To keep a child safe

I am a helicopter mum. A paranoid mum some might say, but I worry. I worry about a million things when it comes to daughter.

A lot of times, I am asked why I read books related to child abuse, when they are so painful. Yes, they are painful, they are horrific, and they affect me really badly. But most importantly it tells me that I have the responsibility to ensure that daughter is kept as safe as possible. They remind me that abuse of all sorts happen in environments of all sorts. Books like these jolt me out of complacency. They make me worry, and they make me take action to ensure that I do what I can to keep daughter safe.

It used to worry me that so many Indian parents that I know, refuse to accept that things like this happen in India. They believe that it is a Western thing, something that doesn’t happen in our culture.

Husband and I are very, very careful in this regard. Daughter knows about the good touch/bad touch, and we keep asking and reminding her every so often. Just because you never know. In India, a lot of people consider me, too protective. I don’t lose sight of her in functions, I ensure that one of us is keeping an eye on her, we don’t allow people to take her ‘to the bazaar, just like that’. We insist on going with her. It’s not about not trusting one person – it’s about not setting a pattern. I would rather be safe than sorry.

She did go out for a sleep over once, but now, I feel worried – I feel I shouldn’t have sent her – she was fine – but what if she weren’t? What if something had happened. I don’t know. It worries me and scares me.

I know I can’t control everything, but at the very least, I can try and talk to daughter, ensure that we have a clear communication going on about everything, and educate her to protect herself, be confident and be in a position to stop any behaviour. And know that we are there to help her in any situation.

As my Dad says, ‘Hope for the best, prepare for the worst’. That is all that we can do, isn’t it?

And hopefully after yesterday’s episode on Child Sexual Abuse on Satyamev Jayate, a lot of parents out there, would too.

Trafficked – My Story by Sophie Hayes

Another heart-wrenching book. Makes me wonder why I read such stuff, and then reminds me that hopefully books like this will make me,at the very least, more vigilant and aware of things that could go wrong.

The true story of a British girl forced into the sex trade.

Sophie grew up in a troubled house. Her father had no love for his children, but her mother more than made up for her husband’s lack of interest. Her father’s disinterest and her parent’s eventual separation took a toll on her and it took her a while to come to trust men.

She started working, and was leading a regular life in Leeds, when Kas came into her life. He came as a friend, and stayed her friend for a while, even when he was away in another country. He would call and talk to her and she came to rely on him for a shoulder to cry on, for helpful advise, everything we would turn to our friends for.

At a stage when things weren’t working out for her, Kas suggested that she come over to Italy for a short holiday. Arriving in Italy, everything seemed perfect. Kas was gentle, caring, as he always was.

At the end of her break, when she was about to return to England, everything changed. Kas changed from the caring, gentle man, to a controlling person. He told her that he was in debt and she would have to help him – because he loved her, and that was the least she could do. She was supposed to sell her body to earn the money for Kas. She was told that if she tried to run away, her siblings back in England would pay the price, and he knew where they lived. He asked her to call home and tell her mum that she had decided to stay on in Italy. On hearing this, her mother told her that if she ever needed help, all she needed to say was ‘How’s Aunt Linda?’. That was to be her code words.

Terrified of Kas, Sophie worked the streets, braving dangers, believing that she could do nothing to escape. She got punched, hit , abused by Kas when she tried to protest. All the while, trying to remain cheerful whenever she called her family, so that they did not get suspicious. She lived in her own personal hell, not knowing who to reach out for help until she lands up in hospital and gets to contact her mother and asked after Aunt Linda.

Her mother and step-dad came to Italy and rescued her, but it took her a long while to feel safe. She was still terrified that Kas would follow her. She was right – he did come after her. Eventually he did get captured by the police. Even after his capture, Sophie’s horror was far from over. It took her a while to overcome what she went through.

It was a shocking, stomach churning read. Drives home the fact that it is indeed very easy for a person to get trapped into a situation like this. And in an abusive situation, the victim loses the will to fight back, and starts believing everything that the abuser says. Sophie was a regular middle class, educated girl, working in a good job, and yet, her emotional baggage made her vulnerable to Kas, who took full advantage of her situation. The assumption that trafficking mainly happens to poorer people in poorer countries is broken by Sophie’s story.

