Book Review: Bitter Chocolate

bitter_chocolateBitter Chocolate is book by a journalist Pinki Virani, who has also authored a critically acclaimed novel Aruna’s Story. Bitter Chocolate is a book about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in India, interspersed with facts, figures and several real-life accounts. Pinki candidly informs that she herself has been the victim of child abuse. Throughout the book, the focus of the book remains the child who is victim of CSA.

The book discusses what CSA entails, and its socio-cultural-legal aspects. It can be distressing to read the book at times, given the nature of subject and the fact. In fact, Smita wrote in her comments on this blog that for this reason she has not been able to bring herself to read the book. I completely understand, but we can’t refuse to face the reality because it is starkly dark.

CSA is not new to World at large. Maya Angelou, the author of her award-winning autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a CSA victim was so traumatised that she stopped talking till she became an adult. Virginia Woolf is no stranger to CSA, having been sexually abused in her childhood by her two stepbrothers, Gerald and George Duckworth. Singer Carlos Santana, mystery writer Edgar Allan Poe and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock also have one thing in common: they have suffered from CSA. Just because they tasted success in the end, doesn’t mean all CSA victims turn out right without repercussions. Author has accounted for this with help of real-life cases and experiences that I will not repeat here.

Never mind the title, this is not a book review. For the purpose of public interest, I will put across some facts about CSA from the book. I believe it is a must for all of us to read it to protect children (maybe our future children) in our family, protect their childhood.

1. What is CSA? According to Driver and Droisen in 1989, CSA can be defined as: Any sexual behaviour directed under a person under 16 years of age without that person’s informed consent. Informed consent. How do you make sure that under-16 kid is capable of informed consent? This is the very reason why it is also difficult sometimes to get a conviction from legal standpoint.

The youngest victim of CSA was a six-month old who was admitted into hospital with ruptured genitals.

2. It is a myth that home is safest place for the child. Fathers, brothers (no, I don’t mean only step brothers), uncles, cousins and even grand fathers have been convicted of CSA. So, listen to your child. Perpetrator for CSA can be anyone who has access to children: swimming instructor, physical education/yoga instructor, teacher, adolescent/adult servants, priest, or a worker in NGO. Anyone. This does not mean you must suspect everyone, but you must be alert and not distrust your child when he/she tells you anything about it.

3. CSA is not restricted to any class. Do not dismiss it as a ‘lower-class’ phenomenon. It exists as much in middle and upper classes. As per a survey conducted on 600 English speaking middle-class and upper-class women:

– 76% were sexually abused in childhood
– 40% were sexually abused by a family member
– 71% were sexually abused by relatives and friends

4. CSA is not restricted to gender. As I mentioned, Carlos Santana/Hitchcock and Poe have also been victims. Boys are as susceptible as girls to CSA. According to Indian Police records (which are hugely minimised), 40% girls are CSA victims and 25% guys are CSA victims.

It is also not necessary that only men are perpetrators, sometimes perpetrator can be a woman. Yes, such women exist, though they are only under 10%. They can be older women ‘initiating’ young boys into sex, a female teacher and sometimes a mother. Movie like Graduate might make it seem this ‘initiation’ exciting or romantic but it can be rather traumatic for the child. There is nothing ‘sissy’ about a sexually abused boy feeling the trauma.

5. A CSA experience can affect a child’s sexuality and personality, the impact is seen even in adult life. 30 days in September by Mahesh Dattani is such a play that goes on to depict how two CSA victims develop differently. I clearly remember that after the play, a CSA victim, now an adult, had came up to the audience and confessed how his experiences have led on a bout of both sexual frigidity and promiscuity in his life. Bitter Chocolate also explains how women turned to lesbianism as they couldn’t bear to have any sexual relationship with the male sex, perpetrator of her abuse. And vice versa. Nothing is more traumatic than a heterosexual trapped in a gay body.  But that doesn’t mean all gays and lesbians identify their sexual identity because they suffered CSA. All the book says is that CSA does impact the victim’s sexuality.

