Fitness Magazine

My Perspective on Sex and Sexual Abuse in India

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Ram
My Perspective on Sex and Sexual Abuse in IndiaLast week Nina presented an insightful article about sexual abuse in Yogaland and provided some great suggestions about ways to avoid sexual predators (Speaking Truth to Power About Sexual Abuse). An anonymous reader had several objections to that article and strongly suggested that YFHA should stop publishing articles regarding sexual abuse. Nina wrote a rejoinder post after dissecting the reader’s question into subparts and providing positive comments and reasons for each of the sub-questions (Re: Your Request that I Stop Writing About Sexual Abuse). There was truth and kindness in Nina’s response for each question and I personally admired the style with which Nina handled this sensitive query. Meanwhile Nina also approached me and asked me to address this issue particularly: “Westerners being fascinated by sex and sexual culture and YFHA is proving this true with so many articles devoted to this topic”. Because I’m an Indian and a male from a “Brahmin” family, Nina asked if I could add in my perspective about sexual abuse in the yoga arena. I was not sure if I could write on this issue truly from my heart. I meditated on this topic and as my heart opened up with the truth I began writing unabashedly. Let me begin by saying that India is a land of contradictions. At least that was how the country was when I was growing up until I left the country in 1992. Since then, I try to visit India each year and though people remark that India in the course of aping the West is now fully Westernized, I don’t buy it as I continue to see contradictions in many facets of life. Growing up in an extended family of Sanskrit teachers and Vedic priests, my brothers and I were taught the four goals or aims of a human life, also known as Purushartha (goals of human pursuit). We were told to lead a life filled with righteousness and morals (Dharma), prosperity (Artha), pleasure & love (Kama), and spirituality (Moksha).As a school student, however, spirituality was a distant land, righteousness was a far-fetched practice, and prosperity was left to the head of the household and the earning member. In contrast, we found ourselves deeply exploring the world of senses and sensory pleasure and Kama to us meant cheap sexual pleasure. Though Kama actually signifies the ultimate aspect of love that did not violate the laws of Dharma (moral responsibility), Artha (material prosperity) and Moksha (spiritual liberation), as teenagers we looked upon Kama as desire, passion, and emotions with sexual connotations. This, despite the fact that sex in India and in majority of the homes was considered taboo. Topics about sex and sexual discussions were considered indecent, especially with family members. Even in schools, sex education was not taught as it faced a lot of opposition from parents and teachers dared not teach the subject. Sex was considered a very personal thing and something that could not be discussed among parents, teachers or elders. And if you are a woman, you are at a complete loss. Girls were not provided with any education about menstrual hygiene and sexual health. I remember the fear and anxiety surrounding my cousins when they experienced their first menstrual period. They were strictly warned about discussing it with anyone. Topics pertaining to menstruation, sexual intercourse, sexual organs, gender identity, feelings of attraction for another person, child sexual abuse, and self-exploration among others were off limits and totally discouraged. Sexual information only percolated through hearsay from senior kids or movie scenes that depicted anything close to sex, including sexual abuse or rape scenes. Herein lies some contradictions. While schools disregarded subjects dealing with sex education and adults firmly pushed such topics into the dark closet, this is the same country that produced the world-famous treatise Kamasutra and this is the same land where majority of the temple facades sported intricately carved sex sculptures. Kissing and sex scenes in movies were censored by the Indian film censor board, but rape scenes and sexual abuse were allowed. And yet the subject of sex was always sidelined and considered morally disgraceful to be discussed openly. Kissing, pecking, or holding a significant other/spouse’s hands in a public place were all considered offensive and any kind of love or affection was confined to just the bedroom and not to be displayed publicly. A convenient reason given is that any talk or discussion about sex would disrupt the “social order, family values and the Indian culture” that has been “pure” since time immemorial. I am still trying to understand the “Indian” social order and the culture. Since our parents did not receive sexuality education themselves and did not discuss their own sexuality issues with others, they did not recognize the need for their children to have a formal, comprehensive education on sex and sexuality. Furthermore, since it was considered taboo, children too felt uncomfortable talking about sex or having conversations in public. This created a major obstacle, for if a child or teenager was sexually abused, the incident was never discussed within the family. And even if parents were aware they did not seek any help, the entire matter was hushed up, and the perpetrator could walk scot free and commit similar abuses on other teenagers. Time and again parents kept insisting that girls/women wear clothes without revealing any part of their body—skimpy clothing was a ticket to sexual abuse or rape. The same practice was true in professional life. Women were teased, abused, or molested at work or other places, but the incidents were rarely brought to light for fear of repercussions. Now, imagine the consequence of having a girl/women in a room with a well-known male doctor, practitioner, teacher, instructor, coach, tutor, trainer or mentor. Or imagine a class with a well-known male personality and all the students vying for his attention? Loose-minded and morally despicable people are spread out in the world and India is no exception. Whoever declared that a yoga guru or a swami from the Himalayas or a world-renowned philosopher could never be a sexual predator is totally mistaken. Such personalities may be delivering an authentic message, but they are not true messengers. If the messenger happens to be a Yoga teacher, the eight limbs of the yoga philosophy gets taught to the students, but the same messenger is not walking the talk. Unable to overcome their temptations, they endanger a student’s life by providing an unsafe environment. Thus, we have heard and are hearing about such gurus and their shenanigans. Time and again, the ego (Ahamkara) of such personalities has always tested these individuals and many have succumbed to material or sensual desires. The myth that there is cultural misunderstanding and sexual abuse is only confined to the West is incorrect. This has happened in the West, it has happened in the East, and India again is no exception. Sexual abuse is not a normal or acceptable behavior, it is a crime. The difference is that in India due to the taboo, sexual abuse is not easily brought to light. So, while the West highlights an abuse case and keeps the story alive through repeated media exposure, Indians in general shy away from writing, reading, or discussing such cases. It may seem an act of hypocrisy, but it is what it is. In the process, the likes of Jois, Bikram, and others may have got dethroned in the west, but in India, and particularly among the yoga community, the public is either muted or neutral (their reaction, “we don’t discuss such cases in public”). So now where does that leave me? Let me confess, when Nina asked me for my comments, initially the “Indian taboo culture” overtook me and I hesitated. As I sat to meditate, I reflected on my own Ayurveda and Yoga classes. The first topic in an Ayurveda student’s journey is Indian Philosophy and one of the six philosophies (Shad darshana) taught is yoga philosophy. Yoga is just not about learning to manage the fluctuations of the mind, but also about desires, thought, and emotions. It is about compassion for ourselves and others, and standing for truth. Furthermore, yoga is also about nurturing, healing, and flourishing at all levels. Going by the principles of this philosophy, I would want to keep these discussions alive for the issues to be resolved and for immoral teachers to be exposed for the safety of other students. The world may move on and such teachers may claim “retransformation,” but students need to be careful. These teachers of fame may “reinvent’ themselves, but old habits, especially sensual habits, die hard. But as yogis we are taught to fill ourselves with hope and so we hope that through these forums and discussions, tainted teachers develop awareness, are able to control their desires and impulses, and drastically change their behavior so they are more in tune with their true nature. As for us, we practice their teachings but not their behavior. We can even move a step ahead of them in the journey to inner realization by, when we are ready, forgiving the individuals who injured our mind and upset our emotional balance. The act of forgiveness can free us from a traumatic past, mitigate any past horrible experience, and allow us to move on with those events cleared from our lives. Subscribe to Yoga for Healthy Aging by Email ° Follow Yoga for Healthy Aging on Facebook and Twitter ° To order Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being, go to Amazon, Shambhala, Indie Bound or your local bookstore.

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