We are all humans. We therefore like to live in denial as long as things are not affecting us directly. For us, it is always some unknown girl who gets raped, some man living in an obscure part of the city who gets murdered and a faceless woman who is burnt to death for not bringing enough dowry. We cannot accept the fact that things can happen to us, that we can be victims, unless they actually occur. I have read countless articles that talk about the number of unreported sexual abuse cases in our country and the massive debates around it. People go on and on about how victims should speak about it, no matter what. But what they probably don’t understand is the shock that survivor has to go through while bringing back to memory every minor detail. It is pretty much akin to ripping a wound apart and I know precisely why. I have been a victim of sexual abuse as a child. I was saved in the nick of time, before things could go terribly wrong but the horror that it has left me with is extremely difficult to put into words.
I was twelve when it happened. My mother was out to bring my sister back from school and I was home with my nanny. He was someone not entirely unknown to me; he had visited us quite a few times before, as the women in my family were very fond of his fare. The shawls that he sold had the most beautiful, the most intricate designs that could only belong to the state of Kashmir, the place he came from. He was very different from the other door-to-door salesmen. I remember how he would always greet me with a smile and would utter the words “hello meri bacchi” in an accent I was not really familiar with. He was fair and had green eyes, the first I had seen and his muscular built could have intimidated anybody, except me, because I was too preoccupied with the imaginary world that I lived in, to care. So this particular afternoon, when I saw him at the door, I did not think twice before asking my governess to let him inside because he was no stranger to me. He was merely that ‘acche wale Kashmiri shawl wale uncle‘, but I had no idea that my perception was about to change in a few minutes.
Since I was all of twelve, a clearly young and impressionable mind with no knowledge whatsoever of the ‘birds and the bees’, I could not fathom as to what he exactly intended to do. I walked into the room with a tray that had a glass of water set on it, something that I was told I was supposed to do when guests visited us. He smiled the moment he saw me and I smiled back, blissfully unaware of his intentions. The next thing I remember was the tray being snatched from my hands while I looked on in absolute shock. He held my face very tightly between his strong, sturdy hands, so much so that I found it difficult to breathe and kissed me forcefully on my left cheek. I might have been a kid, but knew the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’ as that was something that my mother had clearly explained to me. I realized that this uncle was not all that nice and tried to pull myself away from him and to my surprise, he proceeded to lift me off the floor. The next few minutes or seconds, I cannot say, are pretty much indescribable but several things happened together. I was kissed again, with ten times the force as compared to the previous one, my waist was grabbed in ways that left me in pain and more forceful kisses landed on my face while I struggled. I remember trying to kick him so that he would let me go, but to no avail. I finally let out a scream and before he could muffle the same, my nanny left the tea she was preparing for him and came running into the room.
I was immediately back on the floor while his bloodshot eyes shifted from my face to that of my governess. I ran to her, crying in a way I hadn’t cried before, not even that one time when a huge table had landed on my foot. She held me close and tried to make sense of the situation. She started screaming at the man and questioning him while he simply stared. I did not look at his face because I was too frightened to do that and I can vaguely recall my nanny’s desperation as she tried to think of something she could do. Amidst this confusion, this man picked up his bag and ran out of the other door of the room (this room has two doors and the second one is adjacent to the entrance of the house) and was out of the apartment within seconds. He knew that two helpless girls cannot do much, he knew everything too well. My governess wanted to run after him but I stopped her and was clutching onto her tightly. She asked me to tell her everything that had happened and I did not speak a word, I cried and then some more. She tried reaching the phone to call my father (he was the only one with a mobile phone back then) but I did not allow her to do that. It took me some hours to stop the tears from flowing but I still could not speak coherently. It was time for my mother to get back and I forced didi to promise me to not speak a word about it in front of my parents. She protested but my tears probably kept her silent. She would have spoken about it, I am sure, but my mother returned only to find me burning in fever. She was a little surprised because I was perfectly fine in the morning and asked if there was something troubling me. I had nothing to say and she proceeded to ask didi, but before she could speak, I began to cry. I remember being given a lot of medicines and being put to sleep after that. I had the most terrible nightmares, but kept myself from screaming, I had screamed enough that day.
My parents were still confused in the morning and that meant that my governess had not broken her promise. It took me a week to recover but the nightmares kept coming. Weeks turned into months, the incident was crystal clear in my head, it still is, but my family does not seem to have an iota of an idea about what actually happened. It was and will forever remain a deep, dark secret that me and my nanny will share for the rest of our lives.
There have been innumerable instances where I have thought of speaking to my parents about it. But let me be honest, I could never muster enough courage. I understand what girls mean when they say that they could not go up to their family members and tell them about such incidents because it is often associated with this trauma that you do not want to go through all over again. My parents are the most liberal people I know but that has also not been an incentive for me to talk to them. I am 22 now and this episode, the face of the man, his expressions, his voice – I remember everything perfectly well, but could never confide in my family during the past ten years. I still cannot. I still flinch a little, every time I am touched as it brings back the horror of what could have happened had my nanny not been there. The nightmares have not disappeared entirely and the incident is probably the reason why I often get really awkward around males. It is this inexplicable fear, that still lies somewhere deep inside me and it probably will, forever.
My mother often asks me: ”yaad hai woh kashmiri shawl wala? Badi acchi cheezein thi usske paas. Pata nahi kahan gayab ho gaya”. I always look blankly into the space ahead of me. I know best.