Posts Tagged ‘article’

Marcus Rediker

September 2007

This year and the next mark an important historical anniversary: Two centuries ago, both the United States and Great Britain abolished the African slave trade.


By the time they did, the trade had carried 9 million Africans to New World plantations, where they would live under the lash and produce the largest planned accumulation of wealth the world had yet seen. Abolition followed a long and determined campaign waged by antislavery activists on both sides of the Atlantic.


But who really brought the slave trade to an end?


In popular history, the people who abolished the slave trade are seen virtually as saints. They were somber, often dressed in black; they were devout, earnest, and good; they were the very embodiment of Christian virtue. In New England, many were descended from Puritans and reflected their austere and humorless ways. In England they were epitomized by the aristocratic evangelical William Wilberforce, the voice of abolition in Parliament. The recent movie Amazing Grace portrays him as a selfless, somewhat sickly angel who loved animals, servants, Africans and God. Piety has long been seen as the hallmark of abolitionists on both sides of the Atlantic.

A Human History by Marcus Rediker

Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker


If that were the full story, though, it would be exploded by this document. While working in the special collections library of Bristol University in England on a book on 18th-century slave ships, I found an almost completely unknown broadside entitled “The Petition of the Sharks of Africa.” It looked like any other printed petition, elegant in its composition, suitable for presentation, addressed “To the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled.”



It was, however, a vivid and harsh piece of satire. In fact it claimed to have been written by the “Sharks of Africa,” who declared themselves to be a numerous and flourishing group thanks to the many slave ships that visited the coast of West Africa. From these vessels, they explained, they got “large quantities of their most favourite food – human flesh.”



When the dead were thrown overboard, the sharks devoured the corpses. Sometimes they got live flesh, when African rebels who preferred death to slavery jumped overboard. When slave ships were “dashed on the rocks and shoals” of the region, throwing “hundreds of human beings, both black and white” into the water, it was a feast.



The sharks were writing to the British Parliament kindly asking them not to end the slave trade. Taking a sensible conservative view, the sharks denounced the abolitionists’ “wild ravings of fanaticism,” confident that their benevolent lordships would not let His Majesty’s loyal shark subjects starve. The petitioners were sure that they could count on “the wisdom and fellow-feeling” of the House of Lords. Sharks should stick together, after all.



Nothing I had read had prepared me for such a document. Here, unexpectedly, was a dark and daring kind of humor I had never known to exist among abolitionists.



Further research revealed that it had been republished widely, in Edinburgh, Philadelphia, New York, and Salem. I concluded that “The Petition of the Sharks of Africa” had been written by a Scot named James Tytler, who was a physician, poet, composer, an editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Britain’s first hot-air balloonist. For his radicalism, he was eventually arrested and charged with sedition, only to flee into exile in 1793, first to Ireland, then to Salem. His contribution has never figured in the histories of abolition – partly, I am convinced, because it does not fit the enduring image of abolitionists.



The document joins a long string of new findings that have changed our understanding of who the abolitionists were. Working-class men and women protested the trade through boycotts; sailors smuggled pamphlets and told their horror stories to activists ashore. The front line of the war against human bondage was occupied by the enslaved themselves, whose resistance sent shock waves around the world, terrifying many and inspiring some. Their names may be lost to the history books, but they anchored a complex and diverse social movement.



Why do we need to know this today? First, it is important to understand that the abolition of the slave trade, and of slavery itself, was not a gift from on high. William Wilberforce did not abolish the slave trade, as Amazing Grace might make it seem, just as a lone Abraham Lincoln did not free the slaves. It will no longer do to pretend that a “great man” did things that are more accurately described as a result of a complex historical situation and a many-sided resistance.



Second, it is important to people demanding justice and reparations today – whoever and wherever they may be – to know that their forebears played an important role in bringing the slave trade and indeed the entire institution of slavery to an end. We owe the abolition of the nefarious trade not just to aristocrats and Puritans, but to enslaved rebels, to factory workers and sailors, and to at least one irreverent Scottish daredevil.