Some women, who suffered CSA, sometimes cling to insufficient men or inadequate relationships with men in their adult life. Even a small CSA encounter can do that to you. This is true, I can say from the experiences of my two of my friends.

I was in college when I met this school friend of mine after a gap of several years. Unfortunately, at the same time my, this beautiful friend got in a traumatic relationship with this ugly giant. Despite all the woes, she clung to him. She had completely transformed from a confident gal to this emotionally clinging woman. No matter what I/or her other friends did, we couldn’t get her to put stop. She in those days, after meeting this guy, did tell me of her CSA experience as a baby. She still had blackened kind of memory, Hers was a one-time small encounter where perpetrator was promptly caught, within 10 minutes. But the fact that she still remembered it was significant, key to her behaviour in her relationship. Of course, I didn’t figure out the connection then. I was only 18 and she was only 20. But her counsellor did, although much later. Now she is a happily married woman.

You can’t determine how CSA may impact a child, but there are also resilient children who with timely intervention lead a happy life.

These were 5 important points of CSA. I will write more about CSA later, from the book. One of our friends, Amyth, is part of a NGO, Elaan that deals with this issue of child sexual abuse. Please hop over to his Elaan blog to show your support.

P.S: A brief key to the book

You can read elaborate definitions, inclusions of CSA on page 6, symptoms of CSA on pages 8-9, detailed impact of CSA on page 38, laws pertaining to CSA on pages 136-139, prevention of CSA on pages 160-162 and what to do if you are faced with CSA on pages 171-178 in the book Bitter Chocolate.

40 Responses to “Book Review: Bitter Chocolate”

  1. 1 Chirag January 14, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    Good thing is At least now CSA is being talked about. That is good. Try to get this.

  2. 3 baghishehzada January 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm

    CSA is the ghastliest and darkest of crimes IMHO because it happens to the most defenceless amongst us;children.The veil of trust ,once ripped open, can rarely if ever be repaired;the trimphant victims of CSA re actually few and far in between.

    Any dialogue on this is useful and an eye opener for all,who pretend that it doesn’t happen.

  3. 4 Smita January 14, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    Pot your mention of the book in your post I have been searching for it and even placed an order but they say it is out of stock….

    Will get it soon and will surely read it…

    Last week I had finished reading this books “If Am foudn Missing or Dead” it is about the abuse which two girls face first at the hands of their father then husband & BF. It is an autobiograohical book and is a painful read despite the fact that the mentions are subtle nd not at all graphic…..

    It takes guts for people to come out & talk about these things. In countries Like India we have far more constraints.

  4. 5 Reema January 14, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    very nice post! Have u seen the movie Silent Fall? Its a good movie.

  5. 6 Dev January 15, 2009 at 10:03 am

    It’s a very good post Poonam. You are doing a great service by talking about a very important subject. I believe that in the recent years there has been lot of awareness regarding CSA and that has helped people, especially parents of young kids, to keep guard on all possible predators. But, one fall out of this has been seeing every person as possible molestor by some over cautious parents. I dont really blame them but I feel sad when sometimes you wanna hug a kid, not well known to you, but you step back as you are not sure how that will be taken by the kid’s parent.

  6. 7 Pradyot January 15, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    What do you do about a 14 year old girl, possibly disgruntled by stressed out struggling, rural , illiterate parents who “vanishes” with a 40 year old daily labourer from the neighbourhood, and word comes in that they are headed for the metroplis — and flesh market — of Delhi? The police write an FIR after a month of dawdling and after facing pressure from local lawyer groups. What does the girls anguished impoverished brother or father do when the police ask them for a hired car to persue any investigations?

    Uncommon story?

    Possibly far more rampant in the unletterd majority of “incredible india” than urban stories factored into studies on the socio-political-legal aspects of CSA today.

  7. 8 Poonam Sharma January 15, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    @Chirag: Nope, many people are not still talking enough about it. WordPress blog stats show me that this post has been read more than 100 times in 2 days, yet there are only 6 comments. Rest find this topic too harsh/insignificant to comment. I don’t know what it is, but my more frivolous post easily get more comments than this.

