Growing up, I used to be a kid with chubby weeks (actually a chubby kid!). Random uncles and aunties would feel that they had every right to pull my cheeks while blurting out “Aww, so sweet!” or plant sloppy kisses on them. If my parents, especially Ma was anywhere in the vicinity, she would politely but sternly ask them not to do that because it hurt my cheeks. Well, consent and children were completely unrelated words at that time. But eventually, I turned out to be quite a gundi and very soon learned how to keep such people at bay.
Child molestation is the sad reality of every generation. There has been a steep rise in the number of such cases over the years with the level of violence becoming horrific, to say the least. I personally feel that even earlier, most of such cases were brushed under the carpet because the perpetrator, in most of these cases was someone close to the family.
The concept of consent was introduced to me quite early on in my family. My parents would often say that I had every right to stay away from doing anything that made me uncomfortable. Even at my in-laws, my husband grew up with a strong sense of seeking consent. So, it was but natural that after Tuneer was born, the same idea of consent would be passed on to him.
It started with me stopping people from pulling his cheeks. While a few understood the reason, others judged me as an overprotective mother. Once he started preschool, I taught him how it was perfectly okay for him not to give anyone a hug or kiss, if he didn’t wish to. Sr. T thought it was too early to teach him these things. But I was an anxious mother trying to give a blanket of security and a cushion of trust around my little boy.
It was a pleasant surprise when the boy was taught the concept of good touch and bad touch in his preschool this year in January. I decided to take it a step ahead and teach him the importance of saying no, as and when needed. “Say no when you don’t want to do something or you don’t think it is the right thing to do. And if you are still asked to do it, be loud and clear in saying that no means no.” I had grilled this into his head with respect to situations that might make him feel uncomfortable. But what followed next was definitely not what I had in mind while teaching consent to my boy.
A couple of days later he had grown to understand the reasons to say no. On a cold evening, we were revising the customary questions for an upcoming interview. He answered the first few questions related to the name and preschool correctly before we moved on to recite a rhyme. The kid has shown immense talent in making a fusion mix of multiple rhymes. His favorite way to annoy me is by using two lines from the rhyme ‘Twinkle, twinkle, little star’ and the next two from a different rhyme ‘twinkle, twinkle, traffic light’ because according to him, that sounds like much more fun. We have had many an argument on this DJ mode of his but it usually ended with the boy answering it right after a severe scolding from me. Not this time though. With a smile on his face, he started,
‘Twinkle twinkle traffic light
In the corner shining bright,
Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are
Red means stop
Yellow means slow
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Green means start
Now you may go.”
This annoyed me to the bits and the conversation that followed went like,
Me: “I have told you many times before that you need to say one of these rhymes. What kind of khichdi mix is this?”
Tuneer(giggling): “I am not comfortable saying one rhyme. No.”
Me (stunned on the usage of the word comfortable): “Eh, listen you need to learn and say only those things that are being taught to you. Don’t invent your own theories.”
T: “No means No.”
By now, I thought I was going to have a heart attack next as I looked at my progeny with wonderstruck eyes. The child was grinning from ear to ear. Little did I realize that the conversation that day was just the tip of the iceberg. The statement ‘No means no’ turned out to be his favorite and was used for everything under the sun. It didn’t take me much time to figure out this was Sr. T’s brain at work.
For the next few days, they didn’t leave out any opportunity to twist its usage. For example, every time a particular dish was cooked which both of them had resented (bhindi, lauki etc), they would smirk and say “I am not comfortable eating that. No, I am not going to eat it. No means no.” Sr. T went one more step ahead and asked if I had taken their consent before telling our cook didi to make that vegetable dish.
But a mother always has enough tricks under her sleeves to put an end to such antics. The moment I refused to buy any more Peppa pig books for Junior T, the word consent went back to having a proper significance in his dictionary. As for Sr. T, I am giving him a taste of his own medicine these days by refusing to take my daily pills. After all, he never sought my consent before prescribing them and now I feel uncomfortable popping them into my mouth? Tit for tat, huh!
While this post found some unexpectedly funny twists, I would want to emphasize on the need to teach kids the concept of consent and good touch, bad touch at the earliest. Keeping them safe and empowering them to face the world is the need of the hour especially when the world around us reeks of apathy and barbaric behavior.
I hope you had a good time reading today’s post. I will be back with a new post again tomorrow. Until then, you can read my previous posts from A to M here.