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Feature: Reeti Roy

Deep Sea Scuba Diving in Paradise Island


Gorgeous white sand spread out against a dreamy sky, startlingly blue water that stretches on for miles and miles, palm trees softly swaying to the gentle breeze… one sighs and wonders whether all of this can truly be nature’s own work. This is Paradise Island in Maldives. The place is a photographer’s dream and a romantic’s fantasy. The beauty of the place is devastating enough to instigate an adrenaline rush just by looking at it. And the waters are enticing enough to make you want to try all the possible water sports available at the place – snorkeling, jet-skiing and scuba diving.

The word “scuba” is actually an acronym for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus. This was my first experience as a scuba diver. I walked into the Delphis Diving Centre one day and was told by the instructor to come back early the next morning. The next day when I returned, I was assigned to an instructor called John, a well-known technical diver of the Delphis Diving Center.

To begin with, our group of would-be scuba divers was asked to do some underwater exercises under John’s supervision. If we could do them successfully, we would proceed further into the deep sea. John also showed us certain diving symbols, explaining that since we would not be able to speak underwater, we would have to communicate with our hands. The wetsuit that John wore was made out of neophrin, but a couple of others and I wore our regular swimming costumes and wore goggles on our eyes and flippers on our feet, and carried an oxygen cylinder each.

The oxygen cylinder we had to carry was attached to a rubbery metal jacket. The jacket seemed extremely heavy on the surface, but once I plunged into the water I couldn’t seem to feel the weight. The water was crystal clear and the regulator attached to our mouths enabled us to breathe freely underwater. As I went deeper and deeper below the surface, I could see all kinds of sea creatures – a baby shark, a shellfish, an Indian butterfly fish, a sting-ray and a very unusual, brilliantly coloured blue-green fish. As I plunged deeper into the water, I felt like I was jumping from atop a cliff, except that there was water all around me.

I kept breathing with the help of my regulator till it decided to behave like a demented water hose and sprayed out of my mouth. My instructor was helping someone else out and as I gasped for breath, I remembered the breathing techniques that I had been taught many summers ago during the course of a swimming lesson. Also, I remembered my alternate air source. Before long, John noticed that I was struggling to breathe and set me alright again. Clumsy me! During this entire process I hadn’t noticed the jagged coral right below my body and ended up receiving a cut on my knee. I could’ve sworn that the tiny fish that swam past me was throwing me a highly contemptuous look.

One important lesson I learnt from my first venture is that in order to be a diver, you cannot be laidback and relaxed. You have to be alert and agile and you need to be prepared for any kind of situation. There are risks during diving and you must know how to swim (I’ve been swimming since I was three and I’m nineteen now and the swimming skills you need here are still really different from the kind of swimming that you learn in swimming pools).

But all in all, it was a fantastic and intoxicating experience and I’m looking forward to going for another scuba diving expedition.


Additional Information:

The Delphis Diving Center is one of the most well-known centers offering scuba diving lessons on Paradise Island. Before being eligible for diving, one is required to fill in forms satisfactorily answering questions regarding their physical and mental health. Scuba Diving has its fair share of risks and it is best not to attempt it if one isn’t completely confident of one’s swimming abilities.

Paradise Island is in the North Male Atoll of Maldives, and can be reached by a one-hour-long journey by speedboat from Male, the capital of Maldives. Male can be reached by flight from Bangalore, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram.


Reeti Roy suffers from bouts of paranoia and hopes to sing for her supper, someday. She also studies English Literature at Jadavpur University, Calcutta, when she can.

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Feature: Sudeep Pagedar


It’s scary to know that there is someone who knows you so well.
One moment, you’re happy about it; the other, you’re scared shitless.

Less than a year ago, you used to claim – sometimes boast – that you’re a loner. That you keep to yourself as much as possible, and don’t let on about your life and your ways to anyone. And now that there is someone, it’s like a double-barreled shotgun, isn’t it?

It’s not the weapon waving about inches from your nose and pointed at it that worries you; the prospect of it going off is what makes you break out into a cold sweat, right?
Not by a long shot, if you’ll pardon the pun.

See, here’s the thing:
The gun’s loaded with all you’ve ever told that person.
And you know, if that person wanted, before you even know what’s happening, the gun could unload its ammo into your bewildered face.

But what scares you is that you are fully conscious of the fact that the gun will never go off, not because the one who’s holding it doesn’t want it to, but simply because that person doesn’t see it as a weapon. Never did, in the first place.

