If you are a woman, or a man who is friendly, understanding, respectful and non-sexist towards the women in your life, you might have heard multiple stories of them getting molested and abused. The saddest part is no matter how varied are the people in any group, when this conversation begins, every one has something to contribute. It can go on for hours without anyone running out of instances.
I was 7-8 years old. We lived in a railway colony. In the evening, all us kids would play right outside the houses. This was the 80s, no traffic, no stress, days of simpler life. 2 blocks from my house was a family with 2 grown college going boys. I used to call them Bhaiyya (Big brother in Hindi). The younger one of them would call me to him every evening, as he sat on the steps outside his building. Talk to me, ask about school and other general stuff. One day he starts talking about this girl in his class, how they talk, spend time after college. Day after day, the story started getting more and more sexual. How they liked holding hands, go to a park. And one final day, he tells me that she wants to him to strip and lie on top of her naked body. He asks me for my opinion on it. I didn’t even understand what lying naked on top of each other meant. This is from the era where we weren’t even taught good touch and bad touch, but I knew something was weird. I felt wrong and dirty and wanted to run away. I told him that he should tell her it’s wrong and went running back to my friends, to never go back and talk to him and ignore him every time he called my name. Sometimes even staying back home, scared to come across him.
A week or so later, I visited another ex-neighbour’s house, who had moved a few blocks away. She asked me about all the other colony people including this man. I think I mumbled something and my body language gave me away. She knew something was wrong and persuaded me to share it with her. I told her I couldn’t say it, she asked me to write it down. I still remember sitting on her dining table and writing it all. She obviously and rightly told my mother who asked me in her typically, strong and always angry sounding way. I backed out, saying I didn’t know what she was talking about. Matter closed. I don’t remember my parents taking any action to protect me. I wasn’t explained anything or told to stay away from that man. But, that’s how things were then. No awareness and an Indian family on top of that. We don’t talk about sex in any form!
Now I know that he was baiting me. It was a classic predator/pedophile behaviour. Gain the child’s trust and then slowly talk about sex as it was something normal. Make them feel like adults, like they understood it and wanted it. To think I narrowly escaped being abused as a child! I was as old as my son is right now. My fingers are shaking as I write this.
I was 12 and on a holiday with my grandparents and sister, visiting their relatives. My extended family scattered across small towns of Tamil Nadu. We reached the small town of Gobichettipalayam in the early hours. We get off a bus and take an auto. There was a young boy, I guess he must have been 17-18 at the stop, standing with the auto guy. I sit in the auto and everyone else comes in after me. There is luggage everywhere, we are sitting all crammed in. This guy, puts his hand through the side, trying to grab my breasts. I didn’t have any! I am 12 for god’s sake. I push my elbow in and pin his hand to the side of the auto. He is forced to run a bit with the auto when it starts moving. I am happy. Glad that I fought him in my own 12 year old way.
Enough? Clearly not. I am not done. This is just the the beginning.
I am 15. My good friend tells me her much older cousin is coming for a few days. The same cousin who has molested her multiple times over the last few years. The earliest instance she remembers is when she was barely 8 or 9. During summer vacation visits he would leap at her whenever there was a power cut, sometimes while there were other people in the room too. She had shared this with her mother and was asked to keep quiet. After all, he was family. They can’t do much. Surprisingly she almost bought into it, she probably found it easier to believe that than accept she was abused. She was almost normalizing it. She was from a community where you are allowed to marry your cousins and so stupidly, she even thought she would marry him one day and then this wouldn’t matter.
I am 18. I travel in the local train to go to college. One day, this old man in his 50s or 60s keeps staring at me, like he is going to lunge at me any moment. As the final stop comes, I see him inching towards me. I know something is going to go down. We are standing in a queue waiting for our turn to get down. He presses himself against me, mumbling something in my ear constantly. I barely understood Telugu then, no clue what he was saying, but we all can take a guess. I turn around and ask him to back off, he doesn’t care. Nobody around us cares. They can all see what’s going on. I start walking fast, hoping to lose him in the crowd, I do for a short while. I notice a RPF (Railway protection force) officer and run to him and tell him what’s going on. And when I turn around, my eyes meet that man’s, he smirks, quickens his pace to come after me. He doesn’t even notice the cop as he is grabbed by the collar and taken away.
