“An Interview with Harish Iyer” – Ruth Prabhu.

“It is not easy.  If you are coming out about abuse now, I think you need to understand that not all will pat your back and applaud you, there will be people who will call you attention-seeking, some may even doubt your genuineness. One needs to be mentally prepared and ready to take on the challenge.”Harish Iyer – CSA survivor

There is a high emotional quotient attached to being a CSA survivor – you often know your abuser, have to face them every day and more often than not feel your trauma will not be believed. All this and more happened with Harish Iyer who was a victim of CSA for 11 years. His story of survival tells us that a perpetrator can be right under your nose, hurting your child and you may not know it.

The abuse started for you at the age of 7, an age when boys are quite boisterous. What kind of a child were you before the abuse… if you can recount

I was a quiet child. Quite reticent, very friendly, very loving. I was very attached to the women in my family. I loved playing with my toy jeep, put Gems into it and take it for a tour across the house. I used to love playing with raindrops. I used to love tying up my hair in a ponytail, and doing up my hair with flowers.

You were abused by an uncle – could you describe him and his personality as seen by the family. Most people believe an abuser to look like a clichéd anti-social element. 

My uncle used to drink a lot and often used foul language. That being said, he was also very helpful around the house especially when it came to household chores. He did have a loving personality and was good to all. He was an organized man.

Being a victim for 11 long years is also a testimony to the kind of emotional control an abuser has over his victim – can you recount for us what it was the held you back even when you were old enough to realize you were being abused.

Well, a lot of things. It is like being in the state of inertia. You want to do a lot of things, but you continue in the present state till something jolts you and pushes you to a limit that you take action. It is a state of numbness that you develop and your body and mind doesn’t give out the same reflexes that probably someone else would.  I never felt pain or any emotion when things happened to me. My emotions enveloped me only when the whole act was over and I realized that I was bleeding. The abuser had managed to scare me just once, but I carried the fear as a part of my DNA and it affected me mentally and physically.

Were there ever times that your family noticed something amiss with you and asked you about it. If yes, what is it that held you back – fright or shame? What would you have done differently if you had a chance?

I was told by my abuser that my family would not believe me.  I lived two lives – the life that I was abused and the life that I was not. And as a survival technique, these two worlds never met usually. There were two occasions that I did try drawing mom’s attention to me by telling her “my uncle touches me and I don’t like it… “and also that … “I am bleeding”

Both times, I didn’t have the language or the right expression on my face for my mother to get it. Moreover, two decades ago the idea of male children getting abused was not an accepted phenomenon.

Incest/CSA is often silenced within the family to protect honor/prestige. Do you think this is the right way of dealing with the issue?

Obviously not.  I think this honor business is a farce and what’s more honorable than standing up with a child against the abuser.

Once it did come out into the open, what was the immediate aftermath and would you advise differently to others. 

There was a rollercoaster of emotions. I faced real abuse after I spoke about it. Getting raped by many men as a child was not half as painful as the apathy and insensitivity I faced when I really opened up about abuse. People shut their doors on me – blamed it on the fact that I was abused by a man. In an era where men only have fun – they don’t get abused. But I had 11 years of silence within me. I wanted to speak.  I spoke.  If I were to forget that I attempted suicide only after the abuse had stopped, I’d say, that with every passing cloud I saw a new ray of hope.

If you are coming out about abuse now, I think you need to understand that not all will pat your back and applaud you, there would be people who would call you attention seeking, some may even doubt your genuineness. One needs to be mentally prepared and ready to take on the challenge.

It is not easy.

I often have people being enthusiastic about coming out about abuse after they saw me speak up on some TV show or after reading some interview of mine. I want to tell them that there is a lot of mental conditioning that I have gone through to put up with senseless people that I share my planet with. Kindly take calculated risks and don’t attempt stunts.

It is difficult to stand up to mindsets that question the veracity of your story for any number of reasons, yet, with the subject being more openly discussed these days, do you see a change in perception about the whole issue of CSA. 

Well, what’s unknown would be questioned. What’s unpleasant would be questioned. People would be curious. I can’t go about showing my scars to people. Over years the stupidity quotient remains at a constant. While awareness is a variable, some people would come up and ask me if I am schizophrenic. Or use some other complicated word. I do have the ability to express myself in great detail. And I know such kind of display of emotions is rare and hard to digest.  I don’t want them to believe me. Their belief wouldn’t do me any good or bad. It is immaterial. I just want them to believe that child sexual abuse exists. And that they could join me and others by spreading the word on the cause.

CSA has different effects on boys and girls – what is the effect from a male perspective and how would you suggest a family help in such cases

The society feeds values of male chauvinism in us. The man is the giver, the woman is the taker. The man is the abuser, and the woman is the abused. Girl children need to be protected for they could be attacked, attacked by boys. So there is always a sense of fake machismo that is associated with boyhood. It makes it even more difficult in such a scene to get up and voice out against abuse.

You have had the courage to repeatedly share your story – can you share with us one incident of how it made a difference in another CSA victim’s life. 

I could share many. And funny, that I meet absolute strangers who reveal so much to an absolute stranger. I met this one child who recognized me as “aamir khan wale uncle”… he dragged me to his mom in the train. His mom hugged me and told me that her other son was being abused, and he decided to speak up after watching the show. There are plenty, many unimaginable.

Tell us about your life now and how you have been able to get on with life despite what has happened.

I have left my past in my past. It is not a happy memory to think of all the time, I agree.  I am told by people who genuinely love me that I would have to completely wean out and not speak about the issue at all to ensure total therapy. But I don’t think I am troubled. In a country where there are not many survivors who speak up, it is important for people to speak up. I understand the trust factor that people have on me since they personally relate to me, the person. I thus wish to get organized some day, and start a foundation.  Where I could use my name, and still attend emails, but tell people that while I would read each of them, I will also get it vetted by an expert to help me out with it. The calls are overwhelming, I am afraid that I would lose my ability to answer all of them one day.

My life otherwise is  great. I am a happy boy who is as naughty as naughty could be. I do have my joys and my life has challenges as any other person. I would love to live life of a superhero. But sadly, I am not one.