A page in the life of an Indian Teenager(And 9 sad facts about it)

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I was 13. My body had started to change. I had grown taller, my breasts had sprouted. I had also recently started getting an unwelcome bloody visitor every month. I was not sure if I was beautiful.

I went to a very highly accomplished school.  Our teachers came from impressive backgrounds and there was a lot of buzz around words like ‘education’ and ‘international standards’. Ours was a nuclear family. My parents did not force any subject or ambition on me. I had never heard them say that I might not be up to something because I am not a boy.

I remember the day we heard some girl had an ‘abortion’. Gauri’s neighbor. By now, we knew that babies are not born because you prayed to God. There was something more to it. Something to do with boys. Gauri even said girls of our age can bear babies. She didn’t know how. When I asked my mom, she said something like “You will know at the right time”.

Google could only help so much. There was lot of information, but many sites wouldn’t open due to the child lock. I did get something though – I read words like intimacy and sex.  When I saw a lot of angry comments on my mom’s FB page, I knew this was big.

I went back to Gauri itching to ask her if she has had any luck. Her response? Her mom scolded her for being too inquisitive. She said she thought it had something to do with the way her parents changed channels whenever there was a kissing scene on.

In the following week, our school announced that girls and boys will be seated separately from now on. They also said they will have a “special class” for students like us.  The special class turned out to be something on using menstrual pads right. We were shown certain body parts that we should not allow to be touched (Yeah! Once again!)  There was also something on “what to expect during puberty”.  We kept huddling together and giggling through it. Nobody was brave enough to ask any questions. When Suman finally raised her hand, the teachers seemed displeased. They asked her to see them later. We scuttled back to our classrooms, still giggling. Somehow, the teachers seemed grimmer than ever. The boys and girls had separate sessions. We were not sure what they saw.

Around this time, we began noticing that many of our male classmates, who teased us openly and called us names like ‘idiot’ and challenged us for a cartwheel till a few months ago, had ceased talking to us( the girls) directly. They would answer everything in one word (“How did your practice go? “- “fine”; “Did you like this movie?”- “yeah”). If we had asked them to explain all 3 of Newton’s Laws in one word, they would come out winners.  They would never look us in the eye directly. And they would always be shifting on their feet if and when they spoke to us.  Also, we occasionally overheard words like “hot” and “sexy”. Of course, a sudden deathly silence would befall if one of the girls/teachers happened to pass by.

This made us suspicious that they clearly knew something we did not. We begged Smitha to snoop around her brother’s laptop. When she declared she found some ‘protected’ stuff, we labored over a plan to somehow lay our hands on it – we had to be sure the boys and the parents didn’t notice. Finally, after days of plotting, our super-star Smitha managed to get a copy. After even more meticulous planning around the parents’ absence, we finally found a time when we could watch it in a friend’s house.

We watched it more out of curiosity than anything. Gauri said this is how babies come. We were still trying to process this. Rhea gagged and threw up. I can’t remember why, but I was somehow sure that I didn’t come this way. I mean, I hadn’t seen my parents even hug each other. None of the girls spoke about it for the next few days.

I went back home and checked my breasts again. Do they look like the lady’s in the movie? I found myself getting vaguely excited. And the excitement peaked. Then it died. It felt good. But it also felt bad- like I did something wrong. I didn’t look at my parents the next day.

Every day, I would check myself in the mirror, trying to decide if I looked good. One instant, I would feel on top of the world- like the most beautiful girl living on the planet. Within the next 20 minutes, I wouldn’t even want to look at myself anymore. I hated all my clothes. They just made me look unbearably ugly. My fights with my mom increased exponentially.   If I said I wanted new clothes, she would throw me one of those looks and say, “You just bought so many last week.” I felt like staying locked up in my room forever. Sometimes, I felt like hugging her for no reason. The reminders to ‘walk properly’ and ‘sit carefully’ increased with startling frequency,  making it amply clear that I was ‘growing up.’

