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Scarred Souls

January 9, 2018
By Zainab Khawaja

Noor was quite pleased with herself. She had scored full marks on a difficult Math quiz and had drawn an enchanting diagram of a butterfly’s life cycle on a pink chart....

reflections

Noor was quite pleased with herself. She had scored full marks on a difficult Math quiz and had drawn an enchanting diagram of a butterfly’s life cycle on a pink chart. After entering the cosy confines of her home, she jumped up and down, showing her mother the three Barbie stickers on her chubby hand. The door bell rang, interrupting the precious moment. Noor frowned, because someone had dared to venture into the spotlight that was solely hers. But when she took a furtive glance at the person, who was led in by her mother, she quietly drifted into the shadows. Her mother was a doctor, who hardly had the time to scrub rusty pans and mop stained tiles. To make things easier, her parents had decided to hire a Bengali houseboy. Little did they know he would clean the flaws off the tiles and walls, but scar their daughter’s soul in return.

As the man made his way, almost stealthily, into the compact, but tastefully set apartment, Noor’s heart somersaulted in her chest. She didn’t want him to spot her. Nonetheless, his beady eyes found her; the touch of his stare making her feel awkward. She greeted ‘Laal Miyaan uncle’ like a good girl, but his answer, as usual, left her feeling baffled. He took hold of her belly, and squeezed it so hard, that it left evident marks on her soft skin. This wasn’t his only way of responding. Other days, there were bone-crushing handshakes, which made her plump, starfish fingers ache for at least a day. Sometimes, he repeated filthy phrases, which she couldn’t quite understand at the time, yet, they sounded wrong to her. Pushing all these disturbing thoughts aside, Noor remained polite and didn’t protest, as she thought this was probably the traditional way of greeting people in Bangladesh.

After a few years, Noor realised that she had been a prey of child molestation. Now, she understood why the monster never ‘greeted’ her in front of her mother. An image of him sneering devilishly, while compressing her baby fat kept blinking in her mind. Tears glazed her eyes. She knew she had to be strong and make a confession. But would doing so be similar to jumping from a frying pan into a fierce fire? A mass of contradictions weighed upon her, as she hesitantly shared her past with her mother, who listened carefully and digested it all in. Although, she was supportive and told her daughter that time would heal her wounds, Noor wasn’t satisfied. Before ending the conversation, her mother begged her never to mention this to her father or anyone else, as that would only lead to grief and disgrace. Gradually, Noor did move on, but she always had a diluted sleep, deprived of rest and peace.

Over the years, I have heard countless child abuse scandals: A well-reputed preacher caught red-handed, molesting my friend’s six-year old brother in his own house. Elder cousins purposely and mercilessly poking pencils and other ‘harmless’ items, not only into the flesh of kids, but also their guileless souls. A maid seen on CCTV camera physically assaulting a baby. Sadly, many children are repeatedly victimized because they don’t know when they are being taken advantage of. Many feel ashamed to share such mortifying information with their loved ones. In other cases, the molester artfully uses threats, so that the child remains docile. Whatever might be the case, these unjustifiable actions lead to developmental exploitation and can seep into nearly all aspects of a child’s life. Due to this spiritual act of violence, the victim might find it difficult to tie bonds of trust with people. Also, having a hold on emotions will feel strenuous. Children who are harassed by “religious adults” may experience a crisis in faith. It may prove hard for them to reconcile pious beliefs with actions by preachers, who are, in fact, hypocrites.

So, what can be done? How do we prevent such malignant acts? Many people in our society don’t want to address such a subject and choose to live in denial, but the only solution is awareness. Following are few ways which will help us deal with this issue.

Open all faucets of communication

Firstly, parents must be very clear and open when discussing a serious matter as this. They need to understand that chanting the mantra, “Stay away from strangers” isn’t enough, because many a time, the molester turns out to be someone they could have blindly trusted with the safety of their child. Children should also know the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. Parents must humbly, but firmly tell the child to come to them, in case something unusual happens. If you do suspect abuse, ask questions in a way that doesn’t terrify your child. For instance, “I remember I did something that I thought would make my parents angry. But when I did tell them, they were okay with it. Did you ever go through something similar?” Furthermore, look for changes in your child. Perhaps they are unable to verbalize it, but children do manifest regressed behaviours, such as increase in temper tantrums, nightmares and bed-wetting, which could be signs of abuse. Also, listen attentively when a child tells you that he or she feels uncomfortable in the company of a certain person.

Don’t be afraid to involve psychologists

How one recovers after such a traumatic period varies between individuals. Some find it easy to recover, probably because of encouraging parents and a healthy home atmosphere. Unluckily, others go on to develop serious health concerns, like depression, personality disorders, eating disorders suicidal behaviour, and anxiety. This is where psychologists come in. Unfortunately, people in our country have this notion that whoever goes to a therapist is demented. But they need to understand that talking without the fear of being judged helps to establish a sense of serenity. Taking therapeutic measures will do wonders for the survivor, be it an adult or a child. It is crucial for survivors to realise that what happened wasn’t their fault. They should work towards developing a feeling of self-compassion, which in turn will help them connect with others and feel less isolated. They should be motivated to replace the harsh, critical voice inside their heads with a soft and nurturing one.

Involve educational institutions

Classes should be conducted, where children can be given education about sexual and other types of abuse. Schools should develop safety policies and procedures to ensure that all members of the school understand how to deal with cases of suspected abuse.

People, who have had their childhoods stolen in brutal ways, should know that they are not alone, and there is help and understanding at hand. It is never too late to heal. Talking about it is hard. Reading about it makes one release thick tears. But do you know what’s even more damaging? Living through it. I know this plague can’t be diminished immediately. For some, it might be insurmountable. However, I believe in the undeniable power of the pen (and speech), which can gradually wilt this curse. By writing and talking about child abuse, we can make sure that many others don’t have to go through the same turmoil.