By Ranjini Maitra:
It’s not every day that I meet a valiant soul who stirs me with her indomitable courage. That day I did.
May 10, 2016. I was introduced to Komal; a woman in her twenties. A bright, creative, aspiring soul, whose vibrant living had come to a sudden halt; who was suddenly drowning amidst a thousand questions, confusions, hesitations and a lot of agonies. Like many others, Komal’s body was also taken for granted. She was sexually abused by her uncle; a man she trusted immensely and considered a true friend.
Komal grew up in Siliguri (North Bengal). Som (her uncle) was merely 7-8 years elder to her and was (still is) based out of Calcutta. In 2007, Komal shifted to Calcutta too and was properly introduced to her extended family. Being two like-minded people, she and Som got along well and grew to be rather close friends. Komal is a rebellious woman with liberal outlooks and firm opinions and was never applauded at home for these attributes. It was her uncle-cum-friend who unconditionally stood beside her whenever she faced even the slightest resistance from her family. No wonder she trusted him the most. But life can be funny!
It all started in Bangalore. Around two months back, a wedding took place in their family. It was in Bangalore and the entire family flew there. After days of celebration, everyone was tired, deprived of sleep and on top of that, they drank; and eventually, fell asleep where they were sitting. Komal slept between her brother and Som. Incidentally, during none of the past family sleepovers they have had did she sleep beside him. This was her first time. After an hour or two of a deep slumber, a touch on her stomach woke her up. She initially thought it was her brother. He has a habit of putting his arms around her at times. But no, this hand was heavier. It came from Som’s side and heck, it was under her T-shirt! Again, Komal thought he did it in sleep. Just when she was about to fix her T-shirt, he removed her hand and groped her. He was simultaneously breathing under her neck, while trying to kiss. A shocked Komal started crying, begging him to stop. But it was to no avail. In that struggle, he tried kissing her numerous times and bit her neck. She wanted to scream, but could not.
Thankfully, it was morning soon. She, of course, couldn’t sleep. Only after everyone else woke up and Komal was sure Som wouldn’t do anything now, did she sleep some more. The two of them were left alone in the room when everyone else left to take a bath or eat breakfast. She confronted him. He started apologising to her, saying that he was drunk.
Those apologies went on till the evening until everyone began to get ready for the reception ceremony. Post reception, they came back to the guest house at about 1 a.m., and she found that the only place still empty for the night was a spot beside him on the bed. The rest was all occupied. Sensing what was going to happen, she asked her brother to shift places with her. However, he didn’t care. They went to sleep and she categorically warned him that no ‘mistakes’ should happen tonight.
The moment everyone else fell asleep, he again started groping her. This time, it was with double force; just to ensure she can’t fight back. Her breasts hurt but eventually, she managed to push him back and ran to the bathroom. When she went back to the bed, she found him sleeping. She occupied as little space as she could and almost crouched. After some time, he again turned towards her and put his arms around her. Before he could grope her again, she ran to the store room with a pack of cigarettes.
She was shocked, tired and broken. She sat, smoked and cried. She wondered how a known faithful face turned evil overnight? It was almost dawn outside when Som came to the storeroom too. She confronted him. She threatened him that if he bothered her again, she would break a bottle of Glenfiddich on his head. For some reason or the other, he didn’t disturb her further then.
The next day, he apologised again. “Tu meri pyari bachchi hai. Main tujhe kabhi hurt nahi karunga. Bahot badi galti ho gayi”, he said (You are my sweet child, I would never hurt you. I made a very big mistake).
Komal cut her wedding trip short and returned to Calcutta. She didn’t know what to do. She didn’t know whether to punish him for what he did or to shut herself and let go. She lost her appetite; she couldn’t sleep. She started having nightmares. The distress in her was so visible that her mother once said she was looking like a dead body.
Well, she was. She was not only looking like one but was also feeling numb. Meanwhile, it was getting too much to suppress all the burns inside. She shared with a cousin of her that a close family member had molested her. She was urged to reveal the name, but she didn’t. She had no proof. Besides, with her liberal outlooks and westernised lifestyle, she was already the ‘bad girl’ in the family. On the other hand, Som had the ‘good guy’ image. No one would easily believe her.
Soon, they had another family get together. This time, after having a few pegs of alcohol, Komal got a panic attack. She screamed and shivered. After this event, a majority of the family started avoiding her. Apparently, the cousin who came to know about the molestation also made an issue out of it and influenced others to avoid her.
This was when Komal decided to take matters into her own hands. She made Som talk about what he had done to her over text messages, after convincing him that she would keep her mouth shut and no one would know anything. The moment she had the messages where he confessed about his deeds, she told her parents about it. However, nobody was ready to believe her. Instead, they blamed her. She told her aunt, her grandmother, her brother, and eventually, Som’s wife. Almost everyone came to know what happened, but it only made life tougher for her. Half of her family accused her of maligning the proof and called her a liar. The rest trusted her but suggested that she forget what had happened and let it go.
After going through hell all these days, how was forgetting even an option? She didn’t want to make it public. They were supposed to meet, and Komal simply wanted Som to apologise. But two or three days before this meeting, Som was kidnapped! Dramatic, isn’t it? This all was making no sense. This time, it alarmed Komal’s mother. She was worried for her daughter’s safety and started pressurising the elders in the family to sort things out. However, Som came back home within 24 hours, without a single scratch on his body. There were no ransom demands either. His car was apparently ‘snatched’, but the police found it from Asansol within 48 hours.
Meanwhile, all this was more than enough for Komal to bear with. She put the whole story up on social media, along with screenshots of Som’s messages. That was when another round of virtual war started. Her Facebook profile was reported by a number of people (and it was evident who made them do it), and eventually, Facebook blocked it. She was restricted from communicating over Facebook for twenty-four hours before she managed to recover her account again.
Her parents were finally supporting her, but only till she said she wanted to take the matter to court. A man groping a woman and causing her pain might be wrong, but a woman publicly describing how she was groped by a man’s hand is a sin. Isn’t it? Her family never imagined she would want to take it to court. Now that they know, they are rigidly against it. Komal has been fighting it out alone; and no matter how much it takes her to punish her molester, she wouldn’t stop before she has done it.
“Answer only to yourself and don’t care about satisfying others. Do anything and everything necessary to heal and help the ones in the same shoe. And I really hope that everyone speaks up. As much as possible. Unless you stand up for yourself, no one else will”, she says.
Not that I have not interviewed a survivor of sexual abuse before. I have. But each time they tell me their stories, each time their voice trembles, I realise how rootless we women still are. I realise how since the inception of our lives, we are taught to hide, compromise, keep shut. I realise how since the very first day, we are barred from setting our own definitions of freedom, opinion, self-respect; how we are taught that we do not earn our own identity, it is imposed upon us. I realise how we have always fallen prey to the preset definitions of ‘shame’ and ‘decency’. The flabbergasting ideas of women empowerment and feminism look like mere bubbles when I find privileged women belonging to urban lives and educated backgrounds hiding their scars, drinking the agony down.
2016, and we still struggle to acknowledge what a woman goes through. Speak up. Talk, share and discuss sexual crimes. Teach your daughter not to shut up when she is violated instead teach her that she needs to scream. Be the father, brother, uncle or friend to look up to.
Because all we could leave for the coming generations is a better world to live in…
Note: Names have been changed to protect identities.