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What A 20-Something Got For Speaking Up Against The Uncle Who Sexually Abused Her

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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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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