Monday, July 2, 2018

We have normalised abuse by telling girls to ignore it

It was joining a women’s group in college that helped this 19-year-old Delhi University student end years of silence about being sexually abused by a magazine vendor as a child

You trust as a child. And that can be your undoing.

This uncle used to deliver magazines every fortnight to our house in Ranchi. He was friendly and spoke our mother tongue, Bengali. My parents were careful about my safety. My father would pick me up from school during his lunch hour, drop me home and leave. It wasn’t long before my mother, a teacher, would return from school. It was during this gap that he came to deliver magazines. I would run to open the door and take my favourite kids’ magazines. One day, he kissed me, said he loved me and left. I was shocked and upset but did not know what to do. This happened every time he came, but I could not gather the courage to speak to my parents. He started molesting me and it grew worse.

I would cry but never reach out to anyone to share what was happening to me. I would pray to God to end my ordeal but I never spoke out. The molestation continued for three years till I was almost 13. Then suddenly, the vendor stopped coming and we never saw him again. I still couldn’t speak to my parents. I felt guilty about my inability to talk to them.

It was only when I came to college and got involved with a voluntary organisation telling people to break their silence that I started searching for answers. One day, during a session, I talked about it all. That’s when I began to realise that I am not at fault.

I have learnt to stand up against harassment. Now if someone stares or tries to grope a friend, I hit back. My boldness is a defence mechanism. It is not me who gets off at the next metro station after shouting at a man for misbehaving. I stay on the metro and it is he who has to get off.

We have normalised the problem by telling girls to ignore stares, remarks and harassment. My heart broke when, as a young girl, my mother would tell me to ignore the stares of men on the streets. Even today, if you want to speak about sexual abuse, who do you tell? No one wants to listen. At college, people are quick to sign up for curricular activities and debates but few want to be part of conversations around harassment and abuse. We need to end our silence and speak up.’

This story is part of a series in which survivors of sexual violence share their experiences to help others open up, and heal their own trauma.

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