Meanwhile, school was changing too.  One of my seniors, Rohan started looking cuter than before. Suddenly, I noticed everything about him. The way he stretched to throw the ball over the basket, the way he pulled out his hanky, the way he flung his bag over his shoulder, the way he said, “Yes,  bro!!”. Shalini said she thought his voice sounded like a duck’s. I almost punched her. Then the teasing began.

We got busy preparing ourselves for the exams, which involved sitting in circles around the sports ground and exchanging smart tips and confirmed questions- apart from prolonged discussions over the phone (we prided ourselves on our democratic load sharing of the syllabus for every test).  I got up, dusted my skirt – but Smitha pulled me down with lightning speed. “You have got a stain on your skirt!”- She whispered into my ear! The next few minutes were spent agonizing over how I can cover the damn thing. My friends huddled behind me making a smart human curtain, and suddenly it looked like all of us had to use the loo at the same time. Rohini suggested I use her jacket. I wore it but found that it didn’t cover the stain. So, I walked around the rest of the day with that thing tied to my waist. Of course, that arrangement made its purpose very clear to the rest of the world. I walked around looking down, too scared to look up lest I should find Rohan staring at my jacket.

Summer vacation was about to begin. I was swaying between happiness that I could meet my grandparents and anguish that I will not see Rohan for the next two months.  Worse, I didn’t even know if he would miss me.  The last few days were spent hatching a lot of silly plans to be where he was; aided by my loyal friends – in exchange for similar favors for their own crushes.   If he was in the corridor, I had to pass the long pathway to refill my bottle from the next water filter- hoping he hadn’t noticed that we had just dunked the entire bottle in one go- on Rohini’s cue.  If he was at the Basketball court, I suddenly remembered a book that is only available in the library past the court. Valentine ’s Day came and went. Rohan still did not know I existed.

Related: Why Do Teens Behave The Way They Do?

Vacations began and, as I got busy with my summer classes, Rohan’s influence started to wane on me.

Adarsh was my neighbor. His dad, Rajesh uncle and mine were colleagues. Mom occasionally sent me over to exchange dishes. One such evening, when I went to pass on some Kheer. Rajesh uncle was working from home. Nobody else seemed to be around.  Rajesh uncle took the Kheer from my hand and I noticed that he cupped his hands over mine while taking it.  He asked me to sit down and got me a glass of water. His eyes kept dropping to my chest. Suddenly, my cheeks were red-hot. In my head, I went, ‘How am I sitting?” “Is my blouse too deep?” “Are my breasts sticking out?” “Is my knee showing?” I felt him sinking into the sofa beside me, his body rubbing my left arm, patting my shoulders. The next thing I knew was his hand on my thigh. His eyes glued to my chest. I felt sick with disgust. I pushed him away and walked back to my house.  I went into my room and wept. I finally decided that I would tell my parents about what happened. I came out and saw Rajesh uncle thanking my mom profusely for the excellent Kheer. Mom beamed and invited the family for a breakfast outing. Dad and Rajesh uncle fixed up a time for a game of Tennis the next morning. Something made me go back to my room.

School started. I saw Rohan but somehow didn’t feel the same anymore. We caught up on everyone’s vacations and were dying to read the success meter on our respective crushes. Some of them, like me, scored abysmally. Some had made progress. One girl confessed to having kissed- like a full kiss and done ‘some’ of it. She became our hero and we sought out every detail- wide-eyed and expectant.  We were disappointed when it ended.

One of the guys was wearing an ear-stud. He walked with a newly acquired swagger. We wondered who his new role model was. The next day, we spotted his parents in school. And the day after, the ear-stud disappeared. And with it, the swagger.

I told Rohini about my encounter with Rajesh uncle. She told me that her cousin did the same at a wedding.  And no, she had not told her parents about it.

School picked up and soon we had our noses buried in assignments and projects. The boys were beginning to show that they knew how to form a full sentence. Rohini told us that she thought Gaurav from the senior grade seemed to like her. Which automatically meant that she liked him.  They were in Shruthi Mam’s science workshop project together. We all pooled in to do the assessment- and declared results to be positive. He did look interesting; not bad-looking at all- about a 7 on 10.  Plus, he was brilliant with his project. We gossiped about the new girl in class.

