On July 10 2018, the country witnessed something that had never before happened in its history of 71 years—a letter to the President of India requesting permission to be euthanised. The letter was from a 24-year-old young man from Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh.
Vishnu Teja had to take such a drastic step after suffering from two decades of debilitating trauma as a child sexual abuse survivor. A trauma that neither his family members nor society came forward to offer support or even acknowledge.
Thanks to a rigid conviction in Indian society that men and boys can never be victims of sexual assault or rape and that by masculine gender socialisation, they can’t be vulnerable either.
In a study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare in 2007 to understand the magnitude of child abuse in India, about 53.22 per cent children faced one or more forms of sexual abuse. Contrary to the idea that girl children are most vulnerable, it was found that boys were more subjected to varying degrees of sexual abuse – at a staggering 52.94 per cent.
Over a decade later, the fact that our society is yet to come in terms with the prevalence of male child sexual abuse in the country is not just disheartening but appalling.
Speaking to The Better India, Vishnu shares, “The sad reality of our country is that laws come into place only after abuse and rape incidents levelling to disturbing degrees occur. Take the Nirbhaya Act (2013) for instance. It took a brutal incident to actually make policymakers come to their senses that bestial crimes against women were on a surge and that these had to be taken seriously.”
Which has exactly been the premise for Vishnu to zero down on the decision of writing to President Ram Nath Kovind to be legally granted euthanasia – instead of taking his own life.
“Maybe this move would finally elicit some serious changes, in terms of discussions awareness in the society and subsequently, laws and bodies specifically focused on protecting male child sexual survivors would come into place,” he says.
What torments Vishnu more is how the subject is even comprehended in the country—from parents and school authorities to police and media.
“In my journey of coping with my personal trauma, I met many survivors and shared their pain. In every single one of those cases, what had remained common was that they were subjected to disbelief, refusal to acknowledgement and worse, ridicule when they opened up to their parents or reported their assault incidents to the police; just like me,” he remembers.
Thanks to cinema and media, the idea that ‘Mard Ko Dard Nahi Hota’ (men don’t feel pain) has so intrinsically penetrated into our society that we admonish young boys for crying when they hurt themselves or act the way not considered ‘manly’ enough!
“To think of it, have you ever wondered why no incidents of male child sexual abuse ever make it to the news or are even lodged with police despite the large occurrence of young boys and adults being subjected to rape and molestation?” asks Vishnu.
He further points out that there is a definite bias in terms of gender in the country.
“We come across news about rape crimes against women and girls on a daily basis. But what about the countless voices of boys and men in India that are stifled down by shame and ridicule? Even if parents give their support, there is a lack of action from police authorities, who more often than not, wriggle out of registering the case and instead bring both parties to a compromise instead of penalising the sexual perpetrators. Why do you think that never has there been a case in the country where a case of male sexual abuse has ever been prosecuted or found justice?” Vishnu questions.
Even if a male child victim’s case is fought in a court, the urgency and swiftness with which the culprit, in cases involving girl children, is prosecuted or awarded the death penalty are never observed in the former scenario, he notes.
“Even POCSO Act (2012), for the protection of child sexual abuse victims, has failed with its non-gender-neutral stance on sexual abuse on children, with no clear parameters on the medical examination, punishment to the perpetrators or even compensational aspects for male victims. When the laws in place do not consider or even acknowledge the vulnerability of male child and adults, how can we expect the society to change?,” Vishnu mentions.
“As to my knowledge, no state or district in the country has a proper cell that helps the male victims to cope with their mental trauma and offers guided counselling. In a society that derides men for even slight deviations from the ideal mould of masculinity, where is the place for sexual abuse victims to raise their voice or find justice? Sadly, there is none,” he adds.
A men’s rights activist, Vishnu is willing to reach out to anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse and open the room for discussion. You can write to him at email@example.com or call on 6303440580.
Note: All the information regarding Vishnu Teja has been shared with his own permission.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)