Memories of my sexual abuse are still fresh in my mind. Even at the age of 27, they continue to scar a part of me that hinders my everyday functioning – often, leading me to wonder why I didn’t come out and speak about it publicly at the time.
Most of us have been sexually abused at some point in our lives. The saddest part is that we associate embarrassment and humiliation with the abuse and therefore, hesitate to talk about it in the open.
I am mustering up a lot of courage to pen this today and I’m hoping that this not only helps alleviate the pain of many of my friends who’ve gone through the experience – but also adds to the public discourse about basic human rights.
Four Tales of Trauma
Whilst growing up in a small tier-2 city – Guwahati – my middle class upbringing taught me to bear tribulations in silence and to uphold the ‘modesty’ that society conferred upon a ‘well-mannered’ woman.
I was eight years old when it first happened to me. My uncle took me and my younger sister to watch a drama named A Virtuous Burglar in a popular theatre in our city. As we settled down in our designated seats, one middle-aged man sat next to me in the adjacent seat.
Once the drama started, I could sense that he was fidgeting a lot. After some time, I felt a hand near my thighs trying to feel up inside my frock. I was in a state of shock and couldn’t utter a word. Within minutes, this activity of touching and feeling had increased, and I became stiff in my place. This went on till the end of the show, and I was finally rescued by my uncle who brought us back home after the drama ended.
I was too ashamed to share this incident with anyone. I was also scared that my mother would probably scold me and stop me from going anywhere.
The second incident happened when I was in Class 7. I was very fond of my mother's uncle, who was about my grandfather’s age and lived in Rajgarh, a place close to home. He used to bring lots of chocolates and goodies for us. Before leaving, he would kiss our cheeks and ask us to study hard.
One fine day, he came to see us. My mother and sisters had gone to shop for groceries and I was home with my dad and younger brother. I prepared tea for him and went back to my studies. Before leaving that day, he came to my room, put his arms around me and kissed me forcefully on my lips. I tried to free myself from his clutches but he was too strong. He left immediately after my brother entered the room.
I felt so dirty about myself that day. I cried for many nights following the incident. I was scared to talk to anyone about what had happened, for fear that my claims would be rubbished since he was a man of considerable repute in society.
His visits became rare thereafter and I too, stopped going to his place or attending any events/ceremonies at his place. Till date, I do not talk to any of his family members.
The third time was on my way back home from my tuition classes when I was in Class 9. It was a winter evening and I was returning from my tuitions. The street was not well lit and I could faintly see two figures in a bicycle coming towards me. As they passed by me, one of the boys grabbed me by my chest. I couldn’t fathom what was happening and by the time I could, they pushed me and ran off. I came home utterly terrified and shared this with my mother. She consoled me and asked me to take my brother to tuitions along with me or change my tuition timings.
As I write this, I am reminded of another incident in a public public bus when I was in Class 10. We were going to visit a temple to celebrate Shivratri. My aunt and I boarded a bus for the destination which was four stops away. The bus was more crowded than usual and just before getting down, I could feel someone rubbing a hard object behind me. I turned back to see that the conductor of the bus was quite literally thrusting his penis against my back. I quickly looked for my aunt who had no idea what had just happened. We got down from the bus and I told her what had happened. She was angry at me for not telling her when we were inside the bus.
These were just a few of the incidents that I remember clearly, but if I were to go on to talk about the street harassment I’ve faced through these years, this post would be endless. Over a period of time I realised that I’m not the only one who faced such incidents. Many of my friends and colleagues have similar stories and accounts to share. Most of us do not usually share them for fear that we will be judged – or perhaps, because of the lack of a comfortable space.
My work with NGO's working on child protection brought me closer to issues of child sexual abuse faced by children in domestic and public spaces. The saddest part probably is, that inspite of having a dedicated law to address child sexual abuse in our country, the conviction rates of such crimes are ridiculously low.
Many such lived experiences will probably go unnoticed till such a time that our society gets rid of the myth of ‘family izzat’ and addresses grave issues like child sexual abuse with greater concern.
(Megha is a professional social worker from TISS, a gender rights advocate, an insane travel enthusiast and an occasional writer/blogger. She has been working on issues related to gender and child protection for the last five years. She currently heads a Government of Sikkim Project, named SAATHI, to combat drug abuse issues amongst school age children in 100 Government schools of the state. Megha tweets at @kashyapmegha007)