By Kavya Raman:
I was only 7 when I first heard the words, “don’t look under the bed, there’s a monster underneath”. Back then, I shuddered at the thought of this, jumped right onto my bed, wrapped my blanket tightly around myself and went to sleep. I went to sleep waiting for the sun to rise, waiting for the monsters to disappear with the dawn of the sun rays, waiting for a safe and beautiful morning. As I grew older, I obviously got rid of this childish notion of there being monsters under my bed. I grew strong and confident knowing that they were gone, that they’d never bother my sleep again, and most importantly, they didn’t really exist.
Today, I’m 23 and I know that monsters do exist. They not only exist but they lurk in every corner of every street. And every second, they threaten the safety, dignity and self-respect of millions of girls around the world, just like me. They catch us in vulnerable, helpless situations and take complete advantage of us. Also, they come in different forms, be it as a passenger of the Indigo airlines or as my SCUBA diving instructor.
This one particular monster, my personal SCUBA diving instructor from the ‘Dreamz Diving’ organization, clasped my palm tight and led me away from our boat, the boat that was half an hour away from the nearest shore, the boat where the rest of my friends were preparing for their dives with their personal instructors. We were all told to give our instructors the ‘OK’ signal underwater every few minutes to let them know that we were alright. When we started, the feeling of self-contained breathing underwater overwhelmed me. The excitement of my first dive diverted my attention from the wrong that was happening to me for the first few minutes.
We descended underwater, meter by meter, and finally reached the sea bed. My instructor had my breathing equipment in his control and my oxygen tank in his hands. But as we swam across the corals, the fish and the fluorescent-coloured plants at the very bottom of the Arabian Sea, his hands were no longer on my diving equipment. First one hand, then the other and finally both. I cringed in shock. I tried to shake his hands away from my body but in vain. The shock slowly turned to fright when his hands began to move across my body. I looked in his direction in despair but couldn’t see him. After all, he was right behind me with both his hands groping me. I was aghast and tried to think fast. I tried to break free but the grasp was too tight. He then signalled asking me if I was okay. I signalled with an ‘OK’. 12 meters below sea level, with my breathing equipment under his control, I didn’t dare show any fear.
The sea was calmer than ever, but there was a hurricane inside my head. He moved one of his hands away from me to adjust his equipment. By reflex, I guarded myself with one of my hands to prevent him from touching me again. In the matter of a few seconds, his hand forcefully found its way back to where he removed it from. My body turned numb with fear. I wanted to scream and shout, I wanted to release myself from his clutches, I wanted to cry, but all I could do was signal him with an ‘OK’ because more than anything else, I wanted to get back to the boat and to my friends, safe and sound. For the next 40 minutes, he took complete advantage of my silence and my helplessness. His hands found their way to every part of my body but they chose to stop only at a few. They pulled me closer to him, caressed me and violated me. All I could do was signal him with an ‘OK’.
The nightmare was finally over. We got back to the surface and I frantically looked around for the boat. It was a tiny object at a distance, easily 10 minutes away from us. I released my hand from his tight grasp and swam towards the boat. He swam along without suspecting anything and we reached the boat. As I neared the boat, one of the other diving instructors in the water questioned, “Madam, aapne itna time kyon liya? Baaki sab ka toh bees-pachhis minute mein ho gaya” (Why did you take so much time? Others took only 20-25 minutes). For a moment, my face turned to stone and I felt the numbness creep in once again. He kept me down there much longer than he was supposed to. All the emotions of fear and pain turned into disgust and anger. Despite all of this, I knew I had to muster the courage to get onto the boat and think of how to tackle this situation in the best possible way. I didn’t want him to get away.
Once I got myself onto the boat, the hurricane in my mind subsided. The smiling faces of my friends were all around me and I knew that I was out of danger. I sat there in the blazing sun trying to get the shivers from the experience out of my system when the boat man shouted, “Koi first aid kit leke aao” (Somebody get first aid) and ran towards me. My left hand and leg were covered in cuts and bruises. It had been long since I saw that much blood.
We got off the boat. I gathered all the diving instructors, the monster and all my friends saying that I had something important I wanted to talk about. I began by asking each of the instructors to describe how they hold their trainees when underwater. Each of them responded saying that they are taught to guide their trainees either by holding their oxygen tanks or their hands. In extreme circumstances, they would hold both hands or legs of the trainee. I confirmed the same with my friends who said that their respective trainers held either their tanks or their hands and that there was no other form of body contact maintained. None of them faced any issues underwater.
I turned to my instructor, in front of his crew and in front of my friends and asked him why he did what he did to me. I asked him why he touched me and held me inappropriately, I asked him why my dive lasted longer than the others and why I was taken farther away from the boat than anyone else. I asked him again, why he groped me underwater. He trembled, fumbled and said a few words that sounded like ‘sorry’, ‘by mistake’ and ‘loose equipment’.
By this time my friends lost their cool and began questioning him too. His vague responses were creating all the more agitation amongst everyone and they began shouting at him. I asked him to admit to his act and tell me that it wasn’t just a mistake but an intentional act of molestation. He did so without any hesitation.
I also have the video where Mr. Dhiraj Singh (name changed) a 46-year-old SCUBA diving instructor at Dreamz Diving, Murudeshwar, confessed that he took undue advantage of me during the dive. The location of the dive was Shiroor beach, the dive was dated 26/01/2015, somewhere around 1.30PM.
There are monsters, yes, but there are angels too. Angels who give you strength, who promise you that things will be okay, who stand by youand who support you every step of the way. My angels were my friends, my parents, my uncle and my friend’s parents. They were the pillows that comforted me and the pillars that stood by me. Without the blink of an eye, they spent day and night in working towards getting that monster the punishment he deserves. They were the sole reason I could pull out of this horrid situation.We did 2 things after going through this ordeal.
The first was to lodge an FIR against Mr. Dhiraj Singh on the grounds of Sexual Molestation under IPC 1860, section 354. The case then went to the court where we recorded our statement, soon after which he served a 20 day non-bailable sentence. Sometime during those rounds between the courts and the police stations, we were informed by one of the officers that this was the second such report against him in the last 1.5 months. On doing some research, we found that there were many such unreported cases against the same man for the same crime. It was appalling.
After being released from jail, he resumed his activities at Dreamz Diving as an instructor, while changing his name to Ashok Singh (name changed).
The second thing we did was to file a Quality Management complaint with PADI, the world’s largest diver training and membership organization, and are currently awaiting their response. Mr. Dhiraj Singh is a certified PADI diver and we felt it was necessary for PADI to be aware of the criminal that he is.
Mr. Dhiraj Singh had his hearing in the court on 16th April, 2015. We are awaiting the final hearing date after which if proven guilty, he will serve a term of up to 3 years in prison. 3 years of imprisonment is a very small punishment for a monster who has permanently scarred the lives of so many girls by taking undue advantage of the silence of their screams underwater.
Note: This article was originally published here.
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IMPACT: Post publishing of this story, many other students of the diving institute came out with similar instances they faced with the same instructor. The police has taken action against the instructor and the case is being investigated. From Youth Ki Awaaz, the story was picked up by Huffington Post, was telecast on Aaj Tak and Headlines Today and was shared by several media organizations, reaching millions.