Sexual violence: A collusion of silence & suppression

During a recent youth retreat 15 girls shared they were sexually abused by friends and relatives

Dimapur: Sarah, a counselor and pastor (name changed) in Dimapur, was shocked to learn about sexual abuses prevalent in Naga society from the church circles.

This has convinced her that like their counterparts in most other places in India, Naga women seem to have accepted their suppressed role in a society where men rule the social mores and are entitled to inheritance, property and individual desires

During a recent youth retreat 15 teenage girls disclosed that they were all sexually abused as children or in their early teenage years.

On being prodded, the girls revealed the perpetrators were a friendly neighbor, a friend, a cousin brother, father of a friend, a driver and an uncle.

Confused and afraid, the girls kept the dark and ‘shameful’ secret closeted in the deep recess of their minds.

“When it comes to rape by known person, nobody gives out names, especially in a misogynistic society like ours. The girl always keeps quiet and it is only in rare cases that girls speak out of their painful experiences,” Sarah explains.

She described as “quite frightening” that rape and sexual violence have silently become a vicious trend in Naga society.

Sarah gets to hear about often. Such abuse occurs in inconceivable places and by unimaginable people. She cited some cases:

A 17-year-old girl is sent to a ‘prayer center’ by her parents for ‘healing’ after she is injured while gathering fire wood. She becomes pregnant after being raped by the son of the ‘prayer warrior’ who resides at the prayer center.

More tragically, the accused is an HIV patient. The mother (the prayer warrior) of the accused vehemently denies the claim. Meanwhile the parents of the victim scold her for not only becoming ‘disabled’ but bringing ‘shame upon the family.’

In a village, a father rapes his daughter, twelve years of age, after his wife passes away. The girl who gets pregnant, disclosed that her father had ordered her to take her mother’s place and gratify him.

At a boarding school for the physically challenged, a 17-year-old speech impaired girl is raped by a classmate, who is deaf and dumb. She becomes pregnant and her family is made to believe that it was consensual. The family of the boy callously asks the girl’s parent to abort the child.

Several people and groups now ask how such horrific sexual violence could occur in a ‘free’ and ‘forbearing’ society like the Naga’s.

‘Society like ours’ as Sarah explains, is a pitching ground where men have a sense of entitlement and the family and mothers give way for the men and boys.

A society where when a girl gets pregnant, the first reaction of the parents, instead of enquiring on the circumstances that led to the pregnancy, is to ‘throw her out of the house’ because she has disgraced them in front of the society, Sarah regrets.

Naga society allows fathers to make joke or ridicule the body parts of their daughters and women in front of his sons and in public.

A mother fearing censure from the church, quietly instructs her young daughter, who wants to keep the baby, to abort it.

“Most Naga couples that came to Mother’s Hope looking to adopt children wanted girls and not boys,” Moamenla, founder and director of Mother’s Hope discloses.

Their reason?

“When they get old, a daughter would take better care of them than a son. And there is also the issue of inheritance- where daughters may not be entitled to properties.”

(This appeared in Morung Express on April 02, 2015)

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