In a recent interview to Mumbai Mirror, actor Daisy Irani has revealed that she was raped and beaten with a belt at the age of six. Irani is one of the most iconic child artistes in India. Her short curly locks and innocent wide eyes instantly come to one’s mind when you think about her roles in films like Naya Daur, Jagte Raho and Boot Polish. But Irani’s childhood was far from the innocent roles she portrayed on screen.
Her enthusiastic mother pushed her into the limelight at the age of four, making her work through multiple shifts in a day. During one such schedule, a man who was supposed to protect Irani raped her. The incident happened when Irani was in Madras with her guardian “Uncle Nazar”, shooting for the film Hum Panchhi Ek Dal Ke.
Irani recalls, “One night in the hotel room he violated me, hit me with a belt and warned me that he would kill me if I ever told anyone about what had happened.”
Irani’s is a rare account which casts light on rape and sexual abuse of child artistes in the entertainment industry.
It’s not easy being a child actor
Irani made it clear in her interview that a child actor’s life is never an easy one. She says,”Child actors have it tough. In a majority of cases, they have been taken advantage of. Maybe a few have had it easy, but most don’t, really.”
Irani has been part of the industry for most of her life. Hence her words should act as a warning for parents to think twice before pushing their children into the limelight at a young age. Apart from exhaustion that comes from multiple shifts, parents end up robbing their children of a normal childhood. We have all heard stories about how children are forced to perform under hostile conditions in both television and film industry. The production teams and parents seem to care the least about the sexual safety of children on movie or television sets.
For most Indian parents, there is no bigger joy than to watch your child succeed in life. But that success and recognition should not come at the cost of rape or sexual abuse. Many parents also argue that they merely oblige their child’s wishes of becoming a star. It’s such a laughable excuse, because I cannot come up with any other major life changing decision that parents will be willing to make at the behest of their five or six-year-old child.
This brings us to another important aspect of this story — ignorance
Entertainment industry and parents live in denial
Neither the industry, nor parents wants to acknowledge existence of child sexual abuse in the entertainment business
Instead of taking measures against abusers, the industry simply puts a lid on such incidences. There are numerous offenders just waiting to trap children of eager parents. All it takes is an incentive of bigger role or fatter pay-check. It is hard to believe that industry insiders do not have any idea about such shady people. Yet they refuse to take strict actions against predators lurking on their premises, putting the well-being of numerous children at risk.
Parents, on the other hand, just do not want to acknowledge the risk. For them, it is something which happens to other children, that too rarely. Then there are those parents who are so blinded by the desire to make their children famous that they willingly choose to turn a blind eye to such abuse.
It is shameful that predators get away with offences like rape, simply because for many parents fame is a bigger priority than their child’s well-being
As consumers of films and television, it is also our responsibility to question why there are no strict laws to ensure safety of child artistes. But we choose to stay mum. What I fear is that we all – parents, producers, public etc — will only be jolted out of our ignorance after a catastrophe strikes. How many more children will suffer consequences like six-year-old Daisy did, before we realise how giant a problem this is?
Childhood is like the concrete framework on which we built our lives. As we grow up, it is these childhood years, which help us power through bad phases in life. But if those very pillars are rotten by sexual abuse, then does that person ever stand a chance of having a happy adulthood? It took over 60 years for Irani to break the silence about her ordeal. In the end, the high number of child artistes currently working in the Indian entertainment industry motivated her to talk. Hopefully, her account will make parents think twice before going all out for their children’s stardom.
Picture Credit: Hindustan Times
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.
We request you to support our award-winning journalism by making a financial contribution towards our efforts. Your funds will ensure we can continue to bring you amazing stories of women, and the impact they are making and spotlight half the country's population because they deserve it.