The next day, all was well. Until Rohini was called to the Principal’s office.

That evening, I went home and made myself some noodles. I threw in some chips and switched on the TV.  The world cup highlights were on when the phone buzzed.  As I picked up the call, I felt a terrible foreboding. The pit of my stomach tightened as I heard the other end.  All I could hear was Rhea having a crying fit. She was trying hard to mouth words between her sobs. My mouth dried- though I didn’t know why. Finally, I heard ‘Rohini’.

My instinct had me bolt through the door. I ran all the way to her house, still in my school clothes. I don’t remember if I had any footwear on. I was aware of men and women staring at me; but I didn’t care. Terror gripped me.  But hope kept me going. 

They took her body away. Her mom was hysterical.  Her dad looked frozen.  Faces from our school were floating all over. Among them, I spotted our Principal and a few teachers in the far corner.  Police too. It occurred to me that it was important to know if Gaurav was here. He wasn’t. Neither were his parents. And I knew. I knew this had to do with him. I knew this had to do with Rohini’s parents being in school this afternoon.

That night, I stared at the last words she had sent me, “I couldn’t take it, Anu. Watching my father cry was like staring into death itself!”

Is that why you weren’t afraid of death anymore, Rohini? Did you leave so you could finally belong?”

This is the story of 2 fictional adolescents, Anu and Rohini. It could have been different if any of the following were not true. For the same reason, it could be the story of any young adult across the country!

Survey after survey tells us that: ( All references provided)

  • The biggest source of information on sex for Indian teenagers is porn. Most gain knowledge through friends and magazines. More and more children in the age 12-13 are watching porn.
  • Even in ultra-westernized cities like Mumbai, talking about Sex is taboo in majority households. However, children are penalized when they decide to explore on their own.
  • Only 18% receive any kind of guidance from their elders. However,80% parents back sex education in schools.
  • 60% of young Indians between 15-24; both boys and girls report having had sex. More often than not, the reason is ‘to fit in’ with peers and belong in their groups. Hence, teenagers struggle with intense identity crisis between upholding their parents’ image and their own.
  • Sex education is key to reducing violence against women, unwanted pregnancies and HIV/AIDS. However, Sex education in its current avatar in schools is useless. Many governments advocate banning them totally.
  • There is increasing awareness about sexual abuse. However, sex is always referred to in a negative light. There is almost nil association of positivity with sexual feelings. There is a very high correlation seen between casual sex and negative self-image.
  • India still has a major bias towards male sexuality. The girl receives a disproportionate share of disapproval which leads to shaming and sometimes even death. This is true for modern International schools as well.
  • There is little emphasis on positive body image among teenagers, especially girls. Judging incidents as being ‘provoked’ by themselves is common for adolescents as well. There is shame associated with menstruation. Many sites like Mythri and Menstrupedia are dedicated to changing this.
  • More than half of India’s children are sexually abused. 53% are abused by people known to their families. Only 6% of abuse gets reported.

I would like the readers to give a thought to the following:

  1. What do you think should have changed in the story?
  2. How easy would it be to change it?
  3. What would YOU do to change it?

Hint: Think Unconditional Love.

Yours FREE: 53 TIMELESS HACKS TO RAISE A HAPPY KID!
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About The Author

Devishobha Chandramouli is the founder of Kidskintha- a site dedicated to creating happy children. She believes that growing up well and happy is a function of growing up with well-informed adults. This site aims to deliver research-grounded and bite-sized pieces of information on two important facets of a child’s life- parenting and education. You can find her voice on the Huffington Post, Citizen Matters , Nectar and Lies About Parenting.

Who is to blame for child abuse?