    @Baghishehzada: Yes, Children – the most innocent of all are victims. In fact, in most cases, a ‘responsible’ adultt and eventually other adults are made aware of it, yet they choose to remain silent, sometimes failing to stop connection b/w perpetrator and victim. In fact, silence what keeps CSA undetected in the system.

    @Reema: No, I haven’t watched Silent Fall. I presume it is about CSA? I will try to catch up.

    @Dev: I understand what you mean when few over zealous folks are suspicious. I did write there is no reason to be suspect but all the reason to be vigilant and actually listen to the child. However, I would say being suspicious is only a small disadvantage of awareness about CSA, in the interests of innocent children.

    @Pradyot: Yes, we can not claim to not be aware of both child trafficking and corrupt police. I can say, from my own experiences, how reluctant police is to investigate. The case you mention interestingly brings focus to another point made in my post, how do you make sure the child-below-16 is capable of an ‘informed consent’?

  8. 9 Oxy January 15, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Hmmm, quite an informative one… aptly put together Poonam. Bravo!!!

    Have you heard of term “Stockholm Syndrome”?

  9. 10 Solilo January 16, 2009 at 4:06 am

    My first time here. Very informative post.

    I know a case of CSA on a 2 month old. I know it is horrific. It was reported that in Delhi, the servant took the newborn out and the child died immediately.

    According to research done by Indian today (couple of years back when I read), almost 85% of girls experience some sort of CSA. In some form. Some never realize it, some keep quiet and take the scar for entire life. A good friend of mine remains unmarried because of the same reason. She has written a post for Blank noise project.

    Oxy: Yeah. Stockholm Syndrome is when someone get used to a situation or person like couple of years back an American girl was comfortably living in with her kidnapper that she didn’t even bothered to go back to her parents even when she could.

  10. 11 Nita January 16, 2009 at 10:03 am

    I read this book a couple of years back and its a very hard hitting book.

  11. 12 Oxy January 16, 2009 at 4:07 pm

    @ Solilo, Exactly and more so the victim gets emotionally attached to the victimizer. Usually it is used for the hostage situation but of late this has been used in context of any such similar situation. My usage here was to make a point that in few cases of CSA, the victim might eventually get emotionally attached and possibly start loving his/her abuser. It might not start as ‘informed consent’ as mentioned by Poonam but in due course the probability (though very rare) of it turning into ‘informed consent’ cannot be ruled out..

    @ Poonam, Please do not think I do not have any sympathy whatsoever with the abusers by taking this article in diff direction. All I am saying is it could be a possibility as it happened in the case of someone I know very closely.

  12. 13 Oxy January 16, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Ah, a typo there…. My bad…Correction: I meant ‘Please do not think I have any sympathy whatsoever with the abusers’.

  13. 14 Poonam Sharma January 16, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    @Solilo: Yes, that too I have read during my research sometimes the child does not realise it. One girl actually told her counsellor: Maine socha sabke papa aise hi pyar karte honge.

    @Oxy: I completely understand what you are trying to say (about Stockholm Syndrome). But sometimes victims, in retrospect, feel guilty about ‘enjoying’ abuse and also for their feelings for the abuser.

    Another thing as per book, mostly child abuses too have been abused in their childhood or come from emotionally deliquent environment, though that does not fit for all of them. So, victims might feel symthay for the abusers in some oerverse way. The persoon you know who you think could be facing this, did they break free yet?

    Interestingly, this book Bitter Chocolate doesn’t mention Stockholm Syndrome at all.

    @Nita: Yes, the book is hard-hitting definitely.

  14. 15 Arpit January 17, 2009 at 12:09 am

    day before yesterday only i was watching “page 3 ”
    and if you remember the last scene where this man was caught sexually abusing a child……….i felt horribly sick
    it was just an imitation but i really felt like punching his face
    abusing a child just to satisfy your instant lustful gratification is the biggest sin of all
    somewhat such matters disturb me a lot……(so the reason for the above reaction)
    i dont know if i had want to read this book or not…
    but the reality is harsh…..i think many dont even disclose it to their parents for the fear of being beaten, scolded or being held guilty ( when they were not at the wrong side)

  15. 16 Arpit January 17, 2009 at 12:12 am

    off topic : thanks poonam for displaying the torch on your sidebar

  16. 17 Amit January 17, 2009 at 6:27 pm

    I have not come across a person who have been abused but one incident which really shook me up was that of Josef Fritzl’s.
    Its a topic about which parents have to keep their eyes and ears open and listen to what their children tell them. Its very similar to talking to your child about sex. Embarrassment only complicate things in such cases.