I have to say, I have immense respect for Sophie to have the courage and determination to overcome all that she faced and publicly talk about it. It took her five years before she felt safe enough to talk about her story. Reading her story was sickening enough, so I can’t even imagine how painful it must have been for her to relive it all for the book, but hopefully her story will make people aware of how vulnerable our own loved ones could be, and maybe watch out.

A heart-breaking story, one that makes you cry, but one, that I feel needs to be read. Sophie has set up a foundation – The Sophie Hayes Foundation raise awareness of human trafficking and modern day slavery. As they have mentioned, on the website,

Sophie’s story is a stark reminder that trafficking is not something that happens far away to someone else.  It happens everywhere.  Sophie is someone’s sister, she was one of the girls from your school, she is someone from your work.  Sophie could be you.

That is why, I feel, it is a book that needs to be read.

When memories turn into nightmares..

Childhood memories for most of us are, cherished, special memories. Memories of a safe, and protected time.

Not so, for some. For some like Dave Pelzer, it was a different memory, the stuff nightmares are made of. I just finished reading, ‘ A man called Dave’, and like all books I read on the subject of Child Abuse, left me sad, and deeply disturbed. The one concept I can never fathom is how parents can abuse their own children, but clearly it happens and it happens much more than we would imagine.

The book itself is quite a positive, hopeful one.  Dave braves a very, very traumatic childhood. He is abused, starved, burnt by his mother in what seemed to be some sort of a ‘game’ for her. His mother used to call him ‘it’, and everything that happened to him was because ‘it’ deserved it.  He escapes when his teachers called in the authorities and he gets fostered. He grows up haunted by what he went through and with the determination to break the cycle. He is determined to never become like his mother, when he learned that children who were abused were more likely to turn into abusers themselves

He, not only overcame everything, he went on to become a wonderful father to his son, and even gave back to the community, by doing volunteer work with abused children and speaking at venues to increase the awareness around child abuse. He tries to be there for his dying father, and even tries to make sense of why his mother did everything she did, all the while, knowing what he never wanted to be.It was a very moving story of a person who overcomes his past, learns from it, and tries his best to ensure that nobody ever has to go through what he went through. He worked through a difficult marriage and when it fell apart, did everything to ensure that his son was not badly impacted by the separation. He talks about how he managed to survive on bare minimum stuff, so that he could save what he could for the times when he had his son with him. He finally finds happiness, love and contentment, a life which is a far cry from his childhood.

The book ends beautifully with a very touching conversation with his son. He talks to Stephen, his son, how things were different in that time. How parents had complete rights over children. He talks about if a parent says ‘Jump’, a child had to ask ‘How High’. Saying ‘no’ was never an option. Reading that it just makes me glad that there is more awareness today. Even if it means that in some countries parents cannot beat/smack their children. Surely disciplining a child can be done in other ways. Just as abuse can happen in so many ways. Mental abuse is just as possible, and just as harmful..and much tougher to prove.

Despite the laws, and the improve awareness, we still hear of cases like this but surely, if the laws were not there, wouldn’t things be much worse? Every time I hear of people who say that these things never happened a few years ago, I can’t help wonder if it were just that we were not aware of it. I hear people, even saying that such stuff never happens in India – how can we be so sure? Apparently we, in India, don’t even have a specific law or guidelines that could tackle child abuse. Another report says that 69% of children in India are victims of abuse, 50% being abused by someone they trust.

It scares me when I read books like this.. All we can really do is try to make our child’s childhood as happy and safe as we can – by making them aware,by letting them know about what constitutes abuse and ensuring that they always know that they can come and confide in us, irrespective of what they want to talk about..

To reach the sky…

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‘Go pick up Baby, Gudia’, yelled her Madam from the living room, where she had her friends over for tea.