You’re scared because you know, if you were in that person’s place, you’d see all you’ve been told as a prized 20 gauge Winchester, loaded and ready to be fired.
And fire you would, upon the slightest provocation.

But you’re not that person.

So you continue to supply ammo – as you see it – to that person, while the person who doesn’t see it as you do just sits there listening.
Getting to know you better.

Then one day, something happens that, for a moment, startles you.
It’s no longer someone else to whom you’re divulging the most intimate details of your life; it’s you. You’ve become that person and that person’s become you, and by virtue of that, you’ve imbibed certain qualities that were present in your confessor: a non-violent way of thinking. A peaceful way of thinking. A way to be at peace with yourself.

Now all would be well, were it not for one small glitch – a large part of you is still you.
And so, you can’t help but start thinking, all over again…
It’s scary to know that you know yourself so well.


Sudeep Pagedar is a 3rd Year student of English at Jai Hind College, Mumbai.

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A Few Fab Four Fables

The Beatles! So much has been written, read, heard and seen about them that writing about them seems absurd now. So instead of writing about their much-heard-about history and achievements, I will focus on their songs, how they came about and small stories attached to them. All that’s included in this article has been heard from people or been found on the Net and, boy, is it interesting! So here are some of their songs and it’s amazing to know how they came about.

Love Me Do (1962)
John and Paul wrote the song after bunking school when they were 17 and 16 respectively. It was written about Paul’s then girlfriend Iris Caldwell. This song was heard by producer George Martin when the Beatles were auditioning for Parlophone Records. He liked it a lot and started tinkering with it right away, and added the harmonica. Lennon, who fortunately knew how to play the instrument, was able to come up with the part. As a result of this McCartney had to shift to lead vocals. He later joked that the fear in his voice can be heard in the recording.

The harmonica played by Lennon on the song was supposedly stolen from a music shop in Arnhem – a Dutch town close to the German border – while the Beatles were on their way to Hamburg. Recorded on the September 5, 1962, it required 15 takes to complete. This was released as a single, the Beatles’ first. George Martin was somehow never satisfied with the song that they recorded and a week later the Beatles returned to the studios to find that a new drummer by the name of Andy White had been brought in. This left Ringo feeling very insecure as the Beatles had just fired their previous drummer, Pete Best. So the recording of the song released as a single has Ringo on drums, but in the song on the album Please Please Me, Andy White is on the drums with Ringo sidetracked to playing the maracas. Recorded in mono on one-track tape, no stereo version of this song exists. When this was released in England, it was not a big hit. The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, had so much confidence in the group that he gave the single a big marketing push by buying a bunch of copies of it (some say 10,000) for his record store, which helped get it on the charts and ensured more exposure for the band.

All My Loving (1963)
Arguably the most commercially successful Beatles track, this was composed by Paul McCartney and recorded on 30 July, 1963. It was about an old girlfriend of Paul’s known as Jane Asher. This was also the only song for which Paul first wrote the lyrics and then composed the tune. It was never released as a single and was a part of the album With The Beatles.

Yesterday (1965)
McCartney’s masterpiece which he recorded on 14 June, 1965, this is probably his most successful song. Yesterday has been recorded more than 2500 times by other artists over the years, making it the most recorded song in music history. The tune for Yesterday came to McCartney during the night. As he awoke, he went straight to the piano and played the complete tune. It was so easy that Paul feared that the tune must be from another song. To get a feel for the lyrics, Paul first titled it Scrambled Eggs followed by the lyrics, “Oh you’ve got such lovely legs.” For the next month or so, Paul played the song for many people, asking them if they had ever heard it, still believing the tune came from another song. No one had heard it before and consequently, Yesterday was born. It has been said that during the shooting of their film Help!, Paul drove the other Beatles crazy by playing the song over and over again.

Michelle (1965)
Michelle is one of McCartney’s best compositions. Paul got the inspiration for this song from seeing French art students at a party, dressed in their berets and sporting beards. He used the name Michelle not because of any particular woman but simply because it sounded good. Jan Vaughn, the wife of Ivan Vaughn, an old friend of Lennon and McCartney’s, provided the French lyrics. When Paul had not come up with the name of Michelle, he used words like “goodnight sweetheart” and “hello my dear” as a substitute. The song was recorded on 3 November, 1965. It won the Grammy for the Song of the Year in 1966 and reached the No. 1 position in French charts.

