Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Why I Am A Feminist - II

I don’t remember how young I was when I was first sexually abused. Probably around five or six. I might have been a little older, but no more than eight, might have been a little younger but no less than four. It was a wedding, I remember, and we were all assembled at the venue. I was wearing a new frock, I think, that I fancied myself in. And we kids were doing what kids usually do at weddings, running around and playing.

It was daytime – the wedding was to take place that night, I presume – and many relatives had gathered. Those were times when people had time on their hands, and sauntering around all day at a wedding and lending a hand with preparations was commonplace. I suppose I wandered out of the building to play outside. I wasn't totally alone: there must have been cousins nearby.

A cousin had a car, and a driver. I had taken rides in the car and knew the driver. So I wasn’t surprised when he invited me to sit in the car. Cars were amazing and mysterious things, then, and I must have been tempted.

I was a polite, shy little kid who had been told to obey her elders. So I didn’t know what to do when the driver took my hand and forced it under his pants. I squirmed, I hated the feeling. I tried to remove my hand, but what strength did I have against a man? I wanted to leave, I think I said so. But I was too polite to cry out, to scream. A younger cousin came around – I suppose he wanted to get into the car too – but the driver shooed him away.

And then he insisted on putting his hand into my underwear. I still remember that it burned. I hated it, I refused, I squirmed. I didn’t cry out. After some time, he let me go.

It was many years before I realised what that dimly-remembered incident signified. I wonder now, how many girls and boys that happens with. I had family nearby. What happens to children who don’t, children who are disadvantaged, whose family isn’t around or is unable or unwilling to fight for them?

It wasn’t the only time I was abused. It was only the beginning. Since I was around twelve, I took the public bus to and from school. The first time a man stood uncomfortably close to me in a relatively empty bus, I wondered what was wrong. He seemed to be pressing against my breasts, but why would anyone deliberately do that? I was in Class Six.

For a time, I used to pray, every time I got on the bus, “Oh god, not today, please not today, if you are listening, spare me today…” My prayers often went unanswered.

I never cried out, never protested. I didn’t know I could do that, that I could fight back.
There were often other people on the bus: did no one else notice? I did notice when it was happening to someone else, and not just once. Did no one care, or want to interfere? Did they imagine it was consensual?

I had a short walk from the bus stop to my home. Every day, a man would stand there. He wore a blue uniform and directed the buses, kind of like a traffic policeman. As I passed, he would look at me with leering eyes and say, “Sexy maal.” He said it to another man dressed like him, loud enough for me to hear. It began to happen every day. The routine didn’t vary. I would cross the road to avoid him, and he would cross it again so that I would have to pass him anyway.

It traumatised me. I don’t know why I was so scared. The words itself were scary to a thirteen-year old, unfamiliar words signifying a world of perverse lust beyond her understanding. It angered me, too. I wished I had a brother I could confide in, who would beat him up. It never occurred to me that I could stand up for myself, that if I confronted him in the busy street he was unlikely to physically hurt me.

I started getting off the bus at an earlier stop and taking a long walk to my home. Sometimes. Sometimes, I went the old way and often encountered him again.

I am not sure how it stopped. Whether he simply disappeared one day – which is what I seem to remember – or whether it continued till we moved away in a year or two.

I never told my parents about any of these incidents, I knew they wouldn’t let me come home alone in the public bus any more. I thought about it many a time, but I couldn’t bear to give up that little bit of freedom I had.

For years, the memory of that man in dark blue uniform continued to haunt me, in my dreams and while I was awake.

I had been wanting to write about this for a long time, but I couldn’t gather the courage to take out those memories again and look at them. Now I have. It’s easy now, because there is no guilt, and even the anger has faded. For years, I was racked by guilt and self-doubt as I wondered what was wrong with me. Now I know what was wrong wasn’t with me, and I also know that we have to change the world, make it an easier one for children to live in and deal with.

We have to stop this violence. We have to speak up against perpetrators. We have to stand up for our girls and women. We have to stop sexual abuse, domestic violence, street harassment and all the other forms of violence misogyny takes.


Deborah said...

I'm so sorry. I'm sitting here half a world away and crying, for the little girl and the young girl who was attacked. But I'm so glad that the woman has survived, and become such a wonderful feminist. Kia kaha.

Anonymous said...

Hey Unmana,

While reading your post, I felt as if I had written it!!
Why did all the circumstances feel the same??
All the times when I was at 'family events', all the times I used to travel by bus to college, or simply walking on the road....I never could muster up the courage to look at the leering guy and question his motives.
I too was scared adn guilty. Always wondering that maybe something is wrong with me. Maybe I give out the wrong vibes.
Though I have never written about all this , I guess I let go of the angst and hurt when I first confided in the BF. And it seriously helped to let off the steam.
But yeah, I now worry for my daughter :(

apu said...

Unmana, that was so saddening. I think almost every woman has stories like these, and most of the time, children don't tell their parents because they know that they will be made to feel ashamed for no fault of others. I didn't have a post to put up today, but I have put up a widget to mark International Day for Elimination of Violence against Women.

Banno said...

Brave post, Unmana. Kudos for opening up, and taking the stand you have.

Pallavi said...

Hi Unmana!

Though this is going to be my first comment on your blog, I have been a regular visitor for quite a while.

Your present post did remind me of a few bad experiences.
The worst thing is when we all start accepting them as a part of our life and move on.
High time this changes!


Unmana said...

