Breaking the sound of silence

Breaking the sound of silence

This is the reply given to the cries of about 53 per cent of India’s population, which constitutes victims of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). ‘Bitter Chocolate’ (2000) written by Pinki Virani is breathtaking for its insights into the lives of children who have been sexually violated.

Bitter Chocolate: Child Sexual Abuse in India’ a book written by Pinki Virani has been adapted for the stage; and it highlights cases of victims of abuse who often suffer in silence

'Bitter Chocolate' a play by Sutradhar in progress

Shhh... don’t tell anyone about it.” This is the reply given to the cries of about 53 per cent of India’s population, which constitutes victims of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). ‘Bitter Chocolate’ (2000) written by Pinki Virani is breathtaking for its insights into the lives of children who have been sexually violated.

Not for the faint at heart, this book was written in order to bring the grave reality of its existence in India, out of the closet. The book is a collection of short, real-life stories that expose the neglect of family members as well as police officers towards the issue. The book has been divided into three parts – notebook 1, 2 and 3.

Notebook 1 is the author’s personal account from her childhood with observations of instances where the victims are too young to understand that they are being abused – and often at the hands of people they depend on. The author also deals with the concept of maintaining the khaandaani izzat by not talking about the issue, something the author is rather repulsed by.

Notebook 2 is a detailed study of cases outlining the effects of abuse – whether physical, psychological or emotional. One of the effects noted by the author after studies and talks with doctors, child psychologists, social workers, victims and police; is that the victim often ends up being confused with their sexual orientation, which leads them to experiment when older.

Notebook 3 talks about laws against CSA in India, also uncovering the attitude of authorities who cross-examine cases in an insensitive manner. Sutradhar, a theatre group from the city staged a play on August 27 based on Pinki Virani’s bone-chilling book titled ‘Bitter Chocolate – Child Sexual Abuse in India’. The play was Sutradhar’s 5th edition in the city.

“Issues of sexual abuse are so common in our country and yet there is a certain silence about it. Our aim is to bring this out of the closet because people don’t talk about it,” says Vinay Varma, director of the play. The performance was rendered in an appalling narrative as well as performance format, directly adapted from the book to suit the stage. The cast included Vinay Varma; Rita Ghosh; Ganesh Nallari; Parveen Bastawalla, a retired English lecturer and others who took centre-stage to present each character and case of abuse.

Each of the actors represented a different case of abuse; switching between the roles - whether abuser, victim, or the parents. Their acting and voice modulation made all the difference. The audience watched the spectacular performance in rapt silence, clicking their tongues and shuddering ever so slightly at sensitive points of the performance.

True to its name, Pinki Virani’s book is bitter in many ways – bitter to the reader’s taste, and speaks of the bitterness that cannot be washed away from the victims’ lives. In her book, the author not only openly speaks of cases of abuse that the girl child faces, but also cases that boys face.

Contrary to common understanding that the girl child is at far greater risk, the book highlights several cases of male victims of abuse, forced to be strong and suffer in silence. Take for example one case that Sutradhar staged, of Arun, a 15-year-old who was regularly sodomised for years by his uncle. Disgusted by the acts he was forced into, Arun then began an obsession to wash his hands with soap 50 times, then 90 times a day and so on, despite the skin around his nails peeling…until psychiatric help is rendered.

Other cases performed by the group includes – a woman who breast feeds her son until the age of 15, leaving him incapable of having a stable relationship with women for the rest of his life; or the brother-sister siblings, who had been raped by their stepfather repeatedly, and later grew up to find release with each other. The stories are endless and horrifying. But the truth remains that their voices are unheard of as we pretend that everything is alright.

Vinay Varma explains, “The message through our play is that children need to tell their parents what’s happening. And the message to the parents is to listen to the child.” It is a known fact that children often do not know how to speak about incidents when they have been touched or manhandled, and thus, it is the responsibility of the parents to open conversation with their kids about the same.

Children are also often found to express their discomfort through non-verbal behaviours rather than verbal explanations. The Sutradhar team also pointed out at the start of the play that the effects of sexual abuse on girls and boys are often different. While girls tend to internalise, thus harming themselves in hypersexualisation; boys tend to externalise and later go on to becoming abusive partners.

Pinki Virani's ‘Bitter Chocolate’ won the Stree Shakti Puraskar award and has been instrumental in raising awareness on the issue. Sutradhar received the international rights from Pinki Virani till July 2016 will be performing in Indore on September 19 and 20.

By:Elita Enoch
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