Rising from silence

I have been angry all week. I have been unwell this entire week. My brain is busy trying to reconcile with the innumerable rapes it reads about and ignores in the news everyday. My heart is busy trying to tell me that it cannot rage indefinitely against eve-teasing, rape and molestation. But all I want to do is sob or vent my anger on someone. All I want to do is believe that it will end.

I thought I had put it behind, but I cannot forget the coconut water vendor who entered my building, waiting for me in the stairways and groped by breast as I was returning to school. I cannot forget another man who tried to do the same thing, in the same location, a few months after. For years afterward, I ran up the stairs of my own building afraid I would encounter something similar. I cannot forget the boy who worked at the newspaper stand which delivered the newspaper to my house. For months, often in the night when I was sleeping alone in the living room, the tiny slot in the front-door from which the letters were dropped would open and someone would peep inside. The first time I saw it, I thought I imagined things. The next time it happened I was scared. I felt unsafe, violated in my own home. My grandma and Dad refused to believe me initially. Everyone was sure I was imaging things. It happened for months on end, till one day I asked some college friends to keep watch at night. They followed the person who came out of my building and told me who it was. Then it began to happen during the day. One day as soon as I saw the letter-slot open, I walked to the door opened it and saw someone run upstairs. I told my dad and he believed me. He found the boy crouching in the upper floor and yelled at him. But it continued. I would have nightmares, wake up scared. One day I covered the letter-slot from inside with a piece of cardboard . The peeping-tom eventually gave up but my nightmares never went away. Even now suddenly they reappear sometimes.

I cannot forgive the boy who as I walked down a deserted road at 6.30 in the morning for college, walked in front of me and groped my breasts. Nor can I forgive the men who have tried to feel me up in the bus nor the perverted masturbating nude man sitting inside a van who opened the door just as I and my friend passed by so we could see him. Don’t even get me started about the college boys who thought I was someone easy and available just because I spoke to boys and believed in dating.

Of all the wounds, the one that hurts the most is that inflicted by family. I cannot forgive my uncle who tried to kiss an adult me. I pushed him away, and he claimed he was always hugging his son and how even his son said kids our age don’t like it. He fumbled for words to cover his tracks but my mind flashed as I remembered how he would casually place his hands on my thigh when I wore shorts. I struggled with that silence for months knowing it would hurt my dad and family. When I did it to tell my patriarchal grandma ( who has cursed, been judgmental and treated me as a ‘girl’ child since birth), she blamed my modernism and clothes for her son’s behaviour.

For years I believed that these incidents were partly my fault. That as a woman who lives in a perverted world, you have to protect yourself. That as scarring as it was, being felt-up is part and parcel of being a girl. But now my mind screams and asks why should it be normal when it doesn’t feel normal. This isn’t life. Normal is not about a man thinking it is o.k. to touch a stranger’s body. It is not normal to treat a girl like she is responsible for everything that happens to her. Clothes don’t cause rape, a man’s mind causes it. Molestation happens when a man uses his might with a woman he knows is weaker. Such incidents happen because we live in a world where a woman is taught to live in silence because she is taught by her family that talking about such incidents disrupts their honour.

But today, I don’t want to be silent. I want things to change. I am happy with the mass public awakening in cities. But I am still afraid because I know things like rape, molestation, incest will continue in the small towns and big cities alike, because of men who are titillated by raunchy movie stars and woman who continue to be silent. I am afraid because I know people will continue to suppress their truths. As someone who has been eve-teased by local policemen, I am not confident better policing is the only solution. This movement needs to leave cities and move to all small towns. It needs to go to schools where children are taught openly about sex and anatomies, about respecting differences. This movement needs to find ways to address curiosity, provide outlets to vent frustrations, nip perversion in the bud, support women, apprehend criminals, enable social reforms if we as women are to live more freely. Till then all I can do is rise from my silence, speak and write about this, and try to raise my son to be someone who does not crack sexist jokes, does not eve-tease  and respects women.

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