When I returned to Bangalore last week, the media was brewing about the sexual abuse of a 6 year old at a seemingly prestigious English medium school called VIBGYOR in Bangalore, and the nonchalant attitude of the school administrators to the issue including the principal. One of the remarks by the principal was that, “The school is not responsible for such an incident.” Maybe they never foresaw this but the whole of Bangalore has come together as a united force to retaliate against the incident and the “don’t care” attitude of the school authorities through marches, gatherings, signage and vocal remarks. The abuser happens to be the male physical instructor at the school. Now more incidents are popping. Parents are appalled!!
Sexual abuse is not an unknown facet at schools. Of course, the age of the child demonstartes the perverted sickness of modern age. However, from my own experience of schooling, I can say that girls see enough of this starting pre-puberty/puberty.
My adolescent years in school. I thought school was a safe place. However, soon I realized that once I was a bleeding adolescent female, no place was safe. I learned from my female friends that some of the male teachers would pull their bras or pinch them in inappropriate places in class. Out of sheer embarrassment these girls chose to stay quiet. I never experienced any such incident personally perhaps because I had learned to protect my body just by the way I presented myself. There was a strength that came from within me that warned boys and men not to mess with me. I remember one specific occasion in 11th grade when I marched fearlessly into the principal’s office to report sexual abuse by the male English teacher toward my girlfriend. In school, on one side was this sexual perverseness and on the other side was the pseudo morality of the male teachers. (Rising Daughter, Silent Mother, Fading Grandmothers; Page 41).
As a girl, I had to be extra cautious of the male teachers especially those who gave me the creeps. Their gaze, tone of voice, suggestive remarks, uncalled for touch made me stand up for the safety of myself and others. I used to experience deep hatred and anger towards these male teachers. I noticed even the female teachers cringe at the sight of these men and yet, nobody did anything. There was no conversation around it – no safe space to talk about it.
It was only when one girl from our class was sexually abused by this male English teacher and I took it upon myself to lead a group of girls to march into the lady teachers staff room and then to the principal office, I realized how much was unsaid!! Maybe that teacher was given a warning but he continued to teach and now he even knew it was me who had made the complaint. Shamelessly he would make comments like “Rekha is bold she but doesn’t like me.” and I would say, “rightly so.” I hated his guts. I could never understand why was he not suspended or something like that.
I want to particularly remember my friend Vineetha (dont know where she is right now) who stood up to his perverse remarks in class. In 11th grade I no longer had this teacher as he only taught the art department ie, Vineetha’s class. One day he comes to class and asks the class permission to share a Shayari (urdu poem). Unaware of his intentions, the class agrees. To the dismay of the students, this is what he utters:
“Kaash in Haseenoan ke Baap Mar Jaathe, Is Bahane Hum inke Ghar ho Aathe”
(How I wish the fathers of these beautiful girls died, then I have an excuse to visit their homes)
While the class was recovering from the shock of hearing these words, my bold friend, Vineeta raised her hand and said, “Sir, what you said is only half the shayari. Do I have permission to complete it?” Without a clue of what was coming, the teacher agreed. The bold voice of Vineeta echoed in the class:
“Aisa mat keh kameene paap lagega, tu bhi kabhi haseenoan ka baap banega”
(Dont say like that, You scoundral. Someday you might also be a father to a beautiful girl)
There was utter shock on his face and I think he left the class. Everyone congratulated Vineeta about it. She did go through the cultural guilt cycle of being disrespectful to the teacher, but I was so proud of her for saying that.
Why am I sharing this with you? Most girls never voice these incidents at home. I shared with my parents because I was not at the receiving end of it. But still, I remember being discreet about sharing some incidents where the teacher would be someone my parents know and like. The sheer helplessness a girl goes through in high school is appalling!!
The question that we need to ponder is:
- Why is that we don’t share such incidents with our parents? What stops us? Forget parents, why is that we dont share this even with our trusted teachers in school or the boys in our class.
- Do we create the space for a student to share such incidents and be heard without judgement?
- What is our comfort level around discussing sexuality in any setting?
- Why is it such a taboo subject or topic?
There is this whole conversation popping around having sex education in schools. I see this as parents wanting to wash away their responsibility of talking to their children in the sacred intimate setting of their home. I do not support sex education talk in the public setting of a school. What is that going to solve? Most public schools in USA have sex education. Most public schools also have daycare to care for the babies of school childre. Yes! You heard me right! 8th, 9th grade girls become pregnant. It is such a normal thing that no one even thinks anything about it. When I first witnessed, it shocked me to the core? In our hurriedness to ape the west, do we even know where we are headed?
What we need is not sex education in schools but we need our parents at home to talk to us openly and freely about our bodies, unsafe/safe touch, sexual urge, sex, objectification of our bodies and so much more. Mothers can talk to daughters and fathers to sons. Even better would be to ritualize the process as our ancestors did it. Make conversations around sexuality sacred then it moves from the objective arena to a subjective experiential arena.
Sex education in my opinion objectifies sex organs, sex energy and the whole process around it. It takes the beauty away from it and makes it inorganic for the lack of a better word. The intimacy, privacy and vulnerability is completely missing.
And who is going to teach sex education in schools? Sexually Repressed, Sexually Judgmental individuals! Teachers who have such pseudo morality around sexuality.
Flirting, romancing, or any kind of outward display of intimacy or closeness among boys and girls was strictly forbidden. The students were expected to be decent and proper, meaning displaying behavior that did not involve affection, including holding hands, sitting or walking too close. A female student paid a heavy price for getting involved romantically with a boy in school, the male teachers could affect her grades, her friends could stop talking to her, and her parents could get notified, which was the worst. Many times a girl’s name might appear alongside the boy’s with obscene comments on bathroom walls and it was enough to shatter the reputation of that girl. In short, there was a model of behavior expected of girls; boys were never affected the same way. These double standards made me angrier. (Rising Daughter, Silent Mother, Fading Grandmothers; Page 41-42).
Can we start having open dialogues around sexuality as normal human beings?
Can I urge parents to please do their part in passing on their wisdom (or lack of wisdom) to their children? Either ways have a conversation. Additionally, find a trustworthy close adult friend who can make the conversation in a way that doesn’t leave behind the ‘Yucky|dirty’ feeling. You be present while that is happening. Or just have any grandmother or grandfather do the talking. You learn how to do it. Don’t shrug away from your responsibilities just because you embody shame around this topic.
I am willing to do it if you want me to do it. I will do it in a sacred ritual setting for your daughters. Empower them about their own bodies and sexuality so they may stand up against unwarranted, uncalled for visitors. That is what my entire research and work is centered around! Our ancestors held sexuality in such reverence. They ritualized it. It is time we do the same. Until we do that and have more openness around this topic, these cases of abuse is not going to go away. it is only going to get bigger and bigger!!