Gudia, abandoned her tea-making, to pick up little Baby. Baby was only 4 months old, and Gudia had been delegated to look after her, from the time she was born. Looking after Baby was one of the chores that 12-year-old Gudia loved. It reminded her of her own sisters and brothers, she had helped her mother bring up. She wondered now, how they were managing. She knew that she really did not have to worry.  Sunita, her 10-year-old sister would have taken over from where she left, a year ago.

She remembered that day so vividly. Her madam and sir had come to their native place, a few months before Baby was born. They had their son Vivek, and madam had been pregnant with Baby. Their old maid had fallen ill, and this time madam wanted a young child because she did not want to be saddled with the worry of  a maid falling ill.  Her mother had been overjoyed at their offer. It was a big blessing for her. With six children to look after and bring up, one child being practically taken off her hands and getting paid for it, was more than she could ask for. Gudia’s school had been stopped long back when she was roped into help her mother look after the other children when her mother went to work as a domestic help for the well-off families in the village. What she earned was a pittance in comparison to what the Kumars were offering for Gudia. She could not believe her luck. The only condition that they had been that she had to maintain that she was 16 in case anybody asked her in the big city.

Life at the Kumar’s was quite pleasant for Gudia. She had a lot of work, but in comparison to the amount that she had to do back in her village, this was quite comfortable. Madam was good to her too. She did not hit her like she had heard some people did, from others in the village. She did get an earful, every so often, for eating too much, but Gudia had learnt to ignore it.

Things became more hectic after Baby’s birth for Gudia, but because she adored the little baby so much, she quickly got used to it. The couple’s son was the only thorn in her back. He took pleasure in taunting her and made fun of the fact that she knew no English. She has started learning the language at school when she was pulled out. Once Vivek saw her pouring over a book he had left around and started making fun of her. ‘What are you trying to do? Do you think someone like you will be able understand all these big words?’  That ensured that she never went close to his books again.

‘Gudia, why are you day dreaming?’ Her madam’s, harsh voice broke into her reverie.

‘Baby is asleep, and we are waiting for tea, and here you are sitting at day-dreaming! Do I have to remind you of everything?’

Mini, at Amita Kumar’s place for the first time, flinched. She worked in an NGO, and they had been campaigning for years to eradicate Child labour. Although Amita claimed that Gudia was almost 17, it was difficult to believe. Mini just could not help telling Amita in English, that she is after all just a child. Amita’s eyes flashed and showed Mini that she would not take kindly to any interference.

Mini’s husband reported to Amita’s husband at work and she had to be careful handling this. Her heart went out to the little girl who was handling responsibilities like a grown up. Even if she were 17, did it make it alright to shout at her? Besides, her instincts told her that she was definitely younger. She could not be more than 11. Amita claimed that she was even more scrawny earlier, and they had brought her here to help her mother who was finding it difficult to look after her children. Amita claimed that the girl had started looking healthy only after coming here.

After that get-together at Amita’s place, Mini tried to tiptoe around Amita’s ego to try to do her bit for Gudia. With Amita insisting that Gudia was 17, there was little she could do unless Gudia herself confided in her or came to her for help.

Mini had been wracking her brain to figure out a way, when fate provided a way out. Providence does work in mysterious ways. One day, Amita called her and asked for a favour. She had to go away for a few days and she had not been able to find somebody to take Gudia home. Could Mini please help keep her at her place until she got back? All her other friends had full-time domestic help, and did not want to upset the balance. Mini was overjoyed, here was the opportunity that she was waiting for.

Gudia came on the appointed day and was stunned when Mini instead of asking her to start work immediately started to ask her about her and her family. Gudia maintained that she was 17, and the story of how her mother had been delighted that Amita had helped them.  On talking to her she realised that the girl was interested in studying but had been pulled out of school. Mini’s do-good nature licked into full force and she decided to teach her in the time that she was at her place. Gudia sensed that Mini wanted to help her, but she could not understand why Mini wanted to help her at all. She actually considered herself lucky that Amita did not abuse her or treat her badly. She had heard stories of how some other girls had been treated. Amita’s household was heaven in comparison. The last thing that Gudia wanted was to upset her madam in any way.