I am 18 and my college mate offers to teach me how to drive a car. Takes me to a secluded road and tries to feel me up while my hands are on the steering. I ask him to stop multiple times, he doesn’t. I have to literally jump out of the car. I safely get back home, but I don’t tell the other friends in the group. I can’t get myself to. I am sure, nobody would care about it. After all, I had heard them make inappropriate jokes about other girls in the college. Slowly, I stop hanging out with them for various other reasons too. He is on my FB friend list now. I don’t know why I accepted his request. I wonder if he remembers what he tried or realizes what he did was so wrong.
We are 19. My batchmate in college tells me how he was attacked by a man in the train the night before. How he wouldn’t let go. Grabbing him, touching him. My friend isn’t a puny little chap. He pushes him away and safely makes it back home. But, you know how it is? You are almost paralyzed. Fear grips you. The first instinct is to run and protect yourself.
I am 19. Going back home from college during summer holidays. It’s broad daylight. Jam packed train. People sitting even on the upper berths, open windows, people and hawkers walking around all the time. I am on the window seat, typically with my walkman on and reading a book. A man in his 40s is sitting across me. The TT comes, I show my ticket, he misses looking at it in the whole crowd and walks away. I am confused, wondering if I should run behind him. My eyes meet this man’s, he smiles and mouths “It’s ok” in Hindi. I give a tiny smile and go back to my book. The train is at a station. After a while, from the corner of my eye I see something is moving, something is wrong. I see he has unzipped his pant and is masturbating and staring at me and giving me his creepy ass smile throughout. My heart stops. I feel scared, dirty and nauseated. I pretend to not see him. And then, something suddenly clicks in my mind. I think, today he is masturbating right in the open and if I don’t fight, one day strengthened by this he will probably rape a girl. I stand up and start screaming. Calling him names pointing at his you know what. He stands up, doesn’t even zip up and walks away like nothing happened. There are families around me, clueless to what has happened. Wives are nudging their husbands, asking them to find out what’s wrong. One of the meekly asks in Hindi, “what happened?” I don’t know how to explain it. I say, “That asshole had his pants open.” From that moment on they ignore me, don’t even look at me like I have the plague. My heart is pumping. I am angry but I am also scared. I expect him to lunge from the window and grab at me. I hug myself tight and sit till the train starts moving again.
I am still 19. I am dating this boy. I go to the cool parties at his father’s office. It’s free alcohol, food, music, fun and very interesting conversations with all these intellectuals. Teenager’s dream! One time I am introduced to one of his dad’s friends. As old as him. In his 50s I think. He is drunk by the time we come in. He gives me a hug. I don’t know him at all and to be honest he looks creepy as hell. The way he looks at you. You know. You just know. While hugging, he is trying to fondle me. I struggle to get out and get some distance between us. No one notices. They are all drunk. The next party, he forcibly pulls me and makes me sit on his lap. Nobody finds it weird?! Are you fucking kidding me?!! A grown man pulling a 19 year old girl into his lap! For god’s sake. I tell my boyfriend, he says I must be misunderstanding him. You know what, you never misunderstand situations like these. Years later his mother tells me that she went through the same with the same man. He used to misbehave with his friends’ wives. I guess now it was the next generation’s turn.
I am 24. It’s my engagement party. Everyone is in the room. I am standing with one of my future brother in laws in a corner outside chit chatting while he smokes his cigarette. The same man is drunk out of his mind and when turns he can see me. My brother in law is in the shadows. He calls my name, unzips his pants, grabs his you know what in his hand and starts walking towards me. My brother in law sees this, quickly walks towards him and steers him away from me.