In My Life (1965)
This song was a favourite of Lennon and McCartney. It was written by Lennon after he was asked why a book written by him, In His Own Write, revealed more about him than his songs. Upon his tragic death in 1980, this song took on the role as his personal epitaph. The Beatles recorded this track leaving a hole for the instrumental break. Producer George Martin filled it in the next morning by playing a piano solo and speeding up the tape to make it sound like a harpsichord. Lennon had asked him to fill it with something “baroque.” It was voted the best song of all time by a panel of songwriters in a 2000 poll conducted by Mojo magazine.

Eleanor Rigby (1966)
Eleanor Rigby, an outstanding song by Paul was recorded on 28 and 29 April and 6 June, 1966. To match the sombre mood of the track, there are no drums; string quartet is the only instrument. There are three stories behind its name. In their youth, Paul and John met at a church function at St. Peter’s, Woolton. In the graveyard there was a stone with the name Eleanor Rigby, who died on 10 October, 1939. It is believed that maybe Paul recalled this name from his subconscious years later. However, it is also said that Paul got the name from two sources. The name of “Rigby” is said to be taken from a shop front in Bristol, and the name “Eleanor” came from his former co-star Eleanor Bron in the film Help!

Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band: the album (1967)
There are lots of stories about the album Sgt. Pepper in general and so let’s deviate from the usual style of writing about particular songs and focus on the album in general. Sgt. Pepper, on the vinyl (old stereo record) version as it was originally released, was famous as a sequence of songs in two continuous sides, without any pauses. The Beatles also intended that this sequence of songs be different than they eventually were released. Originally, Side A on the vinyl was to have Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band; With A Little Help From My Friends; Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!; Fixing A Hole; Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds; Getting Better, and She’s Leaving Home. However, this order had to be altered because the vinyl could not accommodate the combined length of these songs. The sequence was therefore then changed to what appears on the album, on both the vinyl and the CD versions. Had CDs been available in 1967, the album could have been delivered as the Beatles intended.


The cover of Sgt. Pepper is unique in itself, containing 86 cardboard cut-outs depicting images of famous people, wax models of Paul, John, George and Ringo, and other objects such as a velvet snake, television, stone figures, a trophy, an Indian doll, a hookah, a tuba, and more. When looking at the cover, you will see two larger spaces above the top row. The first is between the image of Edgar Allen Poe (eighth from left) and the second after The Vargas Girl (eleventh from left). The first gap was intended, the second was not. After the Vargas Girl was supposed to be the image of the American actor Leo Gorcey. However, Gorcey requested a fee for his image to be used, so it was painted out. Also, an image of Adolf Hitler was originally to be included, but was nixed in the end.


The Beatles used a ton of trickery in the studio over the years, with very innovative recordings. On Sgt. Pepper, besides the many sound effects throughout, one will find the forty-second crashing piano chord after the last track, A Day in the Life, followed by what is a 15-kilocycle tone, placed there by John Lennon to “especially annoy your dog.” This was followed by several seconds of nonsense talk by the Beatles that was recorded, then cut into several pieces of tape, then stuck back together to form these sounds. On the vinyl album many people did not hear these sounds, as with the old turntables, the arm would return before these sounds could be heard. This track was so far at the end, the arm would reject before this part was heard. However, these sounds can be clearly heard on the CD version. Another first for this album was the use of a 40-piece orchestra that was recorded on a four-track system and dubbed to sound as though a 160-piece orchestra was used.

The Fool on the Hill (1967)
Another personal favourite from the Beatles, this song also originated from a very peculiar incident that occurred when Paul was out walking his dog Martha (about whom the song Martha My Dear was written, by the way) on Primrose Hill in London. Martha disappeared for an instant and Paul was looking everywhere for her when suddenly there mysteriously appeared this well-dressed gentleman who returned his dog to him. After pleasantries were exchanged, when Paul looked away for an instant, the man disappeared. The nearest tree was too far for him to reach in that instant and so was the crest of the hill. Back home while brooding on the incident, Paul composed this amazing number.

