore, incest is real and it happens in families across different strata of society. It’s not a western concept, it happens in our very sanskaari, Indian households. But we don’t acknowledge it because it goes against the idea that we’ve been instilled with – it only happens in the lower-income family – but it’s the truth.
Both incest and rape is an act of violating a person’s body. The only difference is in how we look at it. While we get riled up about rape, because it happens outside the family, we’re dismissive about sexual abuse that sadly happens within the family.
I reckon, you’ve watched Highway. And I believe you watched the last scene with gritted teeth and seething anger. To jog your memory, I’m talking about this scene:
Alia Bhatt courageously confronts her family about how her uncle molested her, but her family conveniently dismisses her. They shut her down. But she shouts. She shouts out her anger, her frustration, her disgust.
Anyone who’s been through the mental trauma of incest wants to do too, you know. They want to shout too.
But we seldom do. Because even if we manage a snivel, it won’t be heard by anyone. Because ghar ki baat hai, ghar pe hi rehne do. Like Alia’s family in the movie, we too would sweep it under the rug for as long as we can.
Another movie that boldly dealt with incest is Monsoon Wedding. In the movie, Shefali Shetty confronts the family about the uncle who molested her when she was young. After this scene, Naseeruddin Shah delivers a dialogue. He says, “I’ll protect my children from myself if I have to.” This one dialogue made all the difference to the movie. It won my heart and made me wish, if only.
Because I remember it all too well, the day I confronted my parents.
I told them that I’ve been touched inappropriately by someone in the family, they said I was lying. They said that I had an overactive imagination and I imagined all those things. They said that I probably misunderstood his intentions.
I was called a liar, a homewrecker by my family members. They said I was cooking up stories because I hated my family.
Truth be told, when you’re young and naive, you start doubting your own memories. You doubt if all of it ever happened. You start thinking that maybe it’s your fault. That maybe all of it is a product of your overactive imagination.
After that day, I’ve never spoken about it with my family ever. The person in question held a respectable position in the society I was part of, am still part of, so they hushed me down.
This is not just my story. It’s the story of hundreds of young boys and girls.
Instead of supporting the child, we hush them down so that the status quo of the family remains untainted. Because we treat incest as an accidental aberration rather than as a serious crime. It’ll happen in front of us, but we would still ignore it.
He rubbed my breasts under the pretense of giving a head massage. And all I could do was sit there, my body stiffened, my heart racing with fear, confusion and what not.
Should I raise my voice? Should I run away? Should I cry? Will it help? It was too much for a 10-year-old to handle. So I just sat there and waited for it to get over.
When you’re shutting up the child you’re telling them that it’s their fault, and trust me, you’re damaging more than their version of truth. You’re destroying their confidence, their self-esteem and forever marring their psyche.
That child you called a liar, that child will live with the incident all their life. Because no matter how much time passes, they will always remember it. And remembering it means re-living it. Over the years, a few details fade away, but not the hurt. They’ll will remember it all too well.
I developed habits that stemmed from the incident. I was so scared of everything around me that even in the hottest of hot summers, I would take a cover, tuck it under my body and sleep, lest someone happens to see my naked flesh and pounce on it.
Like they said, I had an overactive imagination. So after the incident, I started looking at every person around me as a potential molester. It got to a point that just looking at the person’s underwear drying on the line next to mine sent a shiver down my spine.
Sadly in India, incest is not talked about enough because family is too sacred and it trumps everything.
Even after years of the incident, you find no closure because the person who touched you would never be tried for the crime. So you live with it. All your life. If you manage to get help, you heal a bit. Otherwise, you live in the hope that one day you might just forget it all.
It’s easier to voice how much a rape angers you, but not incest. Because vocalizing it would mean accepting its presence inside our homes. And we would rather die than accept the hard truth.
According to NCRB report on crime in India 2009, cases of incest rape saw an increase of 30.7 %. According to another NCRB report, a total of 34,094 cases were registered in 2015 alone. And this number is only increasing.
With data going against everything we’ve believed in, are we ready to let such a heinous crime continue as it has been? Are we really going to sacrifice our children for the sake of status quo?
A father touching his daughter inappropriately, an older cousin teaching your son how to kiss, a mother being raped by his own son.
How long would we wait to raise our voices? How many cases would it take for a nation to accept that it happens in our country, in our families as well?