How I Discovered I Had Been Raped Thirty-Five Years Ago 

It is the fuzziness of the stories of rape that needs more telling.

5 min read
Hindi Female

There is this thing I do to hide my deep-seated fear of rejection. I project. I put out a phantasmagorical story of my sex life which is nothing short of self-driven voyeurism and very effective PR where I come across as someone who has adopted the sexual practices of a cuttle-fish.

Cuttlefish may be the most talented quick-change artists in the animal kingdom. Single males can adopt a sophisticated feminine disguise to help them get near females.”


Discovering My Vulnerability Behind Sexual Confidence

I have an atypical sex life. Currently, the phrase I use to sum it up is this: I am a straight person whose behaviour is very gay. By this I mean I have a hang-loose, as-is-when-is approach which over time has become my default position. In my mid-forties it has also become a phenomenon I have finally begun to embrace as being me. But every now and then, in the middle of this purposeful, colourful and strident celebration, there is a perverseness that lurks in the shadows, catching me unawares.

I had put it down to me growing up fat and therefore overdosing on porn, to me generally being commitment-phobic, to family, to my own quirkiness.

It took my father’s death and even then, two years of his being gone for things from the distant past to come and hit me in the face and show me a side of myself I did not know existed.

Here I was – this confident and sexually aware person that, over the decades, friends and acquaintances have sought advice on everything, from whether blowjobs are okay and what happens if you don’t have an orgasm. And one dark day, when I suddenly felt the absence of my father acutely, it hit me like a bullet between the eyes, that I was raped when I was ten years old and had gone through thirty-five years of my life since that day without recognising it.

It isn’t as if the dots join back in a straight line from that day to my slightly quirky sexuality. But the fact that I had suppressed the event and re-engineered it in my head as something casual came back to haunt me one month ago and it shook me up.


How it Happened

We were on a family holiday – on a trip down south – from Delhi to Bangalore and then on to Mysore, Mahabalipuram and then Madras. It was the summer of 1983. I had just finished class five, I was ten years old and very proud of the fact that I was first in class.

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We were on a plane – my mother, aunt, uncle, cousin sister, cousin brother and I. The plane had three seats in the centre and two on either side. We didn’t get window seats, so my cousins and I remarked, “I wish we could look out of the window.” The two gentlemen sitting in the aisle heard. One offered to swap seats with my cousin. The other – a stocky, friendly, grey-haired man said to me – “I also want to look out of the window. But you can come and share the seat with me.” So I did.

He strapped the seat-belt across the both of us and then started up a conversation with me about school. I told him about being first in class and he made me tell him my grades.

“What did you get in Social Studies?” “A plus,” I declared proudly. “Science?” “A plus,” I said. “Hmm, you’ve got an A plus in everything, but a B+ in Hindi. Why?” he asked. I started to answer the question and I felt his hand squash my thigh. I thought to myself, “Oh this uncle is trying to scratch his own thigh but since I am sitting right next, he’s scratching mine by mistake.” Then his hand went up my dress and into my underwear. Now I began to think he wasn’t just being clumsy and mistaking my legs for his.

I tried to get up and he pushed me back into the seat and inserted a finger into my vagina. I got up again and said I wanted to go back to my own seat and I did.

I described what had happened to my mother. The plane stopped at Hyderabad and some passengers disembarked, including this man. My mother instructed my uncle to have a stern word with him and that was that. It was dirty. That’s all I knew. We had a good holiday and I didn’t really think much about what happened.


Sexual Assault or Rape?

Over the years, the incident seemed to have been forgotten, until at the age of nineteen, when I was touched on the pelvic area and then had a tongue rudely thrust down my throat by a priest who had come home to perform an annual puja on the death anniversary of my grandmother. And then two years later, when a colleague assaulted me at work, I counted that I had now been assaulted three times. Assaulted, not raped, is what I had said even as I had many conversations with friends about how important it was that the law had been amended to include all kinds of penetration as rape.

All the while I had blanked out the fact that this had happened to me. Until it resurfaced in my mind at the age of forty-five.

Having observed at close-quarters the effect of losing parents had on two of my closest friends – both single women like me, I had internalised some of the unravelling and churn that loss brings with it. In my case, the text-book Freudian relationship I shared with my father meant that he was a hyper-real presence in my life and his absence made me feel unprotected, unsheathed and always looking over my shoulder to see who was coming to get me.

So it was not surprising that my mind was showing me things about myself I did not know was my story at all. Initially, the image triggered an outburst and I made my mother its target. “Why did you not do more at the time?” We both sat and thought about this. My mother took the full-scale tornado I threw at her on board and then said very quietly that she was deeply sorry and that she did not know what else to do at the time.


The Fuzziness of Rape Stories

The storm blew over. Had the rape affected me as a child or as a pre-adolescent? Would it have been better if, equipped with today’s awareness and parenting and activism and access to the right tools to deal with sexual violence, we had done due diligence? I do not know.

All I have for you is an old piece of debris that I am sharing in the hope that we can have more conversations about what really happens when you are raped. That sometimes, it takes an abominably long time to make sense of what someone did. That there is a journey, a narrative, a set of narratives and sometimes the absence of a narrative that is all part of the event. That events do not always occur in fully-formed well-defined shapes.

Sometimes an unfamiliar or disturbing set of actions may mean something only decades later. But it is the fuzziness of the stories of rape that needs more telling.

If there is something I can say for sure with a new memory of something so old, it is this – violence often brings with it uncertainty. The vagueness and imprecision of feeling is something we need to look at. With regard and attention to its complexity and without the overriding compulsion to drive it towards certitude.

(Revati Laul is an independent journalist and filmmaker based in Delhi. She tweets @revatilaul. This is a personal account. The views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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