Let’s look a hard look at ourselves……..
A six year old rape victim recently passed away. That day, the whole world was celebrating International Women’s Day. For the family of the deceased that is one sick irony.
Nepal, sharing three of its four borders with India had great interest when ‘India’s Daughter’ was released on YouTube. Why? Maybe because we live in a similar society where molestation feels like a rite of passage for many girls growing into womanhood, maybe because every other local news you read mentions rape, mostly of a child. Having Bollywood movies from the 80’s and the 90’s shoved down our throat to tell us what it means to be an ideal woman doesn’t help either.
When I was barely 12, I was sent to a boarding house near my new school. It was mid-April, I remember because we had just celebrated Nepali New Year a few days earlier. I had also managed to fall off a bike and injure myself. I had to miss few days of school because of my injury. I had only got back to the boarding house that day. The boarding house didn’t have many kids and the older boys stayed in a different place. There weren’t many kids my age, most of the kids I shared the dorm with were seven and eight year olds.
I woke up in the middle of the night, the lights were on. I don’t know if the lights were always kept on or not, but lights were on that night. There was a hand, someone was touching my breasts. I hardly had breasts then. I removed the hand, almost reflex-like and pulled up my duvet and closed my eyes. Then it hit me. This was something that should not have happened. I was in complete shock. There were movements in the room, but I couldn’t bear to open my eyes or turn around to see who it was. I was a child. I was scared. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go through it again or have anything else happen to me. So I screamed. And screamed. I screamed and screamed so everyone woke up. By then the person had turned the lights off and ran away.
I was asked what had happened, I told them someone was in the room, but I couldn’t tell them that they touched me inappropriately. Maybe I thought people wouldn’t believe me, maybe I didn’t know how people would react when I told them, maybe I thought people would think there was something wrong with me. Perhaps I couldn’t fully comprehend what had happened and couldn’t understand how I could tell any adult.
Even when I screamed and told them that someone was in my room, I was questioned about the reality of the situation. They thought I was having a bad dream. When my mum came to visit, I told her casually that someone had come into my room. My aunt brushed it aside as just a nightmare as my mum started to look upset. After that, there was no telling an adult. I just tried to get on with my life as if nothing had happened.
Even before I realised I was a woman, someone had realised it for me.
Luckily for me, I got an opportunity to leave the country just over a year after this incident. But I wasn’t able to fall asleep without being scared by every single little noise at night. But not before a random uncle in India decided to poke me in an inappropriate place to get my attention. Not before I lost most of my confidence. I came to realise I was a woman and that society places women in a different place than men. That meant I should no longer go outside and play with with boys, I should always be careful with what I wear, and I should learn to love the indoors.
One day I saw a news report about molestation. That’s when I learned that was what had happened to me. What happened to me was a crime. I still remember I had looked up the word in the dictionary. Yes, being touched inappropriately. Yes, I was molested. It wasn’t because I was at fault for being a woman, but rather, that man had decided to commit a crime.
Eventually, I was able to move on with my life.
Growing up you share your stories to your closest friends, ones of molestation and sexual abuse. What was scary was every close confide you told had their own story, more gruesome than yours. Incidents that happened when they were very young, by their own relatives. But one thing was common among all our stories, no adult ever knew this was going on. We were barely kids, we thought it was our faults. Why did no one / no TV / no adverts ever tell us that it was not our fault?
I read the criminal’s and lawyers’ (India’s Daughter) views about the situation before BBC showed the documentary. It made me feel more vulnerable than furious or disgusted. I was left with a thought that so many people in our society have similar views. Women who leave the house at 8:30 PM are seen as easy or indecent. I wonder how many of these men and women I come across during my everyday life that have these gross sentiments. It made me feel rebellious. I wanted to leave the house at night time, wearing the shortest skirt. I wanted to show my middle finger to someone who would otherwise disagree.
What I started thinking after watching ‘India’s Daughter’ is how all these males who have committed these crimes have gotten away with them and are still getting away with them. Why? Because we were too scared, because we couldn’t say anything other than, “he was in the room.” It starts with unknowingly touching here and there. But it could end up with rape or even death.
In the Indian subcontinent, there has been a history of mistreating women who had been victims of sexual violence. Let’s go back to ancient text Ramayana, where Sita is tricked into helping a person and is kidnapped. She is eventually rescued by Ram, but had to prove that she was “pure” by walking on fire. She is banished to the forest a few years later after rumors of her purity get questioned again. Yet, Ram is a God worshiped by the majority of the population as an ideal husband.
This story in recent times translates to victims being blamed for what conspired. If a girl is molested in a crowd, the first comment she receives is that she should have known better and not gone there. This sometimes escalates to questioning what she was wearing (implying that if she wore provocative clothes she wants to be touched). Rather than blaming the predator, the victim is always looked as having loose character and not knowing what she should avoid. These accusations aren’t made just by the generations before us, young educated people think that a girl is in the wrong too. Not the boys who indecently touch her.
Most of us have now come out on the other side, stronger and with this behind us. Yes, there are some issues that we still struggle to deal with, but so many of us have probably dealt with most of our demons. Some are still hidden in the closet. But why don’t we share these stories? Why can’t we talk about them? Are we worried that we will be viewed differently than before? With more pity? With judgements?
If we share these, maybe just maybe, it could help a small girl (or a boy) be comfortable saying something to her (his) parents. Perhaps they will be believed and know that it is not her (his) fault. Maybe we won’t lose another Puja because someone would have reported the perpetrator when he committed his first crime. Maybe it will help raise awareness about how serious these issues are and how we have been sweeping it under the rug all our lives and pretending they don’t exist.
*All opinions and views are of the author.
*EDITOR’S NOTE: We know that molestation, sexual abuse, and rape happen in all countries. It is a topic that is often swept under the rug. Most of the time victims do not get the justice they deserve. How can we help people tell their stories in a safe space? How can we teach our males that this type of behavior is not acceptable? What can we do to decrease sexual crimes against women (and men too)? Please share your thoughts.