Deborah: I am so touched by your words. Thank you.

momofrs: I suppose this happens much more often than most people think. Which is why it's important to talk about it.

apu: Nice widget!

Banno: I don't know if I'm brave: I only wrote about it when the pain ended, when I could forgive myself for not standing up, for not being the victim.

Pallavi: I agree. We need to do something to change things. And thanks for your very first comment here!

starry eyed said...

Unmana...I just visited your blog today...and read this. Hugs. You have incredible bravery to speak out...countless women don't. It's happening all around us, and my daughter's classmates moms laughed at me when I said I'd taught her about good/bad touch by age 4.

I've had those creeps try this out with me in my teen years on public buses...but once I had seen my mom hit out at a guy who groped her. So somehow even I must've absorbed not to be quiet. I've stepped very deliberately on toes, yelled and pushed...and these guys are mostly cowards. I do it even now, tho' now the 'eve-teasing' is from a distance...just so my kids know they mustn't put up with this crap.

Hugs again. Blogrolling you.

Unmana said...

starry eyed: Welcome! I am glad you were brave - I wish I had been too. And I'm glad you are teaching your daughter to recognise abuse: a pity all parents don't do that with their children.

Perakath said...

Ufff. I apologise on behalf of my sex.

Perakath said...

(The 'ufff' was annoyance at some menfolk, not at your post.)

Gayatri said...

- blog hopping brought me in here
- ((hugs))
- these horrible incidents are happening all around us and we are scared to react
- won't blame the lil girl who was scared and silent
- it is the family who has to educate the child not to be scared and talk about it
- I have to teach my child today and that's my responsibility ((thumbs up)) starry eyed

Unmana said...

Perakath: I got that. Please don't apologise: I don't hold some men's assholery against all. It's a pity, though, that so many assholes are out there. It's the fault of the rest of us, I think, for not doing enough to stop it.

Gayatri: Welcome! I agree completely about parents needing to educate their children.

Anonymous said...

Hugs to you Unmana. I can totally understand what you went through. I also have such horrific memories from my bus journeys and walks from the bus stop to home. When will this stop?

Anonymous said...

Had similar horrific stories of bus rides in Delhi..Thankfully never had to take the public transport before and after that.Infact, in Delhi ,I used to scrimp on other things,save my money and take an auto,than get on one of those god awful blue line buses...

Nitu Saksena said...

Why is it so right??!!.. why do we feel guilty???!! Somthing similar happened to me at a family event and I dont have to courage to talk about it.. still!! I want to forget it as thou it never happened. But keep getting haunted buy those images which are still very clear in my mind.

Regarding being harassed in public places.. i don remember since when I started just ignoring it.. as if those eve-teasers don exist. Too bad. We have to hide our gals to protect them from these bastards and the more you hide them the more such bastards surface.

Unmana said...

shilpadesh: I think it'll stop when we make it. Why should the abusers stop unless they're coerced or scared into doing so?

lostonthestreet: I actually found public transport in Guwahati much more horrific than in Delhi. Granted, I didn't use buses in Delhi all that regularly.

NuttyNits: Hiding our girls isn't the solution. We have to force those perpetrators to stop.

Hemanth said...

Hi Unmana,

I have been a regular visitor to your blog for a while now though I think I never commented.

Very saddening, and post this article I realize that almost every woman has such experiences. The abused must do something about it. Maybe the kid is too timid to do something about it. It's high time parents educate kids about such things as so many people put it here.


Unmana said...

Hemanth: Thanks for your very first comment! I'm glad this post attracted first-time commenters!

Most, if not all women, will have had such experiences, yes, in varying degrees of intensity. But why do you think the abused need to do something about it? We should instead make abusers stop doing what they do: and by 'we', I don't mean victims, but all of us who believe this needs to be stopped.

Anonymous said...

I am glad you talked about it Unmana. I have faced the same feeling of terrible guilt - for no reason or fault of mine, when an old construction worker flashed as a friend and I walked to her house from mine inside our colony.

Buses and all public transport is a nightmare and we still don't talk about street sexual harassment the way we should. Children never tell their parents, and parents until recently, did not think it was necessary to talk to the children about this. At the very least the child should know that they can protest and complain, or what not to say (in cases where children threaten to complain, they risk being killed)- and they should know they are not going to be blamed if they talked about it.

Unmana said...

indianhomemaker: Indeed. We need to make things better.

gitima said...

Every time i come n read ur blog, my admiration for you only increases,only some one who has been through child sexual abuse can actually know what it is like... and i know what it is like though it is so hard to face it. I have the guts to stand up for molestation today but stil wonder if i was a precocious as a child and sent out the wrong signals... it will probably take me some more time to actually pen down my feelings the way you did

Neways.... keep posting... always look forward to them... n i hope there r more women who have the strenghth to come out n talk about it..

starry eyed said...

Linked to you.

Swati said...

I can so identify with a lot of what you wrote. Not telling parents for the fear of loosing independence and for the thought of troubling them was my idea too.

Very brave post indeed !

Sue said...

I'm so glad you posted this. Well done.

Anonymous said...

Hi Unmana,
Came over from Starry's. This is a very brave post. It touches a chord. Somewhere i heard this while growing up that if some such thing happens you need not feel guilty because the filth is in the mind of the doer and not in you. That has gone a long way in letting go. But yes... i wouldnt ever want my children to go through any of this.

Unmana said...

softy: I agree with you completely. Thank you for coming over and reading, and taking the effort to comment.