Sunday, November 07, 2010
Predators within the family
Father-daughter relationships and sex between sons and mothers shows that incest -- that terrible taboo -- exists in Kerala
By Shevlin Sebastian
Chitra was 12 years old when her father, Mohan, took her hand and placed it over his genitals. Thereafter, Mohan started having sex with her. Chitra was powerless to resist. “Mohan told his daughter that if she opened her mouth, he would kill her and her mother,” says psychologist Dr. Prakash Chandran. So the child remained quiet. As she grew older, whenever Chitra would ask for a new dress or shoes, Mohan would demand sex in exchange.
“Chitra looked at sex as a tool,” says Prakash. “She could satisfy her material wants through it.”
Mohan’s wife, Hema, stumbled on to the secret by accident. She woke up one night and saw that her husband was not lying next to her. Instead, she discovered, Mohan was having sex with their daughter in another room. Chitra was 14 then.
“It was a big shock for her,” says Prakash. “She wondered what to do. Hema contemplated killing her husband, but because she was a God-fearing person she could not take that extreme step.”
Instead, she felt paralysed. Hema felt that if she lodged a complaint at the police station, they would come to arrest Mohan and the neighbourhood would come to know. “She had to think about the future of their daughter,” says Prakash. “So she kept silent and did not tell anybody.”
By the time she was 19, Chitra had become pregnant twice, since Mohan was reluctant to use condoms. Both times it was aborted. Because of this long sexual relationship with Mohan, Chitra lost her moral bearings. “She felt that if she can have sex with her father, she could do it with anybody else,” says Prakash.
At 18, Chitra began to work as a salesgirl in a textile shop. She had three boyfriends, and with each, she had regular sex, but was unable to maintain a long-standing relationship. But, recently, at age 20, she fell in love with a young man, who worked in an IT firm, and wanted to marry him.
“Chitra knew that if she wanted to have a successful marriage, she had to stop her sexual relationship with her father,” says Prakash. But Mohan was opposed to this, because he was afraid that if Chitra got married, he would be unable to have sex with her. It was their constant fights over this issue that forced them to come to Prakash for counselling. And that was when the hidden secret of incest was uncovered.
Incidentally, Mohan does not suffer from guilt or remorse. “My daughter is to blame,” he told Prakash. “It was she who made all the moves. The desire to have sex was more in her than in me.”
Today, Chitra has been able to get married, but the relationship with her father has been destroyed forever. “There is no father-daughter or husband-wife ties in this family,” says Prakash.
Meanwhile, counsellor Mary Hazel Thomas of the Thiruvananthapuram-based NGO, Thrani, stumbled on to another case of incest. One day a girl, Lekha, 22, came to see her. She had been married for a month and had gone to live with her husband, Dilip, in Dubai. But Lekha got cold feet when it came to sex. So, Dilip sent her back. When Mary asked Lekha whether she had suffered from sexual abuse, she burst into tears.
“Both her parents lived and worked in Saudi Arabia,” says Mary. “So, Lekha was living with her grandparents. From the time she was two, she was taught to touch her grandfather's genitals. When she grew older, her uncle, who lived with her, used her sexually.”
It was this abuse spread over many years that damaged Lekha and she was unable to have sex with Dilip. It was through regular counselling that Lekha was able to get over her feelings of guilt and worthlessness. She returned to her husband and has proper sexual relations with him now.
Meenakshi is 38 years old. She had a son when she was only 20. Her husband, who suffered from psychiatric problems, divorced her after two years of marriage. She worked as a clerk in an office. Even after her son, Hari, became a teenager, they continued to sleep together. He would always hug his mother and press the breasts. That was how his sexual feelings began.
Hari made the first move. “The boy said that he saw a dream of making love to his mother and decided to make it is a reality,” says Prakash.
One day he forced himself on her. Meenakshi resisted initially, and then fainted. “She cannot recollect what happened after that,” says Prakash. The sexual relationship lasted for three years. “When Hari turned 18 he developed a guilt feeling,” says the psychologist. “They came to me for counselling. Hari felt depressed. He felt that he had done something terribly wrong.”
