Parenting: Why We Need to Talk About Consent With Our Boys
“Inayat was walking down the school corridor one day when she was violently pushed against a wall and forcibly kissed. The perpetrator was Ayush, a Class 10 student, who wasn’t repentant in the least. ‘What I did was normal, since I had asked her many times,’ he said, justifying his action.”
This excerpt from my recently released book Stoned, Shamed, Depressed talks of an incident involving two teenagers in the corridors of a school in urban India, a setting as far removed from the darkness of rural Hathras and Balrampur where recent incidents of rape shook the country as these kids are from the landscape of Dalit wars and caste tragedies.
And yet, the culprits of Hathras and Ayush both have one thing in common. They believe theirs is the land and the diktat.
From Jyoti (Nirbhaya) to the girls of Unnao and Kathua, the night has been long and dark especially when it takes us eight long years to even punish Nirbhaya’s perpetrators.
And so, the protests ebb one day, the candles burn out eventually just as they did after Nirbhaya, fighting against the system at every step is not for everyone. Some estimates say more than 7,000 minors are raped in India every year.
Yet, in urban playgrounds countless schoolgirls told me over the last one year that the word rape is now used almost humourously, and that, so many boys do not understand ‘no.’
Child counsellors warn that in urban India the normalisation of words like ‘rape’ and ‘gang-rape’ is leading to aggression - physical or through sexual and cyber bullying - and needs an immediate course correction.
But what ails the educated and the privileged young that beyond their fancy clothes and expensive shoes their patriarchal mindset and lack of remorse is as filthy as the men who brazenly attack a girl in an obscure sugarcane field far away?
"Rape threats and sextortion are another version of trolling," cyber expert Ritesh Bhatia tells me in the book.
"Maybe they even get it from their parents after overhearing something they said, or they pick it up from social media. You notice how this language is so common today online, the kind of rape threats that women get from online trolls, the political environment itself is very poisoned. Tomorrow you will start hearing “goli maro” in schools."Ritesh Bhatia, cyber expert
How to Talk to Your Child About Rape Culture?
In the most dangerous country for women globally, the good fight then perhaps needs a head start. The conversations- with the child and not to a child- though first need acceptance.
Shibani, a mother of two boys, is not convinced that peer pressure or boy talk justifies violent thinking. "A strong stance in today’s times has to be taken, saying this is wrong and not acceptable," she says in the book. "You can talk and counsel but at some point, there has to be some fear. Kids nowadays are laughing even at counsellors. They have to know that there will be repercussions for their behaviour."
Many teenagers across India’s urban cities and towns today give the impression that they are adrift, they admit themselves that in a social media bubble they are struggling to fill a void. Child experts say there is no substitute for emotional security especially when conversations per se are shrinking in homes.
The learning curve perhaps needs to be inwards then, denial can no longer be our comfort zone, only acceptance of the uncomfortable will allow in differentiating a mistake from more.
Learning to say ‘no’ may yet be the biggest service we do our children. In cyber space, unrestricted freedom online at a young age can have repercussions. But there is no bigger urgency than normalising talks around consent with our children. Child psychologists also warn of an increasing number of teenagers who need help for sex-related cases.
Talking Consent, Sexual Rights
Schools by and large still seem to be hesitant in encouraging sessions around sexual rights, so for now the onus lies with families, especially when children as young as ten are addicted to porn. But if children see respect within the four walls of their home, it is not too hard to teach them respect.
"For at least two generations now, especially in urban India and educated middle-class families, we have raised our girls to be confident and fight for their rights. But we seem to have ignored an entire generation of boys who were not told anything about how their sisters were changing."Dr Nitin Verma in Stoned, Shamed, Depressed
"While we gave our daughters new ideals and role models, no one bothered to tell their brothers that they ought to change too. Boys are still raised the way they were for the last many generations," Dr Verma adds.
Author Kiran Manral agrees. In the book she says, "we teach our girls to be careful and wary, but not our boys, we talk to our girls about consent and agency and not our boys. We need to teach boys that they have control over their bodies, and just as no one can touch them without their consent, they cannot touch another person without their consent."
These are the conversations that can no longer be brushed under the carpet in a society where a rape is reported every fifteen minutes.
(Jyotsna Mohan is the author of the book 'Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India's Teens.' You can get the book here.)
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