Author: Payal Shah Karwa
Publisher: Hay House India
Most of us like to think that we lived in a better age. An age when the innocence of childhood went unharmed, unmolested.
Some of us still persist in believing that our children are safe. Not only children in our own homes and families but also those hailing from the same socio-economic backgrounds as us. We like to think that the scourge of child sex abuse (CSA) afflicts children from poor, often criminal, backgrounds.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Payal Shah Karwa’s book, The Bad Touch, reminds us that the perils of CSA are closer than we think. She informs us that a shocking 53 percent of children in India have been abused at least once in their lifetimes, according to the first ever National Study on Child Abuse, released by the Ministry for Women and Child Development in 2007. Worse, about 50 percent of the abusers occupy a position of trust vis-à-vis the child.
The horror of it does not end there. According to the WHO, Payal says, India has the world’s largest number of sexually abused children with a child below 16 years raped every 155th minute, a child below 10 every 13th hour and one in every ten children sexually abused at any point of time. In most cases, the children continue to suffer the negative effects of the abuse, such as depression etc, even into adulthood, long after the perpetrator has moved out of their lives.
Very often parents and caregivers are blissfully unaware of the ordeal that their child or ward is going through.
Children are afraid. They neither understand what is being done to them, nor do they know how to explain their fears to a trusted elder. Many children do not have the vocabulary required. They do not even know the names of their body parts. It is up to the elders to probe these children with sensitivity, to ask the right questions with gentleness.
Payal’s book lists and counters the myths associated with Child Sexual Abuse, namely that boys are not vulnerable, that abuse happens in the lower strata of society, and that the victims do not suffer from any harmful after effects. It also offers important pointers on how parents should trust their children’s word and try to win their children’s trust in turn.
The author brings the nightmare of CSA home to us through the accounts of seven people, four of them with fictitious names, who have survived abuse in their childhood.
Payal begins her book with the account of 7-year-old Harish Iyer (his real name), who was abused and repeatedly raped by his uncle over an 11-year period, until he turned 18. His story, the most detailed of all the accounts in the book, sickens you as a reader and as a parent. There were so many times, particularly in Harish’s account, when I had to stop reading, unable to continue. Unable to process what I had just read. That a young child, about 7-8 years old, should have to go through such horror was sickening.
I commend Harish for his unbelievable courage in speaking out the truth about the nightmare he lived for years. Today this brave young man is an activist against CSA.
The other well known account of CSA is that of Anurag Kashyap, who overcame the demons that plagued him and channelised his negative feelings into his writing and film making.
Not all the accounts are described in detail, but those that are help us to understand those that aren’t, and fill us with a sense of abhorrence and disgust at people who exploit children for sexual gratification. It also makes our hearts go out to the children for the horrors that they have lived through.
The cases that Payal describes depict the various types of abusive situations that children might be ensnared in. She also backs up her writing with statistics, facts and an update on the Indian law with reference to CSA and its implementation. Sections in which she highlights the physical, behavioural and psychological indicators of CSA and pointers on how to talk to children about CSA and how to help them to overcome the experience are also dealt with in detail. Payal has also very helpfully provided the contact details of non-governmental organisations that have dedicated themselves to ridding society of the scourge of CSA.
The book, unfortunately, suffers from severe editing issues. It is a pity that the publishers did not take the time to clean up the copy before printing it. Satheesh, the uncle who abuses Harish, is first introduced to us as having “a burlesque” figure.
I had to make a conscious effort to look beyond the language, in order to value the book for the message it imparted. And that value, I believe, is tremendous.
The Bad Touch serves to remind parents to be cautious and aware so that they may be able to protect their children in the best manner possible. It also helps to encourage the survivors of CSA that all is not lost, and that they can put the nightmare behind them.