What does a child molester look like? Is he the clean, smiling uncle next door? Or is he the typical snarling villain from the latest Hindi film? Statistics reveal that the chances of the former being the culprit is an astonishing 71%. Facts, myths and realities about child sexual abuse - that's what "Bitter Chocolate" is all about.
This is a usually hushed up topic in society because it "just doesn't happen in respectable families". Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) however is not only rampant, but its occurrence in the middle classes and upper classes has increased over the years. The book weaves together case studies, statistics, viewpoints, and the social and legal aspects of CSA in India.
Virani deals with the issue in three parts called "The Notebooks". The first one exposes the facade of home as the safest haven for children for protection against CSA. She quotes several instances of child abuse by an elder at home and also supports all her work with official statistics.
The second notebook deals extensively only with such case studies. The actual effect of child rape is fully explained as are the consequences to be faced in adult life, as victims turn abusers. This part should be avoided by all those who have very little control over their emotions.
The third notebook is positive and perhaps the most important part of the book because it lists several guidelines, help lines, help books and a list of psychiatrists in major cities and towns who deal with abused children. Two very important aspects have been highlighted - one is belief in the child who complains of sexual abuse, and the other is that prevention is better than cure. For the latter Virani has listed a whole list of guidelines that parents should follow to prevent CSA.
The book also talks of our legal systems that recognize child abuse only as rape. The system does not even acknowledge child sexual abuse in most cases. Just to illustrate this, she quotes a case where a grandfather was acquitted because the judge ruling over the case claimed that a grandfather "could just not do something like that". Furthermore, the court asked what modesty a six-year-old could have to be outraged. Even worse was the example where a mother attempted to save her adolescent daughter from her husband's molesting. Failing to persuade him, she and two social workers rescued the child. The court then ruled that the father be not punished as he was the sole earner in the family and instead recommended that the social workers be tried for forcibly removing the child.
Virani is known for her writings about taboo topics and her earlier books set the trend for this one. Being a victim herself Virani has minimized nothing. She asks a lot of questions which provoke you and the facts serve merely to stoke the fire even more. Her direct approach to the subject gives a lot of insight into the issue and it's a book that will become a landmark in writing bold non-fiction in India.
So go get your copy now. You may never know who might be lurking in your "safe" neighborhood or even your own home.This article was first published on 22 Aug 2000.