With the birth of the #MeToo campaign, it became clear how widespread the horrors of abuse have become. When millions of women found out they were not alone it also gave male survivors the chance to speak out about their experiences. The stigma of abuse is a hard thing to deal with in any situation but for men, the experience always came with the overarching belief that it diminished their masculinity. With the #MeToo movement, men the world over finally have a platform to share and hopefully more people realise that they are being heard, that their stories are important and that this is the beginning of a change we hope to see.
It happened to me for the first time in the summer of 1999 in Murud, a coastal village that’s a four hour drive away from Mumbai. Renowned for its stunning, pristine beaches and the famous Janjira Fort, Murud was special to me for another reason entirely — it was my maternal grandfather’s birthplace. It was a familiar land that offered me, a hyperactive urban kid, the opportunity to spend my holidays wreaking havoc outdoors with cousins of all ages, as opposed to being holed up in my apartment while I twiddle my thumbs and while my childhood away.
Among the group was an older cousin, who was probably in his late teens then. He fit the definition of the ‘cool cousin’ to a tee, and six-year-old me really looked up to him. He’d take me on motorbike rides, he’d take me to the bawdi for a swim, and on one surprisingly balmy afternoon, he decided to take me fishing — something I could never do in the city. I was excited, almost overjoyed as I reeled in fish after fish, when suddenly, I realised he was feeling my arms in a manner that made me extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable. One of the first things you’re taught as a toddler is the concept of good and bad touch, and so, my defence mechanism kicked in while I tried to push his arms away using my elbows. Then again, I trusted this person, and I was six, so I couldn’t exactly figure what was wrong. All my puny brain knew was that this constituted bad touch, and since there were only kids in the vicinity, I was pretty much helpless. He was the only ‘adult’, so to speak, so I just pretended like nothing’s wrong and carried on fishing.
The way it worked every night was that the cousins would play some games and eventually sleep in the same room together. That night, however, the aforementioned older cousin asked me to follow him into another part of the house.
“Did you enjoy fishing with me?” he asked.
“Yes, it was a lot of fun!” I replied.
“Would you like to go again tomorrow?”
“Sure, we can ask the others too!”
“All right. But if you want to go tomorrow, you have to kiss me right now.”
The thing is, sure, you’re taught about good and bad touch as a kid, but on the flip side, you’re perpetually encouraged to allow random relatives to kiss you as a sign of affection. As an excited six-year-old who really wanted to go fishing, I probably saw nothing wrong in the fact that a relative I trusted wanted to kiss me.
Fast forward to a decade later, and I ended up reading a similar story about sexual abuse. And just like that, these repressed memories started haunting me. Did it stop at kissing? Did something more happen? Was I touched? Did he make me touch him? I wouldn’t be able to tell you, because my brain seems to have blocked it out of my memory. But given that he made me spend an entire night with him, and that I haven’t met him since, I’m certain it didn’t stop at that. All I can say for sure, is that it was extremely messed up and did not leave me in a good place for a while.
As a teen, I grew up blaming myself for it. It was only later that I had the epiphany that not only was I not at fault, but I’m also just a speck in the larger picture — one of the many million men who are sexually abused every year. A study conducted in 2006 by Tulir, a Chennai based NGO revealed that 48% of boys and 39% of girls they had interviewed had been sexually abused. Furthermore, in 2007, an Indian Government backed survey of 13 Indian states revealed that 53% of kids had been sexually abused. Of those, 57% were boys. Regardless of the sample size, that’s an astonishing statistic — even more so, if you consider that most of the cases, much like mine, end up going unreported.
It doesn’t stop at that age either. My first date at the age of 14 ended with a non-consensual kiss. After I resisted her advances, the girl threw a fit and asked me if I was gay. As a ‘fair’ and relatively hairless man, (chikna, as they call it) I’ve been groped and felt up in trains, on the bus, and other random public places more times than I can remember. I’m 24 now, and it continues to happen even today — and as a citizen of this country, if you assumed the law of the land would help you out, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code categorically defines rape as a man penetrating a woman’s vagina without her consent, which means that men cannot be rape victims by the very definition of that law. You’d imagine the infamous Section 377 would come to the rescue since it covers sodomy, but it only applies if the perpetrator was a man. So to put things into perspective, if a woman penetrates a man’s anus with a phallic object, it wouldn’t be deemed a sex crime. If you get kissed, groped, or touched without your consent by anybody, then, well, you have to simply ‘man up’ and deal with it. This, despite the fact that a 2010 Economic Times-Synovate survey said that 19% of the men they interviewed claimed to be abused in one way or another. So to sum it all up, the law will only come to your aid if you, quite literally, get fucked up the arse.
Which brings us to our most important question: why don’t more men come forward? Toxic masculinity is one reason. Try telling a male friend that a girl forced herself onto you and you didn’t like it, and you’ll be the butt of all their ‘gay’ or ‘saala chakka’ jokes for life. Secondly, the stigma associated with it is real, too — so it’s easier to simply bury it deep down, forget about it, live in denial and move on.
What’s the way forward, then? For starters, recognising that men can be abused and raped, is crucial. Harsher laws will play a role, but it’s equally important to engage in dialogue, so as to create an awareness about the issue. And thus, to take that step forward we decided to speak to three other such men, who have come forth with their own stories.
