Our nation spends an ample amount of time talking about what dresses celebrities wore at the Cannes, which actor is dating whom, and how much Bunty, ‘Gupta ji ka beta’, scored in his exams. But talk about the things that really matter, and people will turn a deaf ear.
Try telling them that your daughter is being harassed for dowry, and they will tell you that dowry is a custom every father has to bear. Tell them about a girl being harassed by hooligans on the street, and they will ask you to protest your family’s ‘honour’ by ‘commanding’ your daughter to stay indoors. If you are a man, try hinting that you are being solicited by a woman, and comments like “mard bano” will be bombarded at you.
In a country where a rape victim’s face is ‘covered’ (because apparently, her name is blemished by a crime she did not commit), our voices are trapped beneath layers of mistreatment and fear. “If this story gets out, if it gains the public attention that Nirbhaya’s story did, nobody will marry me. But then again, given my dark complexion, nobody would marry me anyway. So why fear?”
Imagine a 10-year-old girl. A child with dreams, which she naively believes, will find the light of the day; a child who cries every time she watches “Titanic” – and who believes, like a million others, that her ‘knight in shining armour’ will arrive. Imagine a girl hitting puberty – the idea of her first kiss not lost in her mind – who has flown across the world in her head, and travelled through the mountains and oceans, who finds wonders in the form of the earthworms she catches.
My name is Ayushmita Samal. But I prefer to go by Ayushmita Krishna Samal – Krishna being my mother’s name. And I want you to know who exactly I am. You see, when I sat down to write this, I needed strength – a lot of it – which is now being defined by you knowing my exact identity. As to why I speak today – it’s because someone told me once, that every story counts, every account matters, for you never know, who might resonate with it.
I am the only child of my parents – and while living and growing up in a nuclear family with working parents, I learnt to race my cars and groom my dolls alone. When alone, my best friends were books like the “Panchatantra” and the “Tintin” – my favorite being the “Tell Me Why” series published by Manorama every month. When you are a 10-year-old, even ₹20 can buy you happiness. It is only 10 years later that I developed the habit of hiding cheap earrings (bought from Kamla Nagar) under the bed. Back then, however, I used to cherish those books.
Along with these books came an uncle – a man in his 50s – a trusted newspaper-wala who used to throw the newspaper at our door every morning, and rang the bell only once a month, to collect his pay. This man, old enough to be my grandfather, knocked at my door every month for three years – almost always during the afternoon, when I was alone at home – and made me believe that he loved me. By ‘love’, he meant sliding his hands down my clothes onto my breasts, reaching between my thighs and violating my body. By ‘love’, he meant kissing me on the lips, many a time – enough to cause bleeding. By ‘love’, he meant pressing his 50-year male hardness onto my body. By ‘love’, he meant 10 minutes of silent torture every month for three years. By ‘love’, he meant grabbing my tresses in his fists and making me afraid of ‘love’ – forever.
There is no glory in being a victim of child sexual abuse. These is no path to self-love and discovering that you were never wrong, but that the world was very much in the wrong. As a victim, since the past 10 years, I has been about trying to find the strength to tell my parents about what had happened under their very own roof – and I have been failing at this. These years have been about visuals from my past, which reminded me of my pain, whenever I was in the company of my on-and-off boyfriends. These years were also about shedding silent tears while watching Aamir Khan’s “Satyamev Jayte” – because I never found the courage that Cinderella did.
It is one thing to brush off your past to the farthermost corners of your brain. Accepting it when it faces you, right across, is a completely different story. It is ineffable how ten minutes can change your life; it is unimaginable how three years can grab your nerve endings, and become a rotting, stagnant pool of dearth in your brain; it is sad how an entire life can be shaped by one single person.
So, if you ask me why it is important to talk about sexuality, abuse and sex – in a world which is rampant with issues like terrorism and poverty – I will tell you. It is because a 10-year-old doesn’t know what wrong they might be going through. It is because the child, after being molested, will come back to their room, kneel down in front of the idols of the Gods and Goddesses that so gleefully adorn Indian households, and beg for it to stop. It is also because, as children, we are taught about the customs of religion, but never about the demons who live around us – and the swords we have to pick, in order to fight them. My sword today is my story, as is my the urge to share it – because we need to talk more, than we need to ‘protect our dignity’.
I never found the faith to tell my parents about it. I never found the guts to look into their eyes and tell them that I was molested as a child. I feel that they do not need to know, for I don’t blame them and I never will. But I also think that all mothers, including mine, need to know that the men groping their daughters and staring at their breasts wouldn’t haunt them half as much as being told to ignore them. Each time we ignore them, each time we turn away from them rather than retaliating, we make way for another girl to be harassed in a similar way. Every time we come across a case of child sexual abuse where the felon is a family member, rather than just cutting off all ties with them, it is important to report the crime and make sure they are punished. This is a necessity, not just for the one victim, but for the dozen others who might fall prey to the criminal.
Strength is subjective. For some people it might come from being able to lead a normal life after a traumatising experience. For some, it may be about building a persistent wall around them, preventing people from coming into their lives. For me, my strength lies in ignoring the people who will stare and point at me after reading this. It lies in the hope that some parent, somewhere, might have read it, and understood the importance of talking to their child about physical boundaries. Maybe a boy, who has been similarly molested, will forgive himself, because the people committed mistakes, not him.
So when and if you read this, share it with three people – and I hope that at least one of them will have a conversation with their children, because we need more Amazons to fight the wars, when there are no knights.
Featured image used for representative purposes 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 email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.