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I Was Barely 8 Years Old When It All Started

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TRIGGER WARNING 

I was barely 8 years old when it all started. I was quite a chirpy kid, someone who loved going to family functions and was loved by all the relatives.

Every year during Durga Puja, we’d go to a relative’s place where it was a grand celebration. I loved it because of the fancy clothes, the chit-chatting, and of course, the food!

I had a cousin whom I was very close to. Let’s call him V. V was 5 years older to me, and was extremely good-looking. While the rituals were on, we’d play around the house with a couple of other kids. And then, one day he suggested that we play hide-and-seek.

It was my favorite game, and I was pretty good at hiding! However, this time – he took my hand, and guided me to a secret place. According to him, it was ‘a place where no one would find us’.

I was excited – we made a great team, and we’d win for sure. We hid on the dark staircase leading to the terrace.

And then he asked me what reward he’d get for making me win the game. I was confused. And before I could answer, he kissed me on my lips – plunging his tongue down my throat. I was shocked, and I barely knew what had just happened. I could barely see his face because of the darkness, but I’m sure he smiled.

“Did you like it?” he asked. I shook my head no. He told me that I’ll like it soon. He then started touching my evidently-not-there breasts. “I’d want them to grow soon, he said. I didn’t know what he meant. I was stiff, and deep inside I knew that what he was doing was wrong. But he was my cousin, he wouldn’t hurt me, right?

By then, it was lunchtime. “This is our little secret, ok? If you tell anyone, we’ll not team up anymore, and you’ll lose.” I didn’t want to lose. And so, I kept quiet. Because he was my cousin – he wouldn’t hurt me, right?

A couple of months later, we went to their place again. While our parents were busy chit-chatting, he asked my parents if he could take me to his room. They said yes.

Back in his room, he asked me if I was a little girl or a big girl. I said I was a big girl. He then got up and locked his room. He told me that I had to prove that I was a big girl and that I had to do “big girl” things. I nodded. And then, he took off his pants, and I saw his ugly dick. I looked away, disgusted. He came near me, and asked me to touch it. I shook my head to say no. It was gross, and I didn’t want to touch it.

He told me “You don’t want to touch it because you’re a baby. Had you been a big girl, you’d not have said no.” I was offended. I WAS EIGHT. I was a big girl. And so I touched it, and he moaned.

He then asked me to sit down. I abided. He touched my inner thighs, and then he touched my panties. He slid it aside, and put his fingers inside me. “It hurts!” – I said. “It will, you’re a big girl.” I nodded. It felt wrong, but I couldn’t stop it.

Before leaving the room, he said – ‘This is our little secret. If you tell anyone, I’ll tell people that you’re a little girl and not a big girl.” I nodded, and kept quiet.

This continued as a yearly ritual till the time I was 12. I couldn’t tell my parents because I didn’t even know what was happening.

And then, we shifted to a different city altogether, and it ended. For years, my mind blocked the incidents. That’s what it tends to do – it blocks traumatic events. In 2012, when I was all of 16, we went back to the city for a vacation. My dad insisted that we go to their place too, and I couldn’t care less.

And there he was – my predator. He was around 21, and he looked as handsome as ever, Royal almost! He smiled at me, and told me that I looked beautiful. I smiled. By then, I was disgusted by him, but somewhere his aura was charming too. It was confusing. And he knew this.

He smirked and took my hand – taking me to his room. I was too shell-shocked to even react. “I knew you’d be this beautiful,” he said looking at my breasts, and he kissed me. But this time, knowing what was happening… I didn’t stop him. And this changed the game for me. All of a sudden, the onus of the situation came on me, and not him. I started thinking, “I allowed him to kiss me today. I didn’t stop him.” And I kept thinking that maybe I asked for it, and that if I even told anyone that he had abused me as a child, no one would believe me because “Hey, you kissed him back”.

And this guilt kept me quiet. Subconsciously, I had accepted my fate. And this guilt ruined my personal life and how. I can’t sustain any relationship beyond a month or two. I can’t get intimate with a guy because of the mental block.

My relationship anxiety drove me so crazy that I had to go to a psychologist to solve it. And I’m still healing. After years of self-guilt, my psychologist told me that it wasn’t my shame but his. It wasn’t my fault, it was his. And I shouldn’t have to be guilty about anything.

The realization has liberated me, but it’s still going to be a long, long way. The harm that was done to me has had an irreversible impact on me while he’s happily married.

After all these years, I finally confronted him and as expected, he was scared.“Oh, I always had the guilt but I didn’t have the guts to talk about it,” he said. But the line that got the cake was, “I thought you’d overcome it like I did.”

Wow. Men are indeed a special species, and you saying #NotAllMen at this will not help reduce the pain I’ve gone through. Danger lurks everywhere, and I wonder how we can ever save ourselves.

Featured image for representation only.

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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