My hands started shivering uncontrollably and my eyes lost vision at that moment. But a series of visions flashed, showing me my future – how much worse it was about to get. I felt blood pumping into my head, shame reddened my cheeks and my body was preparing itself for a fight. I was hit by my 29-year-old brother.
No, I did not abuse him or tried to hit him. Neither did I do anything against Islam or its norms.
I am a women’s rights activist. My work takes me to places and one thing that I do each day is listening to stories. Hundreds of them. From Ghana to Kathmandu, from female genital mutilations to honour killings – I have heard them all. For me, these stories were happening, but happening somewhere far away. In houses I will never live, in positions I will never be. Why? Because I belong to an educated family that moves in a decent gathering, that eats well and wears even better. Or maybe because these stories were just fiction we saw on TV – mere figments of a bored scriptwriter’s imagination.
But in that moment, I became the centre of all these stories. I could recall my friend in Sri Lanka who had been raped by her brother in her childhood but now she couldn’t talk to anyone about it because he was doing so great in his life. He was the pride of the family. Or my friend from Bangladesh, who was abused by an uncle but her mother refused to believe her and instead threw her out of the house. In an instant, I knew these stories were as real as air. They were my stories all along. If only I had paid attention to the clues.
For instance; I have seen the look my mother gives to my brother. Oh, that look! The look you give to a messiah, the saviour. She would never give me that look. I have won competitions, travelled the world, written books. But oh that look! I will never be worth that look. I will never be given that importance. Because some women themselves are the flag bearers of patriarchy. But we have repeatedly seen that in most cases, daughters come to nurse parents in their old age. They sacrifice their dreams while the messiah is nowhere to be seen.
But I was still not hopeless. I knew my parents were alive and they wouldn’t tolerate such serious abuse against me. Instead, both became spectators. No one even condemned the act. In fact, my mother came to me and asked me to apologise! When I refused, she stopped talking to me. I wish she would have said to me, “No one can touch you without your permission. Break that hand”. The words I longed to hear. The strength we long to get from our mothers. But it was okay to get hit by my brother because he was my blood relation.
That day, I also got a clear message that no matter how much food, clothes or luxury are available for me, if I refuse to hand over anything, I’ll be beaten into doing so. If I refuse to respect, I’ll be beaten into doing so. I will still be controlled, and no, I can’t protest because no one is actually hearing me out. My education, my empowerment didn’t really mean anything.
Suddenly I wasn’t surprised. Facts that I had been ignoring came floating to me. My father used to beat my mother. Once she even screamed out my name. When she went home, she was sent back to my father by her mother and asked to apologise. The cycle was on and it was right before my eyes. I recalled my father had not paid inheritance to his sisters after their parent’s death. He was a misogynist and I had just missed out the clues on so many levels.
Today, I saw how you encourage a rapist or an abuser. They get their license from home. Both of my parents had handed him that. He knows he can get away with anything. The pre-requisite for every act of violence against women is this. I knew he may hit his wife tomorrow and then his son may hit his wife. But my son will not because he will have a clear message from me, his mother, to not raise his hand against a woman.