At the outset, let me caution you of many spoilers ahead. Yesterday night, I went to the theatre with the intention of watching a psychological thriller in Kahaani 2. I packed my popcorns and was ready for an adrenaline rush, just as anyone who has seen Kahaani, and would vouch for the franchise. This film had all the ingredients of the original Kahaani - a twisted plot, conning humans, conniving criminals, bloodshed, thrilling suspense et al. However, it had one more thing that sets it apart from all others - It is a film that speaks about child sexual abuse.
If you listen closely to the girl who says “raat ko woh mujhe sone nahi deta”, you would have gathered that child sex abuse could probably be one of the film’s plots. You are wrong, it’s the main plot and everything else revolves around this grave theme.
It was clear to me right from when I saw my friend Pooja Taparia’s name (the founder of Arpan, an NGO that works in the field of child sexual abuse) appear in the opening credits, that this could be my story. The film takes a leaf from my life, and also from the lives of every sex abuse survivor, their children and families. Here are some facts that one could draw from the film.
Child Sexual Abuse Is Way Too Common
It’s not just the one child in a school of many children, like it is shown in the film. Child sexual abuse is the reality of our lives. It happens everywhere, on every continent. The 2007 survey by the Ministry of Children and Women Development reveals that 53% of children are sexually abused. So there is a greater possibility that the next person you meet might be a survivor of child sexual abuse, irrespective of whether he or she defines what they went through as child, as sexual abuse or not. There’s little possibility that the next person you meet has common cold though.
Child sexual abuse is more common than common cold.
Children Don’t Have The Power Of Language
There’s a scene in the film where Durga Rani Singh tells the child that she has been touched on her vagina and it hurts. She knows that the child doesn’t have the power of language, so she poignantly points at her vagina and says “usne mujhe idhar chuaa”. Never before in Indian cinema ever has anyone pointed at their vagina or penis like that. This makes the child open up about her own abuse which was similar. In my experience with survivors, personal sharing of my incident of abuse, actually propels them to draw parallels to their own abuse, and thereby gives them the courage to speak up. So I speak about my tryst with abuse and then listen to their reactions. It is a technique I follow. And full marks to Sujoy Ghosh for his research. But I have a bigger question, that is left unanswered.
When an eye can be an eye and a nose a nose, why cant a penis be a penis, and a vagina a vagina? Why is it so difficult to call a body part what it is. Why give them childish nick names? We don’t give cute nick names to our hands, or our legs, so why give nick names to the penis and the vagina?
It Happens In the Family
The child’s rapist in the film is a male member of her family. The female members of the family do nothing to stop it, in fact they encouraged it further. That story was only too familiar. It usually runs in the family and it runs where lines of respect run deep.
Don’t get me wrong, we don’t need to ask children to disrespect our elders. But we need to ask them to respect behaviour over age. It is very common for uncles, aunts, grand fathers and respected family friends to perpetrate the abuse. It gets worse when it is one’s own father or mother abusing them.
Abusers Have a Lot Of Support
A child can easily be blamed for his/her/hir age and dependency. Because of this, an abuser gets away with a lot of abuse. Also, India has a culture of abuse.
All abuse needn’t be sexual, but physical violence could be used as a way to torment victimise and eventually, when the child has been ‘tamed’, the abuser could advance to sexual violence. It is a pattern I have observed in many stories that I hear.
Women Can Be Abusers Too
While sexual abuse is carried out by a male character in the film, the support that he receives from the women in his family, including his own mother, is also very typical. All the “aurat hi aurat ka dard samaj sakti hai” drama actually goes down the drain most of the times.
Female sexual offenders are not seen as offenders in many cases, and older women are not seen as accomplices at all, as it would be blasphemous to even think so. But, abuse knows no gender. Men, women and transpersons can be abusers. Men, women and transpersons can be victims and survivors too.
If You Are An Empath, Use It to Help Others
Durga Rani Singh is shown as an empath in the film. She is a survivor of child sexual abuse, who has issues with having sexual relationships in adulthood. But she works at it and is finally able to find a fulfilling sexual relationship with her male lover.
I am an empath too. I can sense people’s feelings. Maybe it’s something I gained because of my abuse, or maybe, because I am just innately empathetic. But it keeps me on my toes always. Empathy is from where I derive my courage to keep going and keep listening, one story of pain and hope at a time.
If you have been through it, and have healed enough to know the way out, help others navigate.
There are many more texts and subtexts in this very very layered film. She is so convincing that I think she’s not even acting. There have been Monsoon Wedding, I Am and Highway, that have dealt with child sexual abuse in the past. Kahaani 2 is very different and provides a unique perspective. Just watch it for the joy of Sujoy Ghosh’s cinema, his vision steeped in solid research, and for the happiness that a stellar performance like Durga Rani Singh brings to your screen…Ooops! I meant Vidya Balan.
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