That week, instead of doing all the household work, Gudia spent her time mastering the English alphabet and trying to read. She was delighted at the end of the week, that she could read sentences. Mini promised her that she would somehow continue teaching her. One day, Mini took Gudia to the NGO’s office. Mini realized that Gudia needed to see more of the world to understand that she deserved more. She saw how some of the girls rescued from working in homes were now being taken care of by the NGO. Seeing all the women at the NGO , filled her with wonder. Wonder at what she could have been if she had not been born where she had been. It also reminded her that if they got to know her real age, she would be plucked from there and her mother would ultimately suffer. Her monthly salary was a huge boon to her mother back in the village.

The time at Mini’s place flew by too quickly. Back at Amita’s place, Gudia’s life went back to normal. Household chores, ferrying Vivek back and forth from the school bus, looking after Baby. She still managed to get her hands on the daily newspaper and would practice her newly acquired reading skills. She kept this knowledge away from Amita. Something told her that Amita would not appreciate it.

Mini did not get a chance to coach her again. Her husband was offered a better job at another city and they were getting ready to move on. Just before she left, she did manage to smuggle a dictionary to Gudia. She had once showed Gudia how to use it and she hoped that she would remember.

Mini moved cities and got busy with life, but she always had that nagging feeling that she had not done enough. She wished that she had the courage to take Gudia to the NGO and get somebody else to talk to her.  She got busy with her life in the new city. She started working another NGO, but always felt a little guilty at the back of her mind. She could not help wishing that she had done more for Gudia. The week that she stayed with her, had made her very fond of the sincere, serious and responsible girl who was shouldering such responsibilities at an age when teenagers around her, are having the time of their lives.

Years later, she moved back into her hometown, and rejoined the old NGO. She was getting introduced to her colleagues when she met a young woman called Sujata who looked familiar but she was not able to place her. Sujata on the other hand was ecstatic, ‘Mini Madam,you must have forgotten me. I am Gudia , I used to work at Amita Madam’s place!’

Mini’s delight knew no bounds,  ‘I can’t tell you how delighted I am to see you. I have been feeling so guilty for not doing enough for you when I left!’

Gudia said, ‘Guilty, for what? Whatever I am today, is because of you. You made me want to aspire for more. You made me realize that I can dream and that I can hope to be more than a maid!’

‘If you had not showed me tenderness and caring,or encouraged me to read, that ‘people like me’ did not necessarily have no brains, I would have accepted my fate and my children might have been doing the same that I was. I got the confidence to break the cycle, because of you.’

Gudia’s words were like a balm for Mini. She had not let the child down. Gudia explained how those days with Mini had shown her that she could do more if she wanted to. So she secretly started studying Vivek’s old books which Amita had thrown away. She would stash them away and try to read and understand what she could. She knew that she had little chance of getting an actual education, but she wanted to know as much as she could. Amita’s confidence in her grew as she realized that Gudia was hardworking, sincere and extremely honest. In a couple of years time, Gudia had become so dependable and trustworthy, that when she approached Amita with the plea that she be allowed to work in other homes, just to make a little more money, Amita had agreed. This extra money she got, was stashed away as her nest egg. At that point in time, she had no idea what she would do with it, but she knew that all the opportunities she never got, she had to ensure that younger siblings and her future children should get. As the nest egg grew, so did her confidence. She had also made sure that her younger siblings were going to school and getting an education back in her village. She was determined that they would have a different, better life.

One day, she gathered the confidence to go to the NGO that Mini had once taken her to.  By then she was no longer a child labourer. But she wanted to ask them if she could do odd jobs there.  The people at the NGO were delighted to help. They had been surprised at the way she carried herself, her self-confidence and how well she had self-educated herself.  Soon she was helping out with other children, some battered physically, some battered mentally. Today she had a job that she loved. She was still studying. The thirst for knowledge that Mini had unleashed, in her was never satisfied. She also reclaimed her ‘real name’. She had been known as Gudia for too long, a mere nickname which had taken over her personality. She wanted to be Sujata now. A new name for a new personality, a person in-charge of her own destiny.

Mini realised then that every little counts. It reinforced her faith in what she was doing.She was at peace that night after a very long time.

