Harish Iyer, Co-founder Jimme Foundation and the only Indian to be featured in the World Pride Powerlist, opens up about his trauma as a child sexual abuse victim and his journey to healing.
Trigger Warning: The following content includes text with reference to sexual abuse and violence.
“Harish and I caught up with each other at 3 o’ clock one night for this conversation. ‘I am not bitter. My abuse is a part of me. But now the way I deal with it in my power and it empowers me now’, began this child sexual violence survivor who was raped at the age of seven. As we talked for the next two hours, what struck me was his enormous inner resolve, his disarming vulnerability and mostly his deep empathy. Reproduced are some excerpts from that conversation in Harish’s own words.” – Pooja Garg, Founder Chief Editor, The Woman Inc.
I was raped for eleven years. My relative raped me. This is my story, but not all of it.
I was raped at seven till I was eighteen. I was raped by my maternal uncle. And then gang raped as he got other men to rape me. Sometimes it was so bad there was bleeding. My abuser used to get me sanitary napkins to use.
I lived in two parallel worlds which never met each other, not even in illusion.
You are living in abuse and then you try to forget it because you want to live in the illusion that you are living a very normal life. I didn’t have the childhood I desired or deserved, but I continued to live in those moments between pain. I was very observant and imaginative. I created a barrier. I never felt pain during the act, only afterwards. I was constantly in a tussle to not remember. I had compartmentalized my mind into two slots. I lived in two parallel worlds which never met each other, not even in illusion. It was a way of survival for me. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been able to deal with the trauma of what was happening to me, or my family not accepting it.
Jimme licked my tears every time I put my head between his paws and cried.
I had my dog, Jimme. I started speaking to him. I told him everything. I used to put my head between his paws and cry. My dog used to lick my tears every time I cried. Dogs have a habit of sniffing your back, so he knew every time I was raped. I would run to the room, remove my pants and cry and sat down with him. I told him everything, how I was feeling. That started giving me courage. It also helped me put together parts of a jigsaw puzzle of what actually was happening to me. It gave me courage.
My other battle began when I found out I was gay.
I shared with a friend that I was gay. He wrote it on the notice board of the college. My college was extremely homophobic. During this time Jimme died. I tried to commit suicide three times.
One day I shouted out my story at a college fest.
I was petrified of meeting people, and yet I was good at dramatics because there I could be just another character. When I came on stage, everyone was booing. I had my dog with me in spirit. I shouted out to the audience, ‘I was seven when I was raped, and wow it felt so good!’ After that I threw the mic and ran away to cry publicly for the first time. After about ten minutes, I was escorted back to the stage and the whole crowd gave me stand ovation.
I wanted to be Jimme to others and listen to them
I decided that I was going to be Jimme to other people. So I started listening. In my situation, I know I would have felt comforted if I knew of another person who had survived. SoI started listening at 18 and I am 41 now. In the last more than 20 years, I have listened to lakhs of survivors.
In the end, only stories uplift other stories.
I also started becoming that one person who shared his story in hope that it could help one other person in a situation like me. Of course it also invited a lot of judgement because 20 years ago, people weren’t talking about male child sexual abuse. My story was the first one they had heard. Many heard in disbelief, many doubted the authenticity of my story because after a point I was not crying when I told the story. In fact a journalist once told me, ‘But you don’t look like a rape victim’. I said, ‘I am sorry but I don’t know what the perfect look of a rape victim is, perhaps you can tell me’. In one of the
I revealed my face for the first time in a TV show. From there on, I have shared my story as much as possible – in TED Talks, Aamir Khan’s Satyamev Jayate etc. The book, Bad Touch, chronicles my life. Amazon has signed me up for my memoir.
It’s hard to tell your story.
Writing and sharing is hard as it rakes up old memories. It’s also hard to listen – it’s very easy to internalize especially if a situation is similar to yours. I have been talking to people for the last so many years, yet I do get affected. But then you have to continue to speak up and share because there would be other children going through abuse.
Therapy and daily reaffirmations help me.
I have tried to have mechanisms in place for what to do if I get depressed, how to pull myself out, especially if stories in similar. When I hear these stories, I don’t keep things to myself. I let it out. Bottling it in is traumatic so I continue to it. I am also into counseling. I have a group of friends. I do a lot of daily affirmations; I also push myself towards positive thoughts. Initially it felt stupid, but later it became a reminder of the things which are good in the world. I don’t let this experience make it bitter. Listening to others also helps me.
I did not go into counseling till I was 39 and had a break-up. Even as we are coming out of abusive relationships, we get sucked into other abusive situations.
I believe in spreading the transformative energy.
Newton said that energy transforms from one form to the other. When we come out of something totally shitty, we are possessed with transformative energy. It should be used to transform other lives. That energy could be traumatic if you keep it to yourself.
I am not bitter, I believe in reformation
My abuse is a part of me. But now the way I deal with it in my power and it empowers me now. I don’t think I have forgotten or forgiven anyone. But I am not associating the person in front of me with the person who raped me yesterday.
I have no regrets. I don’t have anger with me. Sometimes I used to get angry at the loss of anger. I wished I could be angry at someone. I recently met one of my rapists after I appeared on Satyamev Jayate. He apologized and begged that I should send him in jail. I felt no anger; instead I took him to a therapist. I am all for therapy, not just for survivors but also for perpetrators. Our jails cannot confine so many people. There are so many people within our families. Every second child in India is a survivor; every fourth person in India is an abuser. At the same time, I would support any victim who wants their perpetrator to be imprisoned.
I get calls not just from survivors but also abusers. They tell me what they did. It has given me scope to understand that there can be guilt. People can reform, people can change for better. Reformation is definitely something I buy into.
Equip your children with right language
With me, it started in an abusive way. He used to beat me. But there are also cases where children are given a chocolate and made to feel like a little massage down there. So telling the child it’s wrong will not help. It’s the responsibility of the parents to tell your child before he gets the first experience. Teach them to call parts of the body by their correct name. Equip the child with the language. What does the child come and tell you? It’s important that we foster an open culture. The onus is on parents and teachers. Children don’t need to be only mothered well, they also need to be parented well – whatever the composition the family, whoever calls themselves a parent.
In LGBTQ, Q also stands for questioning
Coming out to yourself is more important than coming out to the world. It’s important to be authentic to yourself. Even if that means that you are questioning your sexuality. Even when you don’t know, even when you don’t want to identify yourself, that is also a valid phase to be in. Even confusion is valid. And that phase could be lifelong where you don’t want to slot yourself in any of the boxes. In LGBTQ, Q also stands for questioning. It’s important to be at peace with yourself.
Not every parent accepts. Some are open-minded, but not everyone. So give parents some time, be patient – they also need to unlearn heteronomativity and learn transgenderism or homosexuality. Unlearning takes more time than learning.
Families of choice are so important when you feel alone
Loneliness can be hard when you are exploring yourself. More people should be taught the concept of families of choice. Of course we need to be independent, but we also are also social beings. We need company. That’s where foster families come in for support and care. My house is like an ashram. In LGBT community, there are men who say they are my daughter or my mother. We live in this make-believe world where we build these foster relationships irrespective of gender. These are all beautiful relationships of choice.
Harish Iyer is an Equal Rights Activist and an active voice for a number of causes. He is the only indian national to feature in the World Pride Powerlist a list of the most influential LGBT people in the world. He has won awards for his work with survivors of sexual assault. He is an ardent animal lover and is the co-founder of The Jimme Foundation, an organisation that stands for human welfare and animal welfare alike.