A young man watches the dying uncle who molested him in childhood
Srinagar: The wall clock in the intensive care unit of Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) shows that it is one hour past midnight. An eerie silence prevails in the ICU, unaffected by the cardiac monitors that beep in sync with the ticking of the clock.
Attendants sit, silently or mumbling prayers, next to the patients in the ward. In a corner, alone and sitting on a stool, is 23-year-old Sahil (name changed). He is the attendant to his uncle Jaffar, who has suffered a heart attack and is on the ventilator. Sahil looks at the dying face of his 53-year-old uncle and wonders if he should be glad.
“I am not sure how I should feel. To see, after all these years of suffering, the man who had inflicted so much pain on me in such misery himself,” Sahil says with dispassion.
When he was four years old, Sahil was sexually molested by this very uncle, and the molestation continued for five years, its trauma uncured even now.
Sahil works as an office boy in a private company. He is tall and bulky, with an evenly trimmed beard. He was born in a lower-middle class family that lived in Srinagar’s suburbs. Being the first child in a joint family that consisted of 11 adult members, he was doted on. “I was loved by one and all. I was the only child at my maternal home as well,” he says with a faint smile.
That early memory of love survives along with an early memory of horror. His uncle appears in this memory as a young man offering him toffees, saying “mithayiphulgasyi” (Do you want sweets?). “He would then take me to his room and make me rub his penis until he ejaculated,” Sahil says of the nightmare.
Stigma and Shame
Doctors say that in a conservative society like Kashmir, it is very hard for a victim of child abuse to speak of his suffering. Dr Arif Maghribi Khan, mental health officer at Sehar Welfare Medicate Trust, Srinagar, says that the patients who come to him take a long time to confide in him their problem. “One of my patients told me weeks later, by sending me a message on Whatsapp,” Dr Arif mentioned.
An official from the psychiatry wing of the hospital SMHS said that the hospital kept no record of patients suffering from child abuse. This makes it more difficult to ascertain the prevalence of the crime in Kashmir.
Studies have shown that sexual abuse in childhood can have devastating lifelong effects. A person can injure himself physically, or suffer from suicidal tendencies, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and such disorders.
“Whenever uncle spoke the word mithayiphulgasyi, I would tremble, because it meant he was asking for pleasure from my 4-year-old hands.”
Sahil does not clearly remember for how long and how often this happened. What he remembers vividly is the soul-wounding disgust each time his uncle would orgasm on his hands.
“I suppose it lasted till he got married, when I was 9. I will never forget the pungent smell and the sticky feeling on my hands. It still makes me nauseous. And I will never forget the wry smile on his face while offering me toffees. The abuse has left a wound on my soul which won’t heal even after death.”
It took Sahil 10 years to realize what he had been subjected to at the age of four. “Perhaps at the time I was 14, I began to realize that the man I was sharing a house with had been molesting me. After his marriage, my uncle behaved as if nothing had happened. Perhaps the birth of a daughter changed him.”
It took Sahil another 10 years to speak of his shame to a friend. “I didn’t know that a crime had been committed on me. Coming from a conservative society like Kashmir, I refrained from telling anyone about it.”
The abuse he suffered in childhood turned Sahil into an introvert at young age. The strict and domineering figure of his father did not help.
“Father had instilled a sense of fear in me. He had also made it clear that I had to respect his family. Mother was too innocent to be told of such depravity. I didn’t want to hurt them. By the time I was grown up, I decided to face it on my own.”
Sahil endured illnesses like depression, suicidal tendencies, anxiety, insomnia. He believes his career was badly hit. “I could not concentrate on studies. I dropped out of school after I failed to pass matriculation.”
“I can’t sleep properly. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of night and start crying. At times, out of frustration, I start beating myself,” the distressed man says.
Ten days pass by. Uncle Jaffer is still in ICU and his condition is deteriorating. Doctors have suggested open-heart surgery. Amid the chaos in the family, Sahil has a choice to make: whether to forgive his uncle or condemn him.
“When I look at his death-stricken face, I revisit the nightmare of my childhood. That is when my blood boils, and I want him to die.” And yet, Sahil cannot bring himself to curse the man.
“I look at his children who have always been dear to me. I have never seen them as my molester’s children but as my own siblings. I leave the judgment to Allah. He will decide what my uncle deserves,” Sahil says in resolution of his dilemma.