Two days after her arrival, Maya ate her first meal in silence. Meanwhile, the sky roared, it was raining hard. Maya felt caught in the ferocious monsoonal downpour or more so, in the ferocious downpour of her new life. Shambhu mama (uncle) had promised her an exciting life in the city, but she wasn’t excited nor tempted. She obliged, as her father wept and begged for her to leave, for the debt on his head was definitely worth losing his daughter. It was quick money. What else would a daughter be worth to a landless farmer?

Either because of the drenching or by reason of her state of mind, Maya fell ill when she got to the city. Her illness too was a burden.

 “What worth is such a lean child to me!” Babu had exclaimed in disgust.

 “She is a quick learner,” Mama was in for praise.

 The rains stormed the parapets of the bungalow, growing louder every minute.  He looked at Maya and asked if she could do some ‘basic household chores’. She answered with a wan nod and that was where they settled the matter.  

 Basic household chores required her to do nothing in the household, of course. Thrashed, scarred and in utter pain. With a lean bare body, she looked like a token of the season itself. A chill crept up Maya’s neck as she thought of Babu’s heavy breath so unbearably close to her again. But she ate, food felt comforting. In silence, the room seemed to stare back at her bare body. She clenched on to her favourite dress Ma had given her when she left. Now it was stinking in her pool of blood and the murkiness of the wet lands. The rain had poured loud all these days, efficiently muting her wincing and cries for help.

 After her long meal, she wrapped the only other piece of clothing she had, which Babu had thrown at her this evening. “You stink,” he had cried. But when at last the rains ended that night, the air seemed crispier than before, the winds were brisk and smelt of renewal. And the roadways, cleaner now, quickly filled up with traffic. Maya woke up to a loud horn of a taxi, suddenly breaking all the silence she had borne.

 Alas! Memsahib was here, she was home.

Maya is not some other girl. She is us.

Though statistics would help little to substantiate that, it must be significantly noted. India is home to 19% of the world’s children. According to a survey conducted by UNICEF in 2013, 10% percent of Indian girls experience sexual violence between 10-14 years of age, and overall, 42% have experienced the trauma of sexual violence before their teenage years. Our own experiences would tell us that the cases of child sexual abuse are severely under reported.

In a recent initiative by my college, I happened to attend a ‘Let’s Talk’ session. It was just a bunch of young women coming together to share their experiences of ‘performing’ in a society. In a room of around fifty girls who hailed from comfortable backgrounds, almost every girl reported to have been harassed and abused by someone they knew and in a space they had earlier presumed to be safe.

Needless to say, vulnerable children, like Maya, due to their low socio-economic background are at an increased risk of abuse. Lack of information and access to legal resources prevents the carrying out of justice and accountability of the child sexual perpetrators.

But even before we get to the legal provisions and the responsibility of the state, we could, together, try to create a safe environment for ourselves, and for those who need us. It is a two-fold process:

1. Engage

It is important to talk, even before we know that we can do something about it.

There’s no ‘right time’ to have the ‘talk’. There is a strong need to take away the social stigma attached to talking about abuse of the sexual kind. Whether, we talk to each other or encourage our children to talk about it, there must be deliberation and evolving of consciousness that doesn’t diffuse the magnanimity of the crime. It is important that cases are reported as well.

2. Intervene

Be a vigilant citizen.

Do you know someone like Maya? Are there cases like this in your school? Then put a stop to it. It is not a ‘private’ matter. This is a crime against humanity. Stand up against it. Seek help from any organisation that you already know. Educate yourself, know the rights of the children, and assert that every child you know are rightfully given these same rights.

A very loud silence surrounds matters of child sexual abuse in the world today. There is therefore a need more than ever to vow to engage in an open dialogue on this issue and uphold the integrity of the survivors while empowering children to exercise agency over their body.

The silence must break into a roar like the thundering rain showers, steadily!