SRINAGAR — Shazia, (not her real name) a dark-haired, 10-year-old sits quietly in a wooden chair. Her pale face gives way to a coy smile as the psychologist asks her name. With a slight shudder in her voice, a counsellor here tries to access her mind. Shazia is asked to colour drawings on a sketchbook placed before her. Her hand trembles as she holds a black crayon between her slender fingers.
Shazia from north Kashmir’s Kupwara has suffered sexual abuse from one of her elder cousins. Her parents passed away years ago and were staying with their uncle. Her sisters as per the counsellor had disclosed the tale of abuse to their aunt, who took little cognisance and advised them to be quiet about their ill fate.
No relief in sight, they sought shelter at their other relative’s place. “Our aunt was aware of the abuse all the while. Instead of taking any action against her son, she put the blame on us. She taunted us continuously that we will bring disrepute to the family. We had no option but to flee this home,” one of her sisters told the news agency KINS.
“She is too young to understand the torture she has endured. The emotional and psychological trauma inflicted on her can last lifelong,” the counsellor said.
Maryam (name changed), 15, usually a lively person by nature, loved to talk and laugh with her friends. Of late, she has, however, undergone a sudden transformation, she hardly interacts with anyone, confines herself to her room and has stopped attending classes at the coaching centre.
Her cousin noticed the change and decided to investigate. What she found was shocking. “I tried to initiate a conversation with her but to no avail. After a week, she came up to me with tearful eyes, and revealed how her teacher tried to assault her,” the cousin said.
The teacher at her coaching centre had made frequent attempts to touch her private parts. He made obscene gestures while teaching, and would often grin slyly at her. For a few days, she skipped classes and preferred to stay home. On parental insistence, she resumed her classes. The teacher continued to harass her.
“On inquiring further, I found that other girl students too faced harassment from the same person. But nobody complained, fearing the wrath of the teacher,” said Maryam’s cousin sister.
Sexual abuse, however, is not restricted to only the female sex, as is often mistakenly thought. A harrowing testimony comes from a 24-year-old science student, Umar Khan (name changed). He was raped at the age of 12 by a gardener.
The epidemic of child sexual abuse continues to haunt the lives of many young boys and girls.
“Getting them to report such incidents is a challenge, as the public and private discourse on CSA (child sexual abuse) is still a strong taboo in our society. Most children, therefore, have no means to vent their trauma, and silently repress it. Incidents of abuse reported, therefore, are quite disproportionate to the extent of the epidemic,” said a senior police official.