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Named one of the most influential gay men in the world by The Guardian this year, 32-year-old Harish Iyer believes he was “set free” when his best friend told his entire college he was being sexually abused at home.

Iyer, the son of a well-to-do doctor and a homemaker was raped between the ages of seven to 18 by a close relative. “The first time he raped me, he forced my mouth on to his penis. If I tried to scream, he would choke me harder,” says Iyer. Soon after, when Iyer’s aunt was away, his uncle crawled into bed with him and sodomised him. “Every time I tried to scream or protest, he would hurt me more. I learnt that the easiest way to make it end was to just stay quiet. After a point, whenever he entered my room, I would just take my clothes off , lie down and wait for it to be over.”

Iyer’s story is the chilling reminder of the statistic unearthed by a Human Rights Watch report on India — 57% children across the country are being abused by adults they know and trust; more than half of these children are male. In the slow and painful process of turning deep personal trauma into a source of inspiration for others, Iyer has taken on a multitude of causes: child sexual abuse, LGBT rights, women’s safety, environmental concerns, and the rehabilitation of survivors from the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai. His life and work have been the inspiration for two films and a book in the making.

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