I had the privilege of going to my first tedx event yesterday abroad, in the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai. I’ve been to quite a few in the past but never in a foreign country so it was good to get a bit of the culture and also learn about India a bit more.
There were a few powerful talks, one of which I want to tell you about here…
It touches on what I get the impression is quite a big issue in India (and I know other countries but I’m going to keep my posts about the country i’m in and what I know this early on)
One of the speakers was a man called Harish Iyer, an activist on human rights, animal rights, environmental rights and gay rights in India.
He started speaking animatedly with a real sense of passionately conveying his message. Something the largely indian audience just seemed to support and get from the off.
He started telling the audience of his childhood, how, when aged 7 he first was sexually abused.
His uncle, when bathing him, would get him aged 7 to give him oral sex. He spoke of how he was so young that understanding what was going on wasn’t something he could comprehend. All he knew is that he felt uncomfortable and didn’t like it.
After a while of this happening his uncle took it a step further and apparently would have anal sex with him over his bed. Harish told the audience how when he decided he would start screaming to alert people his uncle would gag him with his hands and carry on. Not knowing how to deal with this Harish said how being gagged by his uncle was in essence a way of him having to submit to accepting that this was going to happen, he was too young and not big enough to be able to stop him and too young to know what else to do. His uncle also told him that if he told anyone about it that no one would believe him, something he took to heart.
As the years progressed Harish confided in his pet dog, an animal who he described as his confidant and who he felt spiritually connected to. Not someone who could speak to or for him but someone who could listen, something which comforted him greatly. He told of a story in which, when he was crying, his dog would lick away the tears..
The older Harish got the more he tried explaining the situation to others, he told his friends who just laughed at him and the situation, lacking the emotional maturity to deal with the seriousness of the issue or understand/comprehend its true effect and meaning.
He told how when he spoke to his mother that his uncle touched him and he didn’t like it, his mother innocently thought it was something more in line with Harish over exaggerating a pat on the butt every now and then, and when Harish said to his mum that his butt was bleeding, she put it down to overeating Mangoes, although the bleeding didn’t stop when he stopped eating mangoes.
Things got so bad that he even attempted committing suicide – slitting his wrists but finding himself fainting “like they do in films”, only to wake up after a 14 hour nap.
It took a while but eventually he got through to his other uncle who he was encouraged to tell every time something happened. He did and it finally stopped.
He spoke of how he wondered what would’ve happened had he had the knowledge or courage to say stop sooner/louder but it was in the past.
He now spends his time as an acclaimed activist, speaking where he can to raise awareness of his story so that others (and there are others) don’t have to experience the same thing.
He is openly gay now too, which in a conservative society such as India is quite a big statement but as he says he doesn’t make a big deal of it himself as he sees and thinks people should see him as normal, but he doesn’t attribute this to his abuse as a child although correlations will always be made.
It’s a huge issue in India, or at least seemingly is even though I’m only five days into my trip. Not only though is it a big issue it’s still one which has a seemingly long way to go to being properly addressed at large in Indian society. Perhaps I’m wrong.
I was surprised though when I visited a school to find that sex education or PSE which we have in the U.K has no place in the education system despite the sexual nature or origins of soo many issues in India from human trafficking, child prostitution, women’s rights and many more.
It hit me how important creating that understanding of right and wrong in regards to sex and also developing mindsets and attitudes were at an early age whilst kids are at school, even if it’s just someone who the kids can confide in regarding things like this when they take Such a dramatic turn as they did with Harish.
This is an extremely male dominated society; a conservative society and in order to create that tolerance it has to start at a young age. Having visited a school it doesn’t seem like there are many boundaries initially there and boys and girls share classrooms and seem to get on without limitations to who they can be, but these change, people change and there is no grounding within the Indian educational system that I can see which seems to even come close to tackling these let alone encouraging children to challenge and question them, something I think is or should be a key outcome of any education.