  17. 18 Nikhil January 19, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I dunno if I will be able to sit through the book, though my heart goes out to the victims of CSA… I once read a similar book, I forget the title, which narrates a fictitious incident of a child being abused… It moved me…

  18. 19 Poonam Sharma January 19, 2009 at 3:10 pm

    @Arpit: yes, I remember the scene. It was only after that scene, I remmeber that character’s face. Now when I see him in other roles, I associate him with that scene. Actually why some kids can disclose and the guilt they feel after disclosing such things is worthy of another post. Most parents dont inform their kids, they dnt even give name to the private parts, so child has no vocabulary to explain. Rather parents teach that is shame shame, so when a child is abused, he feels guilty, shame. That is what that makes abuse harder.

    Don’t thank me for torch, I shud ahve done it long ago, but my laziness kept me.

    @Amit: yes, I remember your posts that incest. These things are so gory that you want to turn your face away, but turning your face away is no solution. THis educstaion about CSA is importnat for every parent.

    @Nikhil: Pink Virnai has not written the graphic details, and real stories are also factual, but yes, who subject ltogether makes it grim. 😦

  19. 20 Man of Roma January 19, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    There is also a lot of child abuse in my country. My mother told me some stories she heard. Awareness in Europe was though stimulated only some decades ago, when in Belgium some horrible stories of pedophiles were revealed (which involved some mysterious and powerful people who were protected by the police itself: a dreadful thing which is now a bit blurred in my memory) and which hit hard the public opinion. From those horrible episodes onwards the police is hitting hard, but A LOT is still to be done.

  20. 21 Arpit January 19, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    i think you are right poonam . mostly parents are not that open to talk to children about these issues as they see it disgraceful and consider that it could ruin their child’s mind.and this is the reason for that inner guilt, when child learns of these issues either when he /she is actually victimized or from the peer group, news etc
    so the consequences do follow like a victim of child abuse ending his life, feeling guilty , cutting away from the rest of the world
    really child abusers are insane and dont deserve to be called as humans
    oh its okay, its never too late

  21. 22 Smita January 19, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    No reply for me 😦

  22. 23 Poonam Sharma January 20, 2009 at 11:09 am

    @Smita: Sorry, unintentionally I missed yuor comment. When you get the book and read, write your own review. I can understand your observations about this autography, this book too is not graphic, yet it is stressful to read it at time, due to the sensitivity of the subject being discussed.

    @ManofRoma: Yes, Police is hitting hard on paedophiles, even on Internet world over. In my country, awareness has not set in, police is good at dragging the cases under the rug, they discourage you from reporting. GOa has become haven of sex tourism, infact western paedophiles prefer to extradite their case here to take advantage fo slow laws here.

    @Arpit: Most CSA abusers have some kind of mental disorder, but others are plain *ast***s. If we have not been able to prevent CSA, we should be able to give the abused child the required care. Sadly, as per book, we lack there too due to ignorance.

  23. 24 Man of Roma January 20, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    GOa has become haven of sex tourism

    It was already when I was there almost 30 years ago. In fact I liked all about Goa, except the sex (and drug) weirdoes, who, at that time, were mainly Westerners. But I guess it is nothing to be compared to places like Thailand or Santo Domingo.

  24. 25 Amyth January 21, 2009 at 12:35 am

    That is one detailed post. Too bad it is a tabboo amongst the earlier generation. I wonder how many children would be silent victims of the trauma merely because they are unable to express themselves freely.

    Thanks for the mention and blogging about it – I need to read the book..

  25. 26 Poonam Sharma January 22, 2009 at 12:03 pm

    @Manofroma: yes, it must have been 30 years ago. This was not so well known then, now it is common knowledge.

