Last week there was the horrifying sex scandal of Harvey Weinstein. Before that we have had too many – from Phaneesh murthy to Bill Clinton. Sexual predators lurk everywhere. Last two days the topic trending on Twitter has been #metoo. It talks about women speaking out about battling their own sexual abuse nightmares. The idea is to give a shout out to every survivor about the solidarity in the pain we share. Honestly, I don’t think there’s anyone of my sex who can say not me here. It took me a lot of will power to revisit the dark memories and recount them.
I will leave the child abuse part for some other time because it’s still way too traumatic to talk about. Getting groped, grabbed, touched inappropriately, flashed on the way to school, in crowded buses, in crowded temples, empty streets, railway coaches, overnight bus journeys for attending meetings at regional office have occurred so frequently that at some point we all have started normalizing such behavior and instead chose to stay alert. In one of the Kolkata hostels that I stayed for three years, there was an incident of a pervert coming daily near the main gate at midnight, pulling down his pants to start masturbating to the silhouette of girls in the hostel. He could only make out the shadows of female forms yet that was enough for him to get turned on. Despite reporting to the authorities, it took a while for the security guard to get hold of him and hand him over to the police. But the audacity of the situation shocked us These are daily struggles that almost all women face daily. Since we don’t get enough support, sometimes even from our own clan, we have decided to take responsibility of our own security. What we have started doing as a clan is carrying pepper sprays, knives, draping our dupatta over the chest so that “we don’t ask for it.” But there have been instances wherein the scar ran deep within.
The year was 2004. I had moved to Bangalore from Delhi leaving a lucrative career behind. There I had joined as a project assistant in one of the premier institutions in the country. The city was known for being safe then. In December that year, I developed high fever, body ache and weakness. Taking a guy friend along, we went in search of a doctor in the neighborhood. I was delighted to find a very senior bengali doctor whose degrees ran three lines below his name. My friend who had guy things to be stocked for an upcoming party went to the nearest supermarket and so I went in the chamber alone. The ‘gentleman’ seemed extremely kind. In few minutes after confirming that I had come alone, on the pretext of checking my pressure, he kept asking me to pull my dupatta higher and higher. He was so close that I could feel his breath on my face. I pushed him with all might to rush out only to return with my friend to get the prescription. Strangely it was me who felt ashamed. The doctor confidently told my friend that since I had seemed extremely nervous, it was him who had advised me to get a friend along. Coming out when I narrated my ordeal to my friend almost in tears, he laughed it off saying why you! His logic was that were prettier things sitting in his chamber and that I had misread the gentleman’s intentions. My cheeks flushed because I really didn’t have an answer to the why me part. The trauma ran so deep that I avoided anything to do with doctors unless I could return home and let my father accompany me for the check ups. When I got married to my best friend, subconsciously I had promised myself that from then on, he would be my only go to person for anything medical, irrespective of his specialization or domain.
When strangers turn out to perverts, evoked emotions range from anger, frustration, helplessness to even tears. But when such wrong doings happen from seemingly nice people posing as friends or family, the strongest emotion is that of betrayal. You are unguarded because you are in your comfort zone. Growing up, there was this extremely helpful family friend of ours who my father trusted the most. He was genuinely warm and reliable. Somehow every time I met him, each time his hand would brush against some part of my body accidentally and inappropriately. He was married with two kids. Despite my brain giving out signals of caution, I chose to ignore it unless the coincidences of bad touch followed a regular pattern. I started avoiding him and all his family functions. I happen to be most attached to my father and there’s nothing that I needed to hide from him ever except this one time. I couldn’t bear to see my father feel cheated. So, I chose to stay shut and escape every situation of facing the weirdo. When I got married, I chose to share the experiences with my non judgemental husband. His support gave me the strength to face this guy eye to eye. I stopped running away from the inevitable meetings at common place. Now it was his turn to start avoiding us.
Just like two sides of the coin, there have also been men who have called out such harassment. Men who have considered it inappropriate and taken a stand. My rakhi brother in a Hyderabad train for standing against a drunk pervert trying to touch me, the friend in marketing class outraged at my professor asking me my t shirt size for a completely unrelated topic, the colleague at work calling out a sexist jokes, the sensitive boss who chose to deal with my pregnancy complications with compassion instead of considering it as paid vacation, the husband who chooses to listen to the daily woes but suggests self empowerment instead of just acting protective. It is people like you who still make me believe in humanity and the possibility of a better future. Not always I managed to thank you for the kind gesture but all I can say is that may your clan increase.
Sexual abuse /molestation /harassment is rampant in both the genders. Most of the times we choose not to speak about it. Sometimes we don’t have an option but to behave like it never happened. Families feel disgraced, partners turn judgemental, society acts cruel. So for those people who question the need for this #metoo campaign by Alyssa Milano, let me tell you why I think it as a brilliant initiative. No it doesn’t help identify and punish the culprits, no it doesn’t solve the problems and it definitely doesn’t reduce attacks on women. But what it does is to make people realize that they have company, that it is not only they alone who have to endure such cancerous creatures. It encourages them to come out of their shells and speak about it. It includes the other gender by making them sensitive towards the implications of their chosen behavior, action and words. Only together we can make the world a safer and a better place and this movement is just the beginning of a larger revolution that can be. I only hope that the world we leave for our future generation will have them say not me, instead of me too.