Monster Inside

In a society obsessed with moral superiority, the voices of child abuse victims often go unheard. Saqib Mugloo records two such painful experiences hoping these are exceptions

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During the dead of night, Imran, 28, snuggles inside his bed. Asleep, his face grimaces to horrific visuals playing out inside his mind. A little later, he screams himself awake.

Terrified, he breathes heavily before sighing out in relief that it was just a nightmare. Imran has been experiencing these nightmares recurrently ever since he met a fateful episode that transformed his life some 14 years ago.

“It was something we wish nobody would face, it was about a taboo,” says Imran wryly before declaring: “It was about childhood rape.”

At the age of four, Imran, the fifth child of poverty stricken Rahim and Shakeela, was sent to his maternal house thinking it would ease financial crunch of his parents a bit.

Soon after shifting, Imran found a new life at his maternal house near the picturesque Nigeen Lake. He discovered new friends whom he became fond of playing with.

“Life seemed wonderful,” he says. “The love of my grandmother made things really better. Although my maternal uncles weren’t that rich but they treated me like their own son since they were unmarried.”

Just when Imran was trying to come to terms with his new life, things took a dramatic turn at his newly adopted home. Some elder boys had transgressed into their playing circles.

“They were much older,” Imran recalls. “Some of them were 12 years older to me.”

Problems started when some of them started bullying. “We were treated like slaves,” Imran says. “They gave orders and we had to obey them otherwise we would get beaten or ostracized from group fearing which we used to oblige.”

Imran was shy and an outsider, someone who was vulnerable. His foreign identity added to his miseries.

Sensing Imran’s naivety, Ather, 22, a tall and sturdy young man, started harassing him. “He was short tempered and guys around would barely mess with him,” Imran says, hoarsely.

During one chilly December evening when Imran, his friends were playing hide-and-seek around the dense orchards of Nigeen lake, Ather sensed an opportunity. “The area was so huge that it would take hours for a person to find others,” recalls Imran.

Escaping the eyes of other players, Imran hid himself in one of the abandoned houses where Athar confronted him. Taking advantage of the situation, Athar caught hold of Imran and sodomized him, forcefully. “It was a very painful experience,” says Imran while covering his face with hands. “I was just 12, that is why I couldn’t stop him despite trying my best to resist.”

In the aftermath of the horrific episode, things went from bad to worst. Instead of sharing empathy with the victimized Imran, locals embarrassed him by sharing rumors about his “homosexual relationship” with Athar. The word spread like wildfire.

“Boys started taunting me,” he says. “They thought it was a consensual relationship while as the truth is that it was rape.”

 Subsequently, Imran confined himself to home. “I was looked down upon by other boys of the society as if I had committed the crime,” he says, tearfully. “Instead of consoling me, they misbehaved with me.”

While the rumors had traumatized Imran, on the other hand, they invariably strengthened Ather and his likes in their lustful pursuits. Ather started molesting Imran on a regular basis after finding that nobody had stood against him for his heinous crimes.

Imran’s silence meant that few other potential molesters found it opportune to satisfy their lust, too. That is when another boy, Suhail stepped in and molested him. Later he started blackmailing Imran. “He warned me against sharing the incident with anyone, and that if I did he would tell my maternal uncles about the so-called relationship between me and Ather,” recalls Imran who contemplated suicide at many times but held back.

In Kashmir a mere mention of child sexual abuse is dismissed as an impossibility given the conservative religious nature of the society, experts believe.

Twenty-five-year-old Yasir is not just an ordinary victim of child sexual abuse; he is a victim of incest. “I was molested by my own uncle at the young age of four. He would take me to his room and offer some sweets and then make me touch his private part,” says a blue eyed Yasir with a heavy voice.

It took Yasir another 10 years to realize what his uncle did to him. “I started hating him so much that I prayed for his death.”

Yasir was born to a middle class family living in Old Srinagar.  Of all the things of his bruised childhood, he remembers the abuse his mother suffered at the hands of her in-laws, one among them being the “monster” uncle who ruined Yasir’s childhood.

“Ours was a joint family and my uncle and grandparents treated my mom like a maid,” Yasir recalls. “Worse, my father preferred to stay silent over the treatment my mother received.”

Yasir who sports a trimmed beard and flowing shiny hair, shares uncanny resemblance with Pakistan’s all rounder Shahid Afridi. But Yasir is not too fond of his looks and sees his fair complexion as the reason behind his childhood abuse. “As a kid I was very fair and had better hair than I have today,” he says. “I was slightly healthier as well and everyone loved me, but some loved me too much,” he smiles ironically, hinting towards his uncle.

“While learning swimming during my childhood I was harassed by others and often touched in unpleasant ways just because I was this chubby kid,” he says while recalling an episode when some elder boys tried to molest him assuming that he was a gay.

Trauma

Experts believe that cases of child abuse are usually buried under the carpet. Most victims remain silent for the fear of society. In a conservative society like Kashmir, such topics are not discussed, let alone shared.

Studies have shown that the victims of child abuse face a multitude of adverse effects on their mental health. Victims usually face anxiety, depression, disassociation, difficulty in concentrating, academic problems, withdrawal or difficulty in connecting with others, flashbacks, increased hyper-vigilance, difficulty in sleeping etc.

Both Imran and Yasir have faced almost all the effects associated with child abuse.

Imran had problems in academics and ended up being a small-time salesman for a grocery shop.

“I could not concentrate properly at school hence fared poorly in studies,” he says. “I failed in 9th class a couple of times and that is when my maternal uncles decided I had enough of education and placed me at a shop as salesman.”

Although Yasir fared well in studies and completed his B-Tech, he had his share of problems as well. He too contemplated suicide many times and even tried consuming pills once, only to end up in hospital. “There came a time when I couldn’t take it anymore,” recalls Yasir.

Such was the effect of abuse that Yasir ended up in despair. “I stopped believing in God, and blamed Him for everything,” he says.

Urge To Speak Out

While Imran has shared the trauma with few of his friends, Yasir on the other hand had been quite until now. However, recent incidents of child abuse prompted him to speak out.

Yasir believes parents should be supportive of their children.  If anything untoward happens with the child, they should not feel reluctant to report.

“Proper counseling should be given to parents, so that they know that child abuse is real. Our mosques have a role to play, speakers should talk about these issues,” he says. “There is no shame in discussing such issues.”

Dr Arif Maghribi Khan, a Mental Health Officer at Sehar Welfare Medical Trust Srinagar, believes teachers have a greater role to play in curbing the menace of child sexual abuse.

“Children should be taught difference between good touch and bad touch,” he says. “In my opinion a counselor, preferably female counselor, should be placed in an educational institute who can aware our children.”

Dr Arif wonders why schools are not hiring counselors despite charging huge money from parents in form of fees. “We cannot turn our faces away and wish everything will be okay. We must address this issue,” he says, dryly.

Note: All names in the story have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.

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