I Am the Walrus (1967)
A great song by Lennon, and those of us who admire him greatly rate this as one of his best. This disjointed song was written from an amalgamation of at least three other songs Lennon was working on at the time, but which he thought were not good enough on their own. Many of the images were taken from actual events, such as the policemen, which came about when he heard their car sirens one day, and he tried to copy the rhythm of the sirens. The second song was a pastoral melody created at his Weybridge home garden, and the third was a nonsense song about sitting on a cornflake (Lennon liked Kellogg’s Cornflakes).


However, much of this song is made up of nonsensical images and words invented by Lennon, such as semolina pilchards, elementary penguins, texpert, crabalocker, etc. The line “Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye” was, however adapted from a schoolyard rhyme that Lennon remembered. One of his inspirations for these ludicrous images was Bob Dylan. Lennon believed that Dylan got away with murder in some of his lyrics, so as Lennon commented in later years, talking about the song, “I can write this crap, too.”The only lyric in the song where Lennon was serious is the first line, where he describes his belief in unity of all things. Lennon invented the line ‘elementary penguin singing Hare Krishna’ as a jibe at Allen Ginsberg who chanted Hare Krishna at public rallies, and the walrus came from the Lewis Carroll poem, The Walrus and The Carpenter. When this song was released on the B-side of Paul’s Hello Goodbye, John was enraged at their manager, who selected the arrangements. To confuse people trying to interpret the song Lennon also added parts from BBC’s broadcast King Lear and the voices of a choir singing, “Oompah, oompah, stick it in your jumper” and “Everybody’s got one, everybody’s got one.” To confuse them even further, later in the 1968 song Glass Onion, he sung, “The Walrus was Paul.”


These are but some of the timeless classics that were written by the Beatles. A lot of people have grown up with these melodies and lyrics, timeless in the truest sense. I’m sure it would be fascinating to any Beatles fan to actually know little anecdotes that go with some of their songs. My list was by no means exhaustive – there are so many more trivial incidents, each more interesting than the other, that led to more great music being created by the Four. All of you who consider The Beatles as an integral part of their life must go on further researching on the topic. And if you come across anything particularly interesting (which you probably will), please do let me know.


Subhayu Mukherji is a 3rd Year student of Engineering at Future Institute of Engineering and Management, Calcutta. He also plays a mean bass for the young band Glass Onion, and takes a generous interest in alcohol acquired with other people’s money.


