March 31, 2011

Express buzz

31st March, 2011

Save our daughters

HYDERABAD: Sexual harassment has been used as a weapon to suppress and subjugate women over the centuries, and in all societies.

“Child abuse at home is not something unusual. It’s been there in large extended families,” points out Kalpana Kannabiran, president of the Asmita Resource Centre for Women, and explains: “When the violation takes place within the home, as is very often the case, the abuse is effectively condoned by tacit silence, and by the passivity displayed by the State and the law-enforcing machinery.” Because the crime is perpetrated most often by a father, stepfather, grandfather, brother or uncle, the rights of the child are usually sacrificed in order to protect the name of the family.

The violence, and its perpertrator, are thus shielded by a cloak of invisibility.

Then there is the horror of forced prostitution. Sunitha Krishnan, founder of the citybased Prajwala, an institution that works to stop human trafficking and has rescued 4268 girls to date, gives an account of the kind of cruelty inflicted on young children to break them into the flesh trade: “For instance, a 12-year-old Laila, it was a never ending saga of pain and fear. Enslaved in a cellar for three years, she was subjected to physical abuse and mental torture by a number of men. An 8-year-old girl can be beaten up badly or confined with a snake to terrorise her into submission.

And there have been cases of men throwing chilli powder in the vagina of the girls to induce an orgasm”


Dire poverty is another factor that has blighted the lives of girl children. Compelled to work as domestic servants, they are open to physical, including sexual, abuse by her employers. And there is also the devadasi phenomenon.

“In the poor rural areas of Telangana, where debt bondage is rife, it is believed that it is the daughter’s duty to sacrifice herself for the well-being of the family. Young women and girls (devadasis) are ‘dedicated’ to the service of a temple. The devadasis pratha does exist, but now it is closely tied to the caste system,” observes Kalpana.

As for the menace on the streets, that is a pervasive reality for most women and girls. Kalpana recalls her own experience: “At the age of 45, I myself was violently manhandled by a 20- year-old right in front of my house. Neighbours chose to be mere spectators.’’ So what advice does she have for those of her gender? Don’t be foolhardy, but when faced with a tough situation don’t be cowed.

“So many women come to my speaking engagements and training sessions as sheep and walk out determined, strong, empowered and ready to take control of their own lives,” she says.


Abusive husbands are another menace quite a few women have to contend with. And imagine the plight of someone who meets this fate while trying to escape another unendurable one. Take the case of Karuna (*name changed) who was barely out of college when a friend proposed marriage. She accepted and eventually they left for the United States where the husband proved to be abusive. Unable to bear the torment, she obtained a divorce and stayed back to pursue her studies rather than return home.

But why did Karuna accept the very first proposal that came her way? The answer is chilling.

“Not because I really liked the guy, but I was desperate to escape from the clutches of my father.” It turns out that he had abused her sexually since she was 15.

And worse was to come when her mother died: “It only got more convenient for him. It was sickening, but then he was my dad, who was also showering me with affection and taking care of me… I breathed not a word to anyone, but at the first opportunity I left him. But the the man I chose was worse…” Then there is the case of Ankita* who too had no inkling of what she was in for when she married Arnab*. For more than a decade now, she has been subjected to mental and physical abuse. It started in the very first year of marriage, but despite her economic independence and professional success this 37-year-old marketing executive has chosen to conform to social pressures and “save” the marriage. From this one can glean the condition of other victims of domestic violence who haven’t had access to a sound education or a well-paid job. Conversely, as more women join the workforce, there is growing concern that their very success triggers the resentment of the spouse and often ends in abuse.

Shocking cases of sexual abuse have been tumbling out of schools too. Last year, one Mohammed Salauddin Ayub Khan, 55, the director of the elite Parkwood International School in Vikarabad near the city, was arrested for repeatedly raping a Plus One student over four months.

The girl, who hailed from Mumbai, became pregnant and the matter came to light. According to activists, the number of students who get molested every year in schools in the State is nothing short of a couple of hundred.

And this number is arrived at only on bases of reported cases, most of which come from private schools. The heavy lid of silence generally screens off the abuse in Government schools whether in the city or elsewhere.

Taking cognisance of the menace, the Hyderabad district educational officer has set up a call centre with two 10-digit numbers to receive grievances from parents, students, teachers and school managements. They can lodge their complaints with: 9346283557 or 9346284556

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