Stop Child Sexual abuse

Stop Child Abuse

 

Its been a little over a year now that the nation reeled under the ‘Nirbhaya‘ wave. However, this is not to say that there have been crimes any lesser before that or even after. Innocent women getting raped when they go about their ‘normal’ day is horrendous enough; but what would you make of something like this? In a city like Bangalore? Where population is exploding and there are no clear ‘peak’ times- which means Bangalore is almost always busy.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, …all the way upto 65+ are the ages of girls and women getting raped in this country. This is exclusive of all the unreported incidents of incest and sexual assaults by men in the family. And oh, we aren’t even talking about eve-teasing and the ‘accidental’ jostling here and there.

What. exactly. is. going. wrong?

The ‘Nirbhaya’ incident invoked a lot of hidden anguish and anger from the masses. Social media screamed opinions and solutions. A generally well-received viewpoint was “rape is less about sexuality and more about power”. Well, it beats me how somebody can get the kick out of ‘establishing ascendance’ over a 2-year-old? A 2-year-old, for God’s sake!!!!

Where have we begun to lose it? I sit here, unable to sleep after reading that account, pondering over what has started the rut? And why is it spreading unfettered?

Do we, as a society, sow the seeds of entitlement in the male? (Read here to know how movies play an important part in planting these seeds)
When I read stories from mythology to my children, I see some abrupt stories which typically run like this- A young couple happily married, one fine day the husband spots a beautiful damsel, starts dreaming about her, he expresses his desire to his wife, she ungrudgingly puts her husband’s happiness before her need for self-respect and prays for his happiness, happily accepts his second marriage; and all is well till he spots a third damsel….

The typical fairy tale goes like this- damsel in distress, mistreated by step-mother/aunt/witch/whoever but all her miseries melt away when she is lucky enough to be discovered by her “knight in shining armor’…

Do we, as a society, nurture this culture of ‘blame and shame’ on the girl?
It is not uncommon for a girl to be reprimanded for being “too open”, “open” enough to allow herself to be molested by a male of the family. She has merely ‘attracted’ them, like moths to the fire. In many cases, even though it is known that a male member has molested another woman, it is dismissed as a “natural” reaction. “Nature” intended him to be like that.

Do we, as a society, nurture the culture of shaming the woman’s body?
‘Hey, you! You don’t have a perfect body anyway so just shut up and be grateful for what you get’.

Do we, as a society, nurture the belief that women are a burden to us.
It is no mean fact that the female infanticide phenomenon is a separate research topic by itself from the psychological, social, economic, public policy perspectives…

Do we, as a society encourage commodification of girls and women by silently and implicitly agreeing to insane amounts of dowry?

Do we, as a society stand mute spectators to child and women trafficking only because it brings a tinkle into the pockets of a few?

Do we, as a society tolerate domestic violence because it is not ‘appropriate’ for a woman to voice her thoughts?

Do we, as a society stand morally upright but make our movies multi-crore hits based on one ‘item’ song?

Let me make it clear that I DO NOT take a feminist stance in any of my rantings. I am happy being a woman, happy being only the secondary bread-winner for my family and do not regret having to compromise on my career goals for the bigger responsibility and joy that are my children and family. I believe that just like their bodies are different, men and women have brains wired differently, leading to different goals and sources of satisfaction for them. I also believe in segregation of duties for any establishment to run. It is no different for a home. Hence, I do not totally endorse the “equality for women” slogan where women have to assert their equal status only through aggressive career paths or late night pubbing. I believe that real equality for women is when she is comfortable in her own skin, when she is not being constantly compared to her male counterpart, when she is respected for the value she brings- within or outside her home, when she is not left feeling powerless because she has not ‘serviced’ somebody…

My rantings come from a position of utter dismay and disappointment. My heart bleeds for the child in this incident, but my eyes only shed copious tears. Where have we gone wrong? And how do we fix it? And why are our children paying the price?

Where, oh, where, do we begin?

 

This article was published in Citizen Matters.

 

 

It shouldn’t hurt to be a child- Stop Child Abuse!

Child sexual abuse

Image Courtesy: http://psytreasure.com/

Okay..Here’s a rapid-fire-

1. What is the most dreaded question to a parent from a child?

2. What is the question that most parents avoid answering directly?

3. What is the topic that parents always hope their children will get to know through some other means but not from them?