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Feature: Ambreen Ishrat

Suicide Bombings: Death’s Naked Dance on Our Streets

The news of a bomb going off somewhere kickstarts a morning and you end up making calls to friends and family to ensure their safety and your own. Add reports of a large bank robbery, cell phone thefts, car snatchings, murders, random shootings and killings, hit-and-run accidents to this palate on any given day, and this is the standard breakfast of the common man – a nice way to start the day, not waking up to the chirping of sparrows, the morning breeze but to the drone of television – that has become the megaphone of the grim reaper. Or sometimes, news of this sort is broken late in the afternoon, when one is trying to grapple with multiple deadlines. News is quickly spread, devoured, and analyzed.
Frantic calls and sms’es are exchanged back and forth to settle logistics: Is there a chance for retaliatory aggression? Can one afford to stay back at home? No? Which is the safest route? Or better still, shall I stock up on atta and petrol? The moral indignation, shock and disbelief all merge into a tangle of personal worries.
The umpteen news channels keep repeating titbits and footage of the bombed place as they filter in. Blood and gore, the political analysis – flogging the dead horse, churning out conspiracy theories. The breaking news strip gets repetitive and desensitized. “The suicide bomber’s severed head has been found, the identity is soon going to be established!” claims one news channel in a gloating, triumphant and officious tone. Yet nothing comes out of anything. Different politicians and parties issue their individual statements condemning the attacks; the government talks about issuing paltry checks to compensate the victims’ families and promise of a strict probe. Nothing comes out. Behind every casualty, there is a story, a family’s past wiped out, its future destroyed.
“Be patient, bear your loss with fortitude, your beloved is shaheed.”
People try to appease the victim’s family with this logic and argument. Ironically, the jehadi zealot who blows himself up also thinks himself to be a shaheed, possibly dreaming of jannat (heaven) and 70 hoors (virginal creatures promised to men in jannat), while innocent bystanders are to pay for his misguided enthusiasm. Can such bombings be ever morally, politically justified? So one really can’t decipher what goes on in the minds of these suicide bombers… besides jannat and the promised hoors.
Forget the tortured and sensitive portrayal of a female suicide bomber by Manisha Koirala in Dil Se. There are no songs and dances, yearning and pining and torn conscience in this breed of suicide bombers. And the victims’ only crime is to be at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Their blown-up body pieces are used to convey the ambiguous message, to make a religio-political statement.
Maybe it’s a different paradigm of fear, where the passive-aggressive, insider-outsider insurgent is within us, is using religion as a cloak and excuse, and its not willing to spare even women and children. Every attack is a well-planned, well co-ordinated and synchronized effort, the work of evil minds. One suicide attack takes place in Bajour, it is matched with two attacks in Karachi in the evening, and then the masterminds might be following this logic that other cities should not feel left behind; hence, more attacks follow in other major cities.
Earlier on, the bombing used to take place out on streets and large congregations, now it can be business centres, schools and colleges – you are not safe anywhere. It all seems as if it is a movie script being executed by an ace director, who has planned each shot, each frame, yet there are no actors – real lives, aggressors and victims – both die together but for different reasons. 
When suicide bombing target not just random civilians but political figures and sectarian factions, the situation becomes even graver, as retaliatory aggression gets triggered and as usual it’s the civilians who have to suffer. Disgruntled people and opportunists respond in myriad ways to such events; some out on streets, block roads, burn tires, pelt stones, force people to shut down businesses, don’t even spare ambulances and hospitals, loot and snatch with glee. And people are left to defend themselves, as police and rangers are supposed to be occupied with the bombings. The busy megapolis tries to keep functioning, tries to get by its jagged routine. In the midst of chaos, life tries to go on.
It takes all kinds of people to respond to such situations: there are those who detonate these bombs, there are the looters and aggressors who contribute to the post-bombing chaos; then there are those who don’t rely on and wait for government’s help, they man the relief efforts, take critically injured victims to hospitals in private cars, donate blood, who clear the roads, manage the traffic, and get the stranded women and children transport and shelter. It really takes all kinds. 
Terrorism is a living reality and everyone’s life gets affected by it. It can be you or someone close to you, if not today than tomorrow. Life has never felt so uncertain and grim, at least for our generation, for how we have known our cities and our country to be. Our psyches have gotten to be dysfunctional; we live in collective fear of what is to come. Maybe it’s more of the feeling of helplessness regarding how little we can do to prevent and counter this threat. The only respite sometimes is to switch on your TV channel from news to entertainment, and forget that innocent people have died today due to someone’s fancy, some pseudo-Islamist and/or political agenda. I sometimes wonder how people have felt during the times of the great world wars, genocide, outbreak of diseases and famine. Maybe they have felt even bleaker. What nature does to us in terms of environmental calamites and deadly epidemics is nothing as compared to what we do to one another.


Ambreen Ishrat is a young editor at a private university and a freelance writer in Karachi. She is a dreamer, an animal lover, an avid reader, and an even more avid tea-lover.

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Feature: Rohit K. Dasgupta

Child Sexual Abuse and Boys

The term child sexual abuse is an umbrella term describing the acts of offence committed by an adult on a minor for purposes of sexual gratification. This may be molestation, exploitation (as in trafficking, pornography, prostitution) to direct assault. There is no clear-cut definition to this term as yet but the central characteristic of any abuse is the dominant position of the adult that allows him to force or coerce the child into sexual activities.

There is no general accurate statistics on the prevalence of child abuse and are difficult to collect due to the lack of a definition and underreporting. Statistics in general have shown that girls are sexually abused more often than boys, but boys, and later men, have a tendency to not report this victimization. Some men even feel societal pressure to be proud of early sexual activity (no matter how unwanted it may have been at the time).One of the biggest misconceptions regarding child sexual abuse (CSA) is that it “only happens to girls”. That is untrue. Boys face sexual abuse at a higher frequency than girls, say many statistical reports. However societal and peer pressure prevents boys from coming out with their abuse stories as female sexual abuse reports are more in the news than theirs.
One male survivor of sexual abuse by his female teacher recalls the confusion it resulted in: “One minute she was reprimanding me for not doing my homework and the next minute she was all over me. The next day when I went to school, she acted like nothing had happened. This happened till I graduated.” Another survivor says his aunt was very “hot” and said it was a kick for him to have his first sexual experience with her at age 12, but he later felt “sick” about it. He now claims to “hate” women and refuses to trust them.