My early 20s. Guy trying to feel up my sleeping friend in the train. A guy stripping, stark naked in the 2nd AC coach showing off to me and my sister. Both instances, I got the RPFs and got their asses whooped. In the first case by the way, we were on a college conference trip. The girls first asked the boys in our group for help. They gaped at us like dying fish. I said fuck it and went looking for the cops while my friends kept yelling that I was a girl and I should stay put.
I am 32. I come back from work. It’s 8 p.m., there are still people on the street. As I am trying to get into my drive way, I notice a man facing my compound wall and standing. When my car’s headlights hit him, I see he is masturbating. I stop my car in the middle of the street and yell at him. He bolts. I just leave my car and run after him. He has gone far ahead and I am screaming at him. Some other boys who are closer to him, see me chasing and grab him. They have no idea why I want to catch him. When I get close I start slapping the shit out of him. He looks like a derelict. I am cursing him and slapping him. He starts apologizing and calling me a sister. Asking me for forgiveness like I would forgive my little brother! I don’t stop. The boys who helped me catch him ask me what happened. When I do, they let me go on for a bit more and then ask me to let him go. He already had a bandage on the other side of the face. I give him 2 more slaps for satisfaction and then tell him that if I ever see him near my lane, I will cut his you know what off. My hand was swollen and almost numb for 3 days after that.
I am 33. My co worker, a man in his late 40s or early 50s. Son of a teenager, sends me objectionable texts. Commenting on my tattoo, asking me out for a drink. I tell my boss. He says I must have misunderstood him. After a few months he comes and lets me know that some other women at work have complained about the same man. By then he has quit and gone. He is asked to join again and made to have a chat with me clearing what had transpired. After all, people have to work together in a company for its smooth functioning. He swears he didn’t mean it at all! It was innocent. (Right!)
I am 34. My friend who is in his late 20s tells me that as he was driving back home in the night. He is in his car and he notices this man riding next to him on a bike smiling at him. When he looks over, he has his you know what out. My friend speeds and drives away. I ask him why didn’t he scare the fuck outta that guy? Pretend to run him over? Block him and beat the shit out of him? After all he was as manly and macho as the definition this society has come up with. He doesn’t know. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t react in any other way than to escape from that moment.
All my life I have heard stories of people being abused and molested by cousins, uncles, servants, teachers, friends, classmates or even boyfriends taking advantage when they are drunk or asleep. We know it’s not just girls and women, boys and men are affected too. I was talking to a male friend once, and I wondered aloud if they didn’t know what they were doing. He said, “Deepika, men do. They always know what they are doing. That it’s wrong. They do it because they can get away.” That’s the case almost every time. People think they have the power and can abuse it and so do it.
I had the same argument with a bunch of friends a few months ago. One of them said that there was nothing wrong for the one with the power to abuse it, to take whatever they wanted. I walked away lest I punch them. Guess when somebody more powerful than him abuses him, he will accept it graciously.
I am not going to add about the outrage we feel. The feeling of being trapped and used. Like a cattle which has no option. I am not going to talk about women who share their stories after years. You won’t get it unless you know how it feels. The trauma of reliving it. The doubts, the questions and the victim shaming doesn’t help. And this especially is not about true or false claims. #metoo and #mentoo became a phenomenon because they are real. You can’t make up thousands of stories. Of course, some people might have abused it. But look at the plight of the women who came out and shared. What did you give them? More shame. Still a lot more came out and shared their ordeals. Why would somebody make up fake story to face this?!
The stories I have shared about me are one of the mildest out there. Normal stuff that most girls go through. Yes, I used the word normal. It’s disgusting that we accept that there would be cat calling, leering, the grabbing in public transports. I remember being given tips by an older cousin when travelling in public buses. Carry a safety pin and jab at every hand that comes at you. It’s a failure that we have passed this predatory and abusive behaviour as a “normal” part of a girl’s life in this country. Generation after generation. And this is what is wrong with this world.
Image credit: americannursetoday.com