MUMBAI: As a five-year-old, Abhhydday Paathak loved chasing rabbits in a Patiala park while his mother ran errands. His father, an army officer, was away serving his term. So, when an “Army Uncle” walked up to him with a rabbit he had caught and beckoned him to a corner of the park, “I readily agreed,” says Abhhydday, now 21. “It started simply—with a kiss, a whisper and fondling until he had unzipped and pulled down my pants. It was only when I felt enormous pain on being penetrated and his hands on my mouth to stop me from yelling that I realized what was happening to me was wrong.”
Threatened of being thrown into a well by the man, Abhhydday could neither recount his ordeal to his mother nor refuse her every time she left him there. The abuse got progressively worse as did the physical pain. “Scared that my mother might find out, I’d hide my blood soaked underpants, and would often return from school with my pants soiled, having lost control over my excretory muscles.” Two years on, Abhhydday mustered the courage to tell his mother he wasn’t going back to the park. But the trauma of being “raped” for two years refuses to leave Abhhydday. “I live with insecurities and trust issues. I’ve stuffed myself to obesity with my stress-eating disorders.”
Abhhydday, now living in Pune, does not want his name changed or his identity hidden. Neither does Roshan Kokane (23), who was seven when he was groped by a male member of the family, assigned to take care of him. Nor is Rajiv Pandey (40) ashamed to talk about the time he was five when a domestic help had him believe that he could ride a bike if he let him perform a ‘magic trick’.
Abhhydday, Roshan and Rajiv are only a tiny part of a larger reality of men who have suffered sexual abuse as a child, and are now going public with their experience to expose how assault on young boys continues and that boys are as susceptible to abuse as girls. They are also lending their face and voice to a photo campaign to be launched on Thursday by Mumbai-based filmmaker and activist Insia Dariwala. “I see a lot being done to highlight problems of girls, but not many to protect boys,” says Insia.
A 2007 report, the first-ever on child abuse by the ministry of women and child health, had revealed that more male children in India were victims of sexual abuse than girls. Out of 69% children physically abused in 13 sample states, 54.68% were boys. No studies have been conducted after that. A survivor of child sexual abuse herself, Insia recounts having met “several survivors over time… one of them being my husband Rajiv.” It pushed her to also launch an online petition last month demanding an in-depth study on sexual abuse of male children that has already logged in over 1000 supporters.
Sharalene Moonjely of Arpan, a Goregaon-based organization working on child sexual abuse since 2006, says, “Boys are taught to keep their feelings to themselves and appear ‘strong’. The masculine ideal of always being in control creates an environment where there is hardly any acceptance for boys to disclose sexual abuse”
Another troubling facet of male sexual abuse is that most perpetrators are male, so male victims often struggle with issues of sexuality. Abhhydday who recently came out as gay to his parents says, “I still have trouble coming to terms with my sexuality and often wonder whether my orientation stems from my history of abuse.”
Rajiv continues to wince in the company of men and Roshan is still trying to weed out the “devils of sadness, anger and shame” in him. Sexual abuse of boys is largely prevalent among the homeless, too. When seven-year-old Ali’s mother passed away, a cousin brought him from Indore to Mumbai, fed him, sheltered him and exploited him every night. It didn’t help much when Ali escaped. Sexual violence became a part of his life on the streets. “It went on till I was 14. Different people, at different times… once it was a cop,” says Ali (27) and lives in Dharavi.
Not just socially, legally too, sexual abuse of boys is given short shrift. “Despite the gender neutral POCSO Act passed in 2012, it is invoked primarily in cases of girls’ abuse,” says Harish Sadani founder of Men Against Violence & Abuse.