    @Amyth: Sure do read the book, I would want to read your reactions about it. Do have any knowledge of any sex education program? online or offline?

  26. 27 Amyth January 26, 2009 at 7:12 am

    @ Poonam,

    Nop. No knowledge as such of any online programs on sex ed. But I will try to find out about online resources on Child Sexual Abuse and let you know.. Will speak to the folks at Elaan.

    Sure, Amyth, I will wait for you to find something.

  27. 28 Indyeah February 22, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    Read your post today.And to be honest I too have avoided picking up this book.When I see it at a bookshop,I turn and move on as if I havent seen it.
    But I realise I need to read it.
    Because of these words..”I believe it is a must for all of us to read it to protect children (maybe our future children) in our family, protect their childhood.”

    Sure, do share your reflections with me when you read the book. I do intend to create a sex education program for teens. Your inputs will be valuable. 🙂

  28. 29 Paul Sunstone February 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    I became very interested in CSA after my second wife revealed to me she’d been abused as a child. I have reason to believe her abuse was a causal factor in her Borderline Personality Disorder, and I think the fall out from that abuse contributed to the break up of our marriage. Consequently, I no longer think CSA is just a crime against its immediate victims. It is instead a crime against all of us.

    Paul, I can understand what you mean when you say CSA is a crime against all of us. CSA does impact the people who are associated with the victims. I am sorry to know about your pain in your realtionships.

  29. 30 Biju Mathews February 27, 2009 at 12:20 am

    Well researched!! The statistics given here are really disturbing. I shudder at the thought of someone close to me going through this trauma. People should become bold enough to target people their age/power and not strike at some innocent weak thing!

    Thanks for letting us know about the book, will try to get a copy and read

    Keep Blogging!!

  30. 31 Kiran March 23, 2009 at 10:47 pm

    Hi Poonam,

    I arrived here from Nita Kulkarni’s blog. I just finished reading this book a couple of weeks back, and yes – it is hard-hitting to say the least. However, I am glad that the topic is coming out into the open, and is going beyond the whispered conversations. What is really needed if any meaningful progress has to be made in tackling this issue is:

    1) Admitting to the existence of this issue in our seemingly Godly society
    2) Making the laws more stringent
    3) Reforming society (and by society, I do not mean the potential abusers alone!)

    I have reviewed the book here.

    Hi Kiran, thanks for coming by and leaving your comment. I read your review and liked it a lot. I will add your link here as well.

  31. 32 Mahendra March 24, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Thanks for spreading the awareness. I’d written about this about two years back, and am frustrated with helplessness about this issue.

    Mahendra, I will then look through your blog. CSA survives through silence. I have long since decided to create a awareness program on CSA (I am a training designer by profession.) But so far, I haven’t taken action steps yet. I will soon. Like you, I too have been frustrated about it. It is not good to know how mind-fucking this CSA can be. 😦

  32. 33 swati May 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    This book is an amazing effort to awaken us to the cruelities happening in and around us.
    I had tears rolling down my eyes while reading every word…This book was not available in Ludhiana so i ordered it at Jallandar and got it by courier.
    I wanted to read this at any cost and now gift it on Bdays to others to awaken them all…

  33. 34 Smitha June 11, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    I was directed here by Indyeah and am I glad!

    I have read so much on CSA and as the mother of a three year old, it is one of the things that scare me..

    I am just waiting to get hold of this book.

  34. 35 Smitha June 11, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    Sorry, the comment got submitted before I could complete it.

    Just wanted to add that you have brought out so many relevant facts that people tend to ignore!

  35. 36 monikamanchanda November 23, 2010 at 4:59 pm

    Guess what I was doing a google for this book today as wanted to send a review to a friend and landed up at ur blog… according to my view this book shld be a part of parenting bible

  36. 38 Nidhi April 18, 2011 at 10:10 am


  1. 1 15 Authors That Have Influenced Me « Visceral Observations Trackback on November 20, 2010 at 4:58 am
  2. 2 Bitter Chocolate Review by _alps « CSA Awareness Month Trackback on April 17, 2011 at 2:02 pm

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