[All names have been changed to protect people’s identities]
I. Rahul D’Costa*
I was six years old when my family pressured Ma to marry again. I was still a child and thus, they presumed I needed a father figure in my life. So mum eventually succumbed and got married to this man who then became my step father. It was nice at first, actually. He used to drop me to the bus stop for school. But, something changed, suddenly. One day, I came back home from school, and Ma was still at work, as always. I changed into my regular clothes and asked my step father to play with me. He agreed. He laid down on the bed and asked me to unbutton his shirt and to kiss his chest. I did. He then pulled down his lower and his hard tool popped out. He asked me to kiss it. I did. It was hot and hard and while I was kissing it, sucking it. He came. I didn’t know what was happening. I had no idea.
I was a child who thought he loved me and that’s why he asked me to kiss him. And it went on for two years. He was also extremely abusive, and I once saw my mother’s hand with bandages all over it because he had cut her with a glass. It was then that Ma finally filed for a divorce and left him for good, and decided to raise me with Nani.
I’d buried it deep down, and I only realised that I was sexually abused as a child when I was 19.
It was tough. It was really hard to cope with it. I used to feel disgusted. I used to hate myself. I used to be an extrovert and an outgoing person, and the realisation turned me into an introvert. The kid inside me died. I had serious trust issues with people – especially the elder ones. Uncles and aunties. All of them.
It took me a further 3 years to open up and talk about it. I was at an NGO called Kat Katha, and I happened to attend a session where we had to tell stories related to a word written on a a chit. While others drew happiness, travel and love, I got abuse. It took me about 20 emotional minutes to speak about it, and the end of which I was overwhelmed. Thankfully, the people there supported me, because it turns out that a majority of the people in the room had gone through it themselves. It was shocking, personally, to know that abuse is so common.
Since, there are no laws for males who are sexually abused or harassed as children, as teens or even as adults, I think someone who has been through this should come forward and tell his story. They need to understand that they’re not alone, and that most of the society will be supportive. There should be sessions or activities for people to build their confidence because it’s shattered when someone goes through sexual abuse. I don’t know if petitions work or not but we have to get the government to recognise that men can be raped, and thus, creating a law for the same is necessary.
And lastly, everyone needs to be educated about consent and abuse – be it a five-year-old kid or a seventy-year-old grandparent. There’s a lot of darkness in this world, and it can only be tackled with love, support, and loads of light.
II. Aman Wadhwa*
It happened during my modelling phase which, as you’ll soon learn why, didn’t last too long. I worked with a reputed modelling agency, for six months, under a contract for a popular modelling hunt. A person, let’s call him Mr. Y, was keen on working with me, and thus, insisted that I get a photo-shoot done. One evening, he asked me to come down to his office (which was actually an apartment, mind you), and I had my apprehensions. However, since he was my ‘mentor’ I had no choice but to go. Once I got there, he asked me to take my shirt off and wear the white shirt from the costumes section instead. It was then that I noticed something was weird about the house. None of the rooms or bathrooms had doors.
Trying to not to make much of it, I went ahead with it. Everything was going the way a normal photo-shoot does, until he suggested we try something ‘different’. Instead of going shirtless, pull your pants down, he said. He then rolled a joint, started smoking up, and nonchalantly asked me about my sex life, relationships, and the like. This is when he said, “I don’t know about you but, back in my time I used to do both boys and girls.”
I was quite weirded out at this point, but I got back to the second phase of the shoot nonetheless. It was then when something happened that made me quit modelling forever. He asked me to expose my oblique muscles and show my ‘sex appeal’. The next thing he said was that my pubes were showing and before I knew it, he came with a trimmer and started touching me without my consent.
This is when I picked up my stuff and bolted out the door. I never saw him or anybody from the industry ever again. Modelling was great, but I wasn’t willing to take that road to fame.
III. Himmat Singh*
At a party a couple of years ago, I woke up after a night of heavy drinking to find someone’s hand slowly creeping around under my shirt. I was too scared to move or say anything. I lay still, trying to figure out if this person was just drunk out of his mind or doing it intentionally. As the hand slowly but cautiously slipped under my briefs I realised that this definitely couldn’t be drunk behaviour. This was intentional. I later found out that there’s a chance that this had happened to other people as well.
This episode shocked me quite a bit because it brought back a lot of memories from my childhood that I had successfully repressed. So I told my best friend about it. She was a close friend of the person who did it. She shrugged it off and saying that the guy was probably just drunk and that I shouldn’t make a scene because he hadn’t come out of the closet yet. So I followed suit. I dealt with it the only way I knew to do so, I joked about it. This was three years ago. A month ago, I found out that the same guy may have done the same thing again and it just triggered a lot of feelings that I had once again decided to forget.
When I confronted him about it, he denied both allegations and said he must’ve just hugged me in my sleep. I narrated the incident on social media and even though I got tons of support from friends and colleagues, his friends (including my best friend) continued to defend his actions insisting that he was just a drunk teenager who made a mistake. Although they agreed with the fact that it was wrong, they thought that “the story” I had narrated should have described him in a more humane manner, it seems.
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