Gudia was now one of the most effective persons at the NGO. She was an inspiration for children like her who were being used as child labour. Gudia’s success showed them that they could dream and achieve. All they had to do was grab every opportunity and be strong and aspire for a better life.

To reach the sky, all you need is a helping hand.

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To read the entries of the rest of the team hop over to at Shilpa’sLazy Pineapple’sKshitij’sPujitha’sHitesh’s , Parth’s and Tavish’s.

Send me no roses

He always brought her flowers. Red roses.. as red as her bruises…

He was loving and tender.. as tender as her body felt….

The more she hurt, the bigger the bouquet, the more loving he got..

But today was the last.. she was free at last. Free from the roses, free from the tender loving care.. free from the sudden eruption of rage that left her hurt and bruised. She was now at peace, nobody could hurt her anymore.. This time, the roses were for her funeral.

 

October is the Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Domestic violence is one of the most widespread and the most under-estimated crimes. Domestic violence is just not between spouses. Domestic violence may also be perpetuated by members of the extended family. Domestic violence may also be against children. Domestic violence knows no barriers. It exists in every community, country, race, ethnic group , class of people, sexual orientation and gender. It could begin in any phase of a relationship.  It could happen to any of ‘us’ not ‘them’.

There is no excuse for domestic violence. Nobody ‘asks’ for abuse. It can not be justified. Once one slap is endured, it might just be a matter of time before it escalates to full-fledged regular abuse.

In India, the societal structures make it even more difficult to combat. After I had my daughter, I had a lady who used to come and massage me. She used to tell me about another person who she used to massage, who she was sure was a victim of abuse. Apparently the lady, just weeks after giving birth, had black and blue marks all over her. And at no point was she allowed to be alone with this lady – either her sister-in-law or her mother-in-law would sit by, while she massaged her. Apparently new bruises would appear every now and then. Hearing all this broke my heart.. Here I was being pampered by my parents, and there was another young mother, possibly younger than me, but being treated so badly.

In India, it becomes even more difficult to tackle as a lot of times, even the police refuse to intervene citing it to be a personal matter – between the spouses, to be resolved within the four walls of the house.

I remember another friend whose sister got married to a man settled abroad, who used to abuse her so much that she finally separated. It was terrible for her to live in a new country, with an abusive spouse. Thankfully for her, her parents and family stood by her. She was not sent back to her husband and told to adjust, to compromise…as happens with so many other young women. When reputation in the society and what ‘the neighbours think’ become more important that their daughter’s life.

Physical abuse is not the only thing that is part of domestic abuse. Although we tend talk about women mainly, because going by percentages, more women than men seem to be the victims of domestic abuse, domestic abuse can happen to anybody – irrespective of the gender. Mental abuse is just as part of domestic violence as physical abuse is. Keeping the woman from meeting her friends or family, keeping tab of what she does, checking her mail can all be classified under domestic violence, because of the effect of such activity on the victim. A lot of abusers are extremely gentle and nice in public making it difficult for others to even imagine that the abuser is capable of such atrocities.

Apparently, most people affected by domestic violence are often unaware of the resources available. Which is where campaigns like Bell Bajao become so important. A lot of women will not feel so helpless if they are aware that help is at hand. And a lot of abusers may think twice if they know that their victim can get help!

One of the biggest myths surrounding domestic violence is that a couple should stay together, despite the violence for the sake of the children. Children are NOT better off in an abusive environment. I remember reading about a girl who grew up in a family where her mother was periodically abused by her father. She grew up thinking that it was normal and ended up married to another abuser. It was much later that she realized that she could and did break the cycle. There are long-term effects that have been seen in children who grow up in an abusive environment such as loss of confidence, stress related illnesses, they could copy the behaviour to become either abusers or victims later in life, blame themselves for it. A happy and secure environment with a single parent is far  better than an abusive environment with both parents.

Some interesting links.

How to recognize abuse

Title inspired by a book by Jenny Tomlin called Send me no flowers, which tackled the subject of abuse and was one of the most brutal and shocking books that I read on the subject. It also brought home the different kinds of abuses that comes under the umbrella of domestic abuse.