A major contributor to the problem is the prevailing shroud of myths that muddy the issue and allow perpetrators to continue their actions unabated. Some common myths include: “only men are sexual predators”, “boys are not harmed by sexual contact if it is by a woman”, “boys want such contact if it is by a woman”, and “if a boy is sexually abused, it is because he wanted it or asked for it.” As long as society clings to these and other commonly held mistaken beliefs, boys, men, their families, and society as a whole will continue to suffer.

We live in a patriarchal world where men are thought to be the “protectors”. “Macho”, “tough”, they are expected never to be vulnerable. Thus, to be male and a victim of rape or molestation poses issues that most people refuse to deal with and creates problems impeding their ability to cope with the aftermath of abuse. Yet another problem men have to deal with is the fact that there is not enough support groups for male victims of sexual abuse as there are for female victims. Under these circumstances, men and boys who have been sexually abused do not get the support and help that women survivors have come to take for granted, in general, in the last two decades.

Without the proper emotional support and validation to help them work through their feelings, many boys and men find less healthy ways of coping. Older abused boys and men are more likely to act out violently, abuse alcohol or drugs, become sexually promiscuous, perhaps even commit rape or murder, in order to regain a feeling of control or power over their bodies and their lives. These factors are exacerbated by fears of being thought of as effeminate or homosexual because of the experience. “I didn’t want to talk about it (the abuse), because I was afraid that people would think I’m gay or that I molest kids” said Charles, an incest survivor.
Younger boys will often become bullies at school or on the playground, perform poorly at school, be socially withdrawn, lose their appetite, and perhaps revert to earlier behaviors such as bedwetting. In some, the perceived loss of personal power is so complete that they themselves become the targets of bullies and/or further sexual predation. The tremendous loss of self-esteem, as well as the violation of trust, can and does cause an inability for the person to form intimate bonds with others from that point forward. This causes innumerable problems with work, social, and romantic relationships. 

Sexual abuse highlights a feeling of inadequacy in the face of power imbalances that exists between generation and between sexes. In reality, statistical evidence on child sexual abuse points only to the conclusion that there is a relationship between gender and abuse. Paedophiles have sometimes been stereotyped as men with a fixed interest in boys, and homophobic individuals and groups have asserted that a relationship exists between homosexuality and CSA but it does not follow that that all homosexual men are potential sex exploiters any more than it follows that all heterosexual men pose a threat to girl children.

Those of you who have read Scott Heim’s book Mysterious Skin will agree that it cites one of the best examples of the issue of boys and CSA, and how they deal with it. In the novel, two young boys are molested by their baseball coach and grow up with very different recollections of the experience. One of the boys blocks out the entire episode and becomes convinced he was abducted by aliens. The other boy feels he was specially chosen by the offender, whose “love” became the highlight of his young life. He subsequently becomes a teenage hustler and sex addict, while the other boy feels asexual and is given to nosebleeds and fainting spells. Thus, one cannot remember; the other cannot forget.
The book also breaks a further myth that child abuse often affects the sexuality of the child (though true in some cases). Both Brian and Neil are abused by their football coach, but while Neil discovers he is homosexual, Brian remains a heterosexual.

In conclusion we might say that sensitization is the key at this point of time. People need to know that the sexual abuse of young boys exists (in a place like in India it is more than necessary). The people around the victim should form a support system and try and bring the victim back to normalcy and NEVER ask him to recount the experience. Peer counselors need to be formed who are educated and trained to handle disclosure and ways in dealing with it. The victim should understand that help is at hand and reach out as soon as possible. The victim has to understand that the act of abuse was not his fault and he has the right to protest now that he has come to understand what had happened to him. Many victims claim that they are shameful because they “enjoyed” the experience, but they must understand that sex is an enjoyable process but the way it had been done was not right.

The right kind of training and sensitization can ease the whole process and reaching out is the key to help.


Rohit K. Dasgupta is an undergraduate student of Comparative Literature at the Jadavpur University, Calcutta. He is also a member of Elaan, a Calcutta NGO working to raise awareness against child sexual abuse. This article an abridged form of a larger paper entitled Boys and CSA, presented at the Elaan awareness programme at Seagull Centre for Media and the Arts , Calcutta, on July 14, 2007.

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