William Shakespeare’s famous quote “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet” has fueled a desire in the power of names. Enough ink has been spilled on the viability of the quote. Parents nowadays frantically search for unique names for their children. After all, naming endows an entity with distinct identity. It seems that it’s all in the names.

My concern is with the names of the private parts in India, how parents deal with it and how teaching children the exact names of their genitals can eventually help curb the menace of increasing sexual abuse among young children.

Our society is reluctant to talk about sex related matters or crimes openly and most issues and debates are shrouded under secrecy.  The knowledge of body, its parts and its functions are literally as well as metaphorically hidden. All name assigned to the private parts more or less go tangential to the actual biological names of the genitals. Euphemistic and vague expressions are often put to use like “ding dong”, “willy nilly”, “thing”, “that part”, “down there”, “wahaan”, “neeche” and the jabberwockian list goes on. There is a fear of uttering the exact names. There is a huge element of shame associated with body parts in India.

Child Sexual Abuse in India

Won’t teaching the correct names of the genitals make children more aware of their bodies and they’ll be less hesitant in talking about it? Every third female and not to forget even male child suffers sexual abuse in India. Children are hesitant to talk about the abuse they suffer for two reasons. First, lack of communication with parents and second, lack of actual tangible terminology to use for their body parts which is further linked with shame of the body.

The issue of the naming of the private parts feeds into both the factors. Thus, with correct training and awareness on the part of the parents the sexual abuse among children can be greatly handled.  What is most lamentable in such cases of sexual abuse is the inability and reluctance on the part of the young children to report the instance. In most cases, it is only when a child grows up that he or she relates his or her ordeal. One needs to avoid this delay in reportage.

What Needs To Be Done?

Sexual crimes will be readily reported if the child knows how to name each and every body part as scientifically as possible. My two-year-old son has been taught to use the word “penis”, “bum”, etc. I have not associated these words or the genitals with anything shameful. When he is naked, I do not laugh in the clichéd Indian expression “shame shame . . hawwww”. But I have also taught him to cover his body; he must be aware of nudity and how it is unacceptable in civilized society. In addition, the difference between good and bad touch has to be taught to a child as early as possible. Thus, children need to be made aware of their bodies and its parts without any delay.

(Dr. Sapna Dogra completed her B.A and M.A. in English Literature from University of Delhi. She holds a PhD from Jawaharlal Nehru University. She can be reached at sapnardm@gmail.com.)

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