4. What is the topic that always gets communicated in code language ?

In all probability, the answer to all of these above questions has been the dreaded ‘S’ word.

All things related with ‘sex’ are never discussed with our children, even when they are clearly old enough to understand it. The worst part, we hope they get to learn all about it somehow and yet don’t mess up.

So, what’s wrong with that? That’s how it has been for generations. Why should it change now?

Here’s why it should change:

Most children(barring psycho parents who indulge in incest) are shown love through touch. Fathers carry daughters on their shoulders, rock them to sleep on their laps, kiss them on the cheeks, hug them to show affection.Not to mention the amount of physical affection a mother showers on her children.

We also know that sexual abuse in children happens by someone known to them. And its also true that most of us are secure in the feeling that it always happens to someone far and beyond…not us! Well, here’s a shocker! A whopping 90% of all sexually abused children are innocuously trapped with someone they and their parents TRUST. Which means, this child has seen the uncle, cousin, daddy’s friend, etc comfortably seated in their own homes and comfortingly playing with her. A dozen times atleast! Sometimes, with her and the Uncle’s daughter as well! And yes, it could be your child and mine too…

child sexual abuse

Image Courtesy: pinterest.com

So, when a child is touched by this Uncle in a not-so-casual way, what’s happening in the child’s mind? We can hope against hope that the child still does not know, but she sure can sense it. She can sense that the Uncle that has kissed her many times before is doing it differently today. She can sense that his hands that hugged her playfully are doing something something other than mere hugging. She can sense it, surely! But, can she express it? And who will she turn to?

She is now confused and probably scared too.

Why confused? She is confused, because though she can sense it, she does not know what it is that made her uncomfortable. And when highly trusted people do it, she is confused by her own good feelings towards them.She is not SUPPOSED to feel that way.

Why scared? She is scared because her parents might not believe her. She is scared that her parents might not understand what she is saying (She thinks so, because she has no knowledge yet and assumes the same is true for her parents). She is scared because that Uncle might have threatened/sweet-talked her into silence. She is scared that her parents might trivialize her experience. She is scared because her parents have never spoken about such a thing. She is scared because her parents have not conveyed to her unequivocally that they place her words over everybody else’s. Most definitely, most parents want to place their child over everybody else. And if confronted with a situation, they will. Why, then, does the child not know it?

Meanwhile, she is being bombarded with fragments of information that scream rapes, sexual assault and abuse, incest, etc. She does not know what each of these terms mean, but now she has sensed that something bad has happened to her…will she talk now?

Odds are, she still wont. To make it worse, if the ‘Uncle’ drops in again and everything is normal between him and the parents, she starts believing that she was the one who did something dreadfully wrong…

child sexual abuse

Image Courtesy: Stopitnow.org.uk

What should we do?

1. First and foremost, let your child know that ‘bad touch’ is possible.
Here are a few links that will help the parent as much as it will help the child.

Decoding it for the child.

2. Do it proactively. Don’t wait for your child to ‘grow up’ sufficiently. Its shocking to know how young some kids were in real incidents. Ideally, do it as soon as your child can identify all body parts.

3. Give her the confidence that you will believe her no matter what she says or against whom. Assure her that she must tell you whatever happens with her body.

4. Check with her regularly if she remembers what ‘bad touch’ means. And if she has had any…this will encourage the child to talk- just in case.

5. Minimize the chances of your child spending any time alone with potential predators- like the driver dropping her to class, or the neighbor watching over her when you just step out for your groceries, or the watchman who is playing with her after school…

They can call you paranoid, but hey, you know what you care about!

Lastly, train your child in self-defense. It may not help really young kids immediately, but this is something they will surely thank you for.:)

P.S Everything that has been observed above for the girl child is equally applicable for a male child. I have taken the girl child reference simply because abuse of girls is far more than of boys.

And because, I am a mother of two daughters…

What do you do to make your children more aware of their surroundings? Let us know in the comments below.

If you liked this article, don’t miss our upcoming articles under the ‘Awesome Parenting’ series. 

This post is now active on Huffington Post @ Crime

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