I turned 50 last year. A primary school teacher, I have lived a life full of potential on one hand and in the midst of a perfidious family environment on the other.
This is an account of my encounters with sexual abuse/harassment. It also includes the reactions/response of my family (mainly my mother) when I confided in them about the abuse I had faced.
My first memory of being sexually abused is when I was 8. We used to live in the hinterland at the time, my father being posted in one of the hundreds of sleepy towns that abound there. It was a driver who worked for us who took me into the ‘servant quarters’ and abused me one overcast monsoon day, when my parents were out and no other elder was at home.
I felt ‘dirty’ about myself after this incident, which was not an isolated one. These ‘dirty’ things happened atleast 4 more times, each time leaving me feeling ‘guilty’. I tried telling my mother about it by saying I don’t like the driver and not to send him to drop me off at school.
She barely responded and implied that I was being a brat.
We then moved to a bigger town and now in my teens, I would walk for tuitions from our home on a hill to a nearby locality. One day, while taking the usual route back, as I was walking through a narrow lane (gali) in the old town area, I saw a middle-aged, well-built man riding a bicycle approach me from the opposite end of the gali. Thinking nothing of him, I kept walking. But as soon as he was near me, he slammed his hand into my chest, leaving me reeling on the gali floor, gasping for breath and feeling the pain in my chest – a new kind of pain – grow.
As I got older, I realised that it was easier to silently bear the ‘shame’ of being a girl since nothing ever happened to the men or boys who hurt women or girls and to add insult to injury, it was women who were blamed for ‘inviting’ abuse upon themselves. By wearing jeans, by talking to men, by smiling or laughing in public, by having ‘too many’ male friends, by innumerable other ‘reasons’ and ‘excuses’.
One of my lasting memories of the skewed nature of sexual harassment is of my father telling my mother, “Isko nanga karke chaurahe pe khada kar doonga!” (I will strip her naked and make her stand on the public square!) This outburst happened because I wore jeans one day and being of precocious physical growth, I looked far older than my early teens. Also, because some boys of the colony where we lived had started ‘following’ me home from school.
Meanwhile, there was a second cousin in the family who had left his hometown in another state after shooting someone with his countrymade pistol, and had sought refuge in the city where I lived. This man was 10 years older than me. He was very ‘physical’ in his approach and used to attempt to titillate the women of the family. He succeeded 90% of the times (which I realised only after turning 20).
Oblivious to his perversions, I would call him ‘Bhaiya’ (brother). One busy summer day, as I sat studying in my room, he came in and after some small talk, tried to touch me inappropriately. I got up from my desk and barged out of the room, shocked and angry. Later, when I told my mother about the incident, she said, “Arey, uske Papa bhi yehi karte the. Aadmiyon ka nature aisa hi hota hai.” (His Dad also used to do the same. It is men’s nature.)
Years later, this same pervert would tell me to ‘caress’ myself and that he will ‘eat me’ in innuendos. He kept coming back to my house. He still does. My parents know I do not like him but they make me say Hi! to him and vice versa.
A few years into my marriage, which was an unhappy one right from the start, my violent, abusive husband told me something about my father which I still cannot believe is true. During an argument, when he began abusing my father, I asked him to stop and not badmouth my father. In reply, my ex-husband said, “Your father is a creep. He asked me how good you are in bed and whether I have ever used a blow-up sex doll, while we were drinking together last week.”
I took this disclosure with a pinch of salt, since my ex-husband was also a kleptomaniac and very manipulative. But I just cannot forget it.
My parents are very old-fashioned and have great faith in Babas, Sadhus, tantriks and ‘holy’ men. When my marriage was headed towards disaster, they took me to a Baba, on the advice of their good friend. This Baba had a lackey, who took me into a room and asked me to lie down flat on my back. He then proceeded to do sit-ups in front of me, while grunting loudly. In short, it was like emulating a sexual act, without actually doing it.
Shocked beyond words, I told my mother what had happened, with my parents’ knowledge and while they were sitting in an adjoining room. She said, “Woh to naadi dosh theek kar rahe the. Tum har cheez ko galat mat liya karo.” (They were ‘correcting’ your ‘naadi dosh’ – an astrological ‘anomaly’. You misunderstand everything.)
That was the day I decided to stop confiding in my mother and take on these demons myself, completely independently.
I know that whatever I say, my family just won’t give it the requisite attention and won’t feel the severity and trauma of the sexual abuse/harassment that I have faced. Perhaps they don’t want to accept that such things happen.
Perhaps they are not strong enough to confront the perpetrators and demand retribution.
Perhaps they just don’t care enough. Or at all.
What has ended up being their ‘legacy’ to me is an everlasting sense of betrayal.
Although now I don’t hurt the same way as I used to as a teen and during the early part of my marriage, I can never forget being let down and left in the lurch by my ‘own’ family.
I hope my story is an exception and not the rule. But, I know better and I realise that it will find resonance with a large number of women in my country, who might have had similar experiences and similar betrayals and have found their own ways of dealing with it.