"I was seven years old when he raped me for the first time. It went on until I was about eighteen."
It’s a sad fact that male rape is one of India's most under-reported crimes, and one that remains shrouded in stigma and secrecy. Harrish Iyer, a gay man, educated in the field of medicine, but working for the cause of animal welfare with Humane Society International, has decided to cut through the silence and share his own story and shed light on the still-taboo subject of male sexual abuse.
He professes his love for the mute and misunderstood creatures, as a sense of activism that was ingrained in him from an early age. He was sexually abused since the tender age of 7 years for more than 11 years, by a male relative who visited regularly. It was the events that transpired at this age, which both scarred him for life as well as built the activist ideology that he lives by.
"My uncle was giving me a bath when I was 7 years old, and that's when it first happened. He forced me to give him a blow job and proceeded to have anal sex with me, multiple times. At that point, I didn't know what was happening to me, whether it was ok, whether it was normal. I got so used to it, I would enter his house and lie down on the bed, just wanting it to get over as soon as possible. At 12, I began to get gang-raped by his friends, and I would bleed but keep quite...because what if I wasn't considered 'man enough' to not bear pain?"
The guilt and the shame of the rape, coupled with the childhood innocence that was lost, he developed a deep mistrust and fear for most men. As it became clearer in his teen years that he was attracted towards men, this attraction cast a dark shadow of his abused past that did not let him accept himself. In a world already discriminative against gay men, his past conflicted him in accepting his own sexuality.
"My childhood went by having two worlds where I would not remember the rape until something triggered it off and then I would cry endlessly. I would not enter a male washroom because I was scared that I would be raped again...I grew up having no self esteem."
However, the Harrish you would meet today is an unabashed, outspoken, and bold individual who leaps to the rescue of all the abused victims he comes across, both men and animals. He found solace and comfort with his dog, Jimmy, during the years of abuse.
"It was when I was 17 or 18 that I began to understand that what had been happening to me for so many years was wrong - so one day when he came to jump on me, I kicked him and said no. For the first time in 11 years, I said no to being raped. When I told my mother, she was in shock - she asked me why I hadn't told her. I told her I had given her signs, that I had tried but she never picked up on it. She said, 'I never knew such things could happen with boys' and that was the time I realised that boys and men are the forgotten gender."
Emerging from the closet, he was beginning to deal with ideas of alternative sexuality when he faced the brunt of discrimination for both his sexuality and his abused past. Driven into a very dark phase of his life, he now recalls his attempts at suicide like a distant nightmare. It was later these phases of doubt and depression that internalised to build his strong personality today.
“I have been raped, I have survived. Sadly, my story is not uncommon. It is a still an unspoken reality for many. But I chose to tell it.”
As he chose to share his story with many other survivors of sexual abuse, he emerged as an activist who had himself been a victim. Along with the animal welfare work he does for a living, he is popular within the LGBTQ community for the various community-building programs and counselling initiatives he associates himself with. Displaying his opinion of issues regarding the LGBTQ community he also maintains a column in a local magazine.
Laughing out on the idea of Section 377, he considers it a “no-brainer”. Harish finds it incredulous that, "we are even debating on the rights of what consensual adults are doing in their private space.”
However, he admits the presence of the law gives rise to the appallingly common cases of extortion, threat, abuse and even murder against homosexuals.
Beyond the conversation of the law and the darker underbelly of abuse, he believes that acceptance and a general awareness that would rid stereotyping, could work a long way for the LGBTQ community. As a gay man, he admits he hates being called “sweety” or “babes”. There are many assumptions that need to be ridiculed in the minds of all men, gay or straight. He confesses that the world would cease to be hostile and offensive, if the world could take things in a lighter vein.
From being a victim to emerging as an activist for all living beings, the life of Harish Iyer, goes beyond his sexuality. Admittedly, his alternate sexuality has posed a larger number of questions and doubts that generally accompany the realisation for a homosexual person, especially in an increasingly self-aware society such as our own. Despite the innumerable odds, the smile that wrinkles into the dimples of his face reflect a lighter side to life and a child-like innocence that he never knew.
Stating true for life and his work, encapsulating his beings, he states:
“Living your life, truly and unabashedly is the truest form of activism.”