“I was around 5 years old, when the word ‘play’ changed forever in my life,” shared 40-year-old Bhubaneswar-based author and artist Rhiti Chatterjee. The age at which most kids are still learning the very basics of every being, of life, and existence, Rhiti experienced trauma that snowballed into clinical depression and anxiety.
“My dad's medical assistant was a regular visitor to our house. Parents trusted him a lot. I remember vividly once dad and mom had to go out for some work and they left me with him. My grandmom was away visiting her sister, too. He told me that we will play, and what followed was unclear to my child's mind. I didn't like it, of course. It was painful. I was too small to understand what was happening.”
When her parents returned, she kept telling them that he was a ‘bad uncle’. “My parents thought that I was just being a rude kid. Obviously, as a five-year-old, I didn't have the vocabulary to explain. This happened over a period of a few months. Every time he found me alone, he would ask me to ‘play’. I would freeze. I stopped playing altogether even with my toys after some time,” Rhiti added.
He got a new job and shifted somewhere else, putting an end to the sexual abuse. It was much later after she grew up that she realized it was sexual abuse. “When I was about 14, I finally had the courage to tell my parents. My father searched for him for months, but he was untraceable. There was no Internet in my time to help us with the search. That is when my first phase of depression started seeping in, knowing that he was out there somewhere. I started hating my body, started blaming myself. I hated almost all the men around me. I was intentionally rude to all the boys in my school. I started being violent to some of the boys, beating them up. I wanted to be physically strong so I could defend myself from boys,” Rhiti said, expressing the kind of impact the incident had on her mental health.
I wish I could apologize to all those boys.
By the age of 19, Rhiti was completely suicidal and attempted for the first time. “My first attempt failed, so I took 47 sleeping pills next time. I went to a lot of medical stores to collect them because they wouldn’t give more than three-four pill without a prescription.”
After the second attempt, she woke up in the ICU, completely gutted at seeing her father crying. “That was the first time ever I saw him cry. It dawned upon me that I needed to get better, for myself, for my loved ones. I swore to not let that abuse define my life. I took intensive counseling, studied hard, became kinder, and worked on myself. Today I am a mother of two beautiful kids. I don’t have a perfect life, no one does, but I find my peace in art and literature,” Rhiti smiled.
Dealing with, she added, needs a lot of work, “Most of the time, the abuser is a known person, making it extremely difficult to intervene and save a child. I think, a clearer awareness, teaching children about good and bad touch, and sensitivity among parents about the subject can be great to start with. If a child is uncomfortable with someone, parents must take it seriously. We definitely also need a solid sex education system in our country.”
A report by the Logical Indian says that every second child in India has experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18. “This has only gotten worse amid the pandemic induced lockdown. In the first 11 days of the lockdown alone, CHILDLINE for children in distress, which is backed by the Ministry for Women and Child Development, received 3.07 lakh calls of which 92,105 calls were about regarding the abuse and violence on children. CHILDLINE also saw a 50 percent increase in the number of calls during this period,” says Logical Indian.
What makes it difficult for women to speak up about abuse, Rhiti said, is the fear of being judged and harassed further. “If it's a child, mostly they don't know how to express with words what happened. The trauma itself is bad enough,” she said.
- Sweta Mishra