Saturday, August 5, 2000
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L

The most abominable crime
By Khushwant Singh

THE most abominable crime known to humanity is sexual abuse of children. What makes it an unpardonable sin is that usually perpetrators go scotfree while victims are scarred for life. It takes place all over the world among all classes, educated and illiterate, well-to-do and the impoverished. In most cases the criminals are close relations (including parents and grandparents), or friends of the family, school teachers, servants — it can just about be anybody who is overtaken by lust and makes an innocent, unsuspecting child his victim. The World Health Organisation says one out of every 10 children in India is being sexually abused at any given moment. A study conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1985, among adults between the ages of 20 and 24 years proved that one out of three girls and one out of every 10 boys had been sexually abused as a child. That is : 30 percent of the girls had been victims of child sexual abuse (CSA), and 10 percent of the boys. Fifty percent of this crime happened at home. India’s score in this crime record book is 5157 children being raped every year. Lesser forms of child molestation are beyond count. A child who has not experienced sexual advance from an adult is a rare phenomenon.

Unveiling Indian women
July 29, 2000
A spiritually incorrect mystic
July 22, 2000
India without Pilot
July 15, 2000
Young millionaires of Pakistan
July 8, 2000
Lamenting old age
July 1, 2000
Maharaja Dalip Singh
June 10, 2000
Writers’ code of honour
May 27, 2000
A lyricist & revolutionary
May 20, 2000
Sexual abuse of children is not a pleasant topic of conversation or subject material for a book. This does not deter a young woman like Pinki Virani from writing about it. She specialises in writing on unsavoury subjects. She shot into fame with the classic Aruna’s Story, about a young nurse who was to marry a doctor and was raped by a vengeful sweeper. She has been in a coma for over 20 years while the rapist has served his term in jail and is now a free man. Her second book Once Was Bombay likewise narrates the story of the decline of the once prosperous, orderly metropolis to Mumbai of Shiv Sainiks and mafia gangs extorting money from shopkeepers and professionals and battling each other in the streets.

It needed guts to expose these goondas; Pinki is a very gutsy young lady. She is an unusual person. She is Ismali Muslim, did Masters in journalism with the Aga Khan Foundation grant, was an intern with the Sunday Times (London), and returned to Bombay to edit Mid-Day. She

married Shankar Aiyar of India Today. He is the only child of

Brahmin parents and a couple of years younger than her. They agreed not to have any children. They live in a Shiv Sena-dominated locality practising their own faiths. Every evening he lights joss-sticks and chants Sanskrit shlokas to the deities, while she faces Mecca and performs namaaz.

Bitter Chocolate (Penguin) is Pinki’s third book. She travelled all over India interviewing victims of child abuse, collecting data from police and court records, interviewing doctors, psychiatrists, studying law books and case histories, before putting down her conclusions. She found that child abuse in India had assumed epidemic proportions, and information about the crime was generally suppressed —khandaan kee izzat ka sawaal (the question of family honour) and ghar kee baat ghar mein rahey (what happens in the family should remain in the family) and the unsympathetic male-dominated society in which misdemeanours committed by males are readily overlooked while the cries of agony of infant girls and boys who have been molested are ignored. She writes: "First there will have to be acceptance of the very existence of child sexual abuse in all classes of Indian homes. And this acceptance is likely to take a very long time to come because if there is such an acceptance, it would affirm that there are a lot of adults abusing children. And then this would start to say something about Indian society. And its false facade of happy families.And the men in these families. And the kind of women who live with these men. Uncomfortable questions could be raised about who we intrinsically are, the way we live, and the way we treat each other. The Ugly Indian."

A poem written by a 12-year old girl sums up what children of her age have to go through:

I asked you for help, and you told me you would
If I told you the things he did to me.
You asked me to trust you, and you made me
Repeat them to fourteen different strangers
I asked you for help and you gave me
A doctor with cold hands
Who spread my legs and stared at me
Just like my father.
I asked you for protection
And you gave me a social worker.
Do you know what it is like
Ihave more social workers than friends?
I asked you for help
And you forced my mother to choose between us.
She chose him, of course.

She was scared, she had a lot to lose.
I had a lot to lose too.
The difference is, you never told me how much.
I asked you to put an end to the abuse
You put an end to my whole family.
You took away my nights of hell
And gave me days of hell instead.
You have changed my private nightmare
Into a very public one.

Pinki Virani has given names and addresses of people to approach when incidents of child abuse come to light and the police is reluctant to act.Bitter Chocolate is not child pornography; it is serious work of scholarship written as well as Virani’s two earlier books.

Drunk doggy

Meenakshi Verma of the Centre for Studies of Developing Countries has compiled a lot of data on the victims of Partition (1947) but is not sure how to use it: should she publish it in a series of articles for some sociological magazine or put it on a website? I suggested that she turn it into a collection of true short stories or a novel. She felt uneasy with my suggestion as she had never tried her hand at writing anything except serious academic stuff. We turned to other subjects. I asked her if she was Punjabi. "Partly," she replied. "My mother is Punjabi, my father from U.P. My husband is in business." "Any children?" I asked. "No," she replied wistfully, "but I have two dogs."

Since I fall for anyone who likes dogs (her looks make it easy to fall for her, anyhow), I asked her what breeds they were. "I know nothing about dog breeds. A friend had a litter and asked me to take one of the pups. It was barely a month old when I got it. But it is already very fat and heavy. When I took it to a vet to get it inoculated, he told me it was a Great Dane. I had not heard of the breed. We named it Pluto. It had a ravenous appetite and was always wanted more to eat. Now he is a year old and the size of small donkey: scavenging for food all the time. He is a big fellow and has learnt how to open the fridge and gobble up everything in it. I have had to put a lock on it."

An amusing incident about Pluto’s craving for food before the fridge had a lock put on it took place last month. Meenakshi returned from her office and found her home in a mess: furniture strewn about, drawers opened and Pluto lying supine in front of the open fridge. She thought the house had been burgled and the burglars had killed Pluto. She raised an alarm. The sentry at the gate came running in. Nothing had been taken from the house, only the fridge had been emptied of all its contents, including a box of liquor chocolates filled with brandy, rum and other spirits. Pluto was not dead, only dead drunk.

Car vs sarkar

Banta was the official driver of a minister. Once the minister asked him, "Banta let me drive the car today."

Banta: "Sirji, it is a car and not the sarkar (government) which any Tom, Dick or Harry can drive."

(Contributed by J.P. Singh Kaka, Bhopal)