For most people growing up in the 90s in India meant Ramayan on DD (as kids), Scully and Moulder of X files (teens) and the occasional takeaways from the local Chinese van. Birthdays were parties at home, with mom cooking a variety of meals and outings were India Gate in Delhi, where the local chuski (ice pops)guy was everyone’s favorite. Coca-cola came in small glass bottles and was a sought after drink, much needed after a double chicken egg roll that was intermittent treat. Back in those days, (yes those days!), abusing BSES was the favorite pastime, for summer meant long nights of sitting in the sweltering heat, with no power. Pithu was a game that invoked high sentiments and war cries, while long cycling rides in the Jahanpanha forests (not named then), meant loads of adventure down winding hills.
And yet, while the peripheral existed around, I was alone. I guess one learns to deal with loneliness as they grow up, but as children, we really don’t know what to do with ourselves. So we seek attention, in “safe” quarters, with adults who offer us time and goodies and take so much more. Suffice to say my abuser was a well-read man, a respected and elderly man in the family. I wasn’t his first victim, so he was well-versed with the art of cajoling and building trust and getting his way. His was the ideal setting, for we were in the same house, just a few stairs apart and access was never a problem. But when did it all begin? Much as I try, it is hard to recall, the exact moments, the chronology of events is blurred in incoherence; the images come and go, but the scars remain.
Was it in the massage of a 5-year old that the touch was sealed? Or was it much later in the “initiations” of sex talk, it is hard to tell? But the one image that stays in my head from yesteryears is the shape and peel off a banana. Yes conjecture that with the male organ and bite a grin if you are 37 years old, but as an 8-year-old, what I experienced was only trauma at this lesson. Why was the lesson necessary from an aging old man? Or was it the time I was asked to strip down to be worshipped and on my refusal, branded as someone with a dirty mind? The constant play of words, of love, coercion, manipulative gestures, gifts, fear are frightening tools for a helpless child. Much later in life, I learned of the character assassination too, done generously with “other uncles” who had a free day, listening to shit about a young 16-year-old.
And then there was the lady of the house. Presumably unaware of her husband’s affiliations, she continued to live in bliss, providing every opportunity for the man to have a free hand. As I grew up, I couldn’t help but wonder why she was an accomplice in this? What did she gain in luring an innocent child and then blaming her? Is it conceivable or believable that a woman, who lives/sleeps with a man for years, is not aware of his proclivities or nature?
As a mother of two, I know she knew and even though the cultured me, cringes at the use of the word, I know now, she was pimping me. Do I blame her? For a long time, I did and then I didn’t, presumably as I learned of how patriarchy works, even with the most educated. Her son was an entirely different story; A Cambridge graduate, with all the proclivities of an erudite, educated man, protecting his then-wife, from her father in law. He was also my most trusted aide. My brother, I confided him, loved him, kept his secrets and yet he was my betrayer. The man, who knew his father as an abuser, did nothing but character assassinates me a girl in her teen. That is how patriarchy works.
It has been many years to the ordeal; to breaking away from years of abuse. It wasn’t easy. We were thrown out of our own house, my photograph of my then boyfriend shared to humiliate and silence me and powerful words exchanged. What I fail to understand in my naivety is that why even when property was the apparent dispute, to throw us out of a house we lived in for 15 years, was a child and her innocence compromised. As an adult, I know children are always the first casualties, collaterals as it is called, but I still swallow a bite when I think of what happened.
I moved to Mumbai to do my masters. Alone in a new city, I struggled. My parents were emotionally wrought to do anything for me. The shock was too much for my father who went into depression. But he recovered. And as life moves on, I recovered too or so I thought. A series of bad relationships, several bouts of depressions and anti-depressants later, I went back to Delhi and decided to tell my parents about it all.
I wasn’t hoping for a miracle. Like all Indian middle class parents of the 90s, my parents too reacted much the same way. Denial! It wasn’t the first time it had happened to me. The pandora’s box of incidents and occurring is long but suffice to say, my parents didn’t want to hear or even process what had happened. Processing it would mean confronting it and confrontations are always avoidable in middle class homes.
So it simmered inside of me. Meanwhile my aunt re-established her ties with us. The brother tried to reach out and talk to us at weddings and social gatherings. But is forgiveness easy? Not for me. I have met them a few times now, pretended to be normal, but clearly if I am writing it, I haven’t forgiven or forgotten what happened.
My parents feel hurt for what happened to them, but whatever happened with me, never existed. That hurts me. I spoke about what happened with me to some of my cousins and aunts and they too shared about their experiences, but why is there no social boycott? That hurts me. Status quo hurts me. The fact that the abuser will go to this grave, without being called out, hurts me. That his accompli will never know the extent of harm done to her niece hurts me. That the so called brother, apparent protector of sister will never know how much he has scarred me, hurts me. Long ago, I wanted to write a letter to my aunt and brother, but I was scared. I had so much to lose. I still have so much to lose. But what I fail to see is how much I have already lost.
Most days I am fine, but then there are days that I feel a blanket of depression. I quit my full-time job to stay at home because I was terrified of my kids going through what I did. No kid should have to go through abuse, emotional, physical or otherwise. I break down often when I speak of abuse. I quit my first job because I could not handle the constant brush with the subject. I can talk about my abuse but yet not where it matters. I am told it is done and dusted and I should forget about it, but really is it so easy? Does closure happen this way? How do I get closure?
I work on women’s health and gender justice. I believe women and children have a voice, but they need to be heard. It is time we cut the noise and hear the real stories.