Prakash tried to heal his wounded psyche. It helped that Meenakshi was tolerant. In fact, she was ready to forgive him. “Nevertheless, Hari has suffered psychological damage,” says Prakash.
The psychologist says that it is rare for a mother to have sexual feelings for his son. “This is the only mother-son incident I have encountered,” he says. “The rest of the cases are between father and daughter.”
Psychiatrist S.D. Singh has also encountered a mother-son relationship. Whenever the woman, Sujatha, went to have a bath, she would take her ten-year-old son, Mani. “The problem was that Sujatha suffered from schizophrenia,” says Singh. In the bathroom, she would show her breasts and genitals to her son.
By the time Mani was 15, he felt embarrassed and guilty. Later, he was sent to boarding school and onwards to hostels in college. Today, Sujatha suffers from a sense of guilt. “I feel very bad about it,” she says. However, Sujatha has not clarified to Singh about whether she had sex with Mani.
So how does one prevent incest from taking place? “Parents and children, especially girls, should not sleep together after a certain age,” says Prakash.
Singh says that, thankfully, India has a culture where mothers shield the daughters emotionally and physically from males, even if it is a father or brother. “They are not allowed to sleep next to each other,” says Singh. “But in nuclear families, this is becoming difficult.”
And there is cause for worry. In a survey by Singh of 10,000 children, between the ages of 12 and 17, spread across 13 schools in Kochi, 4 per cent of boys and 6 per cent of girls said they had suffered from sexual harassment, either at school or at home. “This is a high statistic,” says Singh. “Among these, there are bound to be a few cases of incest.”
Says Mary of helpine Thrani: “Incest happens often in society, but rarely does it come to the surface. Unless there is an open discussion about it, the victims will be afraid to come forward.”
Meanwhile, those tormented by incest, which includes victims in every country in the world, write poems, like Miriam Wandia Kaloki of Kenya:
Tears flow as I write this,
My own father,
Yes, my own father,
took away my innocence.
This is the question I ask every day.
My mouth is sealed.
As a first child,
I have to protect the image of the family,
I don’t know who to tell,
And how to tell,
Who will believe me?
My father stripped me of my innocence.
(Some names have been changed)
'Incest exists everywhere'
Seema Bhaskaran is a field project director of the Thiruvananthapuram-based Kerala Mahila Samakhya Society, a programme under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. She has dealt with numerous cases of child abuse and incest in the past 15 years.
Excerpts from the interview:
How prevalent is incest?
Incest is prevalent among people of all economic backgrounds. The only difference is that when it happens in the poorer sections of society, the reporting is much faster. In the middle and the upper classes there is a tendency to hide it because of the stigma associated with it. It is only when the child develops a physical or psychological problem that it is reported.
What is the impact of incest on a child?
It is a much graver offence than abuse outside the family. The father is supposed to be a guardian, but he fails in this role. The child feels worthless. This feeling of vulnerability and powerlessness can last for a long time. However, through counselling a child can be helped to get over these negative emotions.
What is the reaction of the mother when she comes to know that her daughter has been abused?
Initially, the mother goes into denial. She will think that the child has imagined the abuse. However, some mothers will adjust to the situation and send the child away to a protective environment. Some of them will feel guilty. They realise that they should have taken the necessary precautions to prevent this from happening. They also feel that there is something wrong with them sexually which forced the husband to go towards the daughter.
What is the way to prevent incest?
In Kerala, the gender segregation is very high. Boys and girls are not allowed to mingle and play with each other. They should be allowed to do so. Girls should be taught not to be ashamed of their bodies. They should learn to react strongly when somebody touches them in an inappropriate manner.
To get help
CHILDLINE is a national 24-hour free phone emergency and outreach service for children, run under the aegis of the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development.
Phone number: 1098
THRANI Counselling Centre
(The New Indian Express, Chennai)