Purnima Govindarajulu is a 53-year-old conservation biologist, who lives in Canada. She was sexually abused as a child in Chennai, by her cousin’s father.
Speaking to The Quint, she tells her story of trauma, her fight with guilt, and her campaign that aims to change the law, allowing child sexual abuse survivors to file a case as adults. Here is her story, as told.
My favourite memory of Chennai as a child would be the beach! Playing in the big, big waves. Picnics under the moonlight. Eating mangoes in my grandmother’s house.
So, I was sexually abused as a child. I don’t remember when it started, but most of it was from when I was 10 till I was thirteen.
It was numerous times. It was day. Night. And as a child I had no idea…I didn’t know that this had a name.
I thought I was evil. I thought I was bad. I somehow made this happen to myself.
But at the same time I also realised that there was something dirty about it.
I also thought that if I resisted, other people in my family would also suffer the consequences.
So it was a very complicated time. A complicated relationship.
And I didn’t know that I wasn’t alone in the world undergoing sexual abuse.
One Child is abused in Chennai every 48 hours.
When I finally felt I had some power… when I was about 13 years old… this was when I thought I made the abuse stop… I basically, you know said ‘NO’.
I finally thought I could say no. And, my abuser looked at me and said, ‘Oh, if you don’t want it, I won’t do it.’
It shocked me. ‘Oh my God! I could have made this stop.’
And so I felt guilty. I was suicidal through my teenage years. But it’s only later I realised he was just messing with my mind.
I was thirteen. I had reached sexual maturity. He had stopped being interested in me. He had started abusing another cousin. It was his final… hurt. His final thrust. his final degradation of me as a person… was that comment.
It took a long time. It took a very long time. Guilt was the one thing that took me a very long time to get over.
Return to Chennai, to Take a Stand
So it’s been a growing process. One is the realisation that I wasn’t alone. Second is the realisation that I wasn’t responsible. And then in my late 20s, a very strong desire to protect my nieces from the same thing.
So I told my family. There was resistance. It was a difficult subject to talk about. At that point, I told myself I’ve been given the responsibility of protecting other children to my family. I’ve undergone the trauma. So now let them protect the other children.
I just got this gut feeling. My thinking got even deeper. How do I now make repeat offenders stop? And my feeling is, repeat child molestors don’t stop. Society has to make them stop.
So I went and talked to the Canadian police. And they said, if this had been in Canada, we’ll treat you exactly like that. So they took my statement, they did all the interviews.
But of course Canada had no jurisdiction. The crime happened in India. At that point the perpetrator was an Indian.
But what they (Canadian Police) said at that point was, “Take this report that we have prepared. Take it to the Indian police, and they will be able to launch a case.”
Trying to File a (Lost) Case; Problem With POCSO
I came in 2016 and tried to launch a case. And that’s when I realised that the laws in India do not permit reporting at a later time. A lot of time had passed since the abuse. And they just…there might be some provisions, but in general, there is no way to file a complaint.
It doesn’t look like a statute of limitations, but they’re not clear about it. It says nothing about when you have to report. But throughout that section it only refers to the child reporting, or the caregiver of the child reporting… teacher, parent, whoever. And a child is defined as someone under 18. So there’s no clear prohibition from an adult reporting. But there’s no clear instruction.
One in every two children as been sexually abused as a child.
And so, I decided to launch a campaign in Change.org. Talked to other people. And since then, lots of other people have expressed the desire that they would like it to stop.
And that is the campaign that I am passionate about. That’s when I met Maneka Gandhi. And she understands that there is a gap in the legislation and she is willing to throw in her support. And MP Ms Kanimozhi came with me and she also understands it.
. @KanimozhiDMK says “survivors of #ChildSexualAbuse rarely find courage to report till they become adults. I along with survivor Purnima, urged @Manekagandhibjp to support adult survivors to report their abusers. Sign Purnima's @ChangeOrg_India petition: https://t.co/IHOKZVkhAz pic.twitter.com/aJNTovSnhe— Change.org India (@ChangeOrg_India) January 29, 2018
The Good Fight
So it’s almost educating society, which then brings political will, which then brings training to the police and the judiciary, and hopefully will make this stop for the children of the future.
And in a way I feel, sometimes rarely in life you are given an opportunity to make a big difference in the lives of a lot of people. And you cannot run away from it. you have to stand and make use of that opportunity.
And so I feel, for all the people who haven’t been given this opportunity, I’d like to raise my voice, and make the change on their behalf.