I wake up with a start. I cannot breathe. My chest feels heavy. Calm down, it’s going to be fine. Take a deep breath in. That’s it. Now slowly let it out. But how? I couldn’t. You can. You have been doing this all your life. Open your mouth and let it out. Repeat. I want to cry. But I’m not able to. I look at the clock. It’s 3:23 AM.
“Anjana, could you please wait out? I need to speak to your parents personally.”
“Yes, ma’am, I’ll be waiting out.”
I remember that day. That night my parents walked into my room and closed the door behind them. Amma sat next to me and asked me if everything was okay. I nodded my head. I did not tell her that I wanted to cry without a reason. I did not tell her that I wanted to run away from everything and everyone. I was just a child then. I had no reason to cry. My dad bent down, planted a kiss on my forehead and asked me once again, “What happened chinnu? What is it that you have been upset about?” I told him, “Nothing Daddy, I’m fine.”
I was nine. I did not understand why I had started to scream during lunch breaks. I could not explain why I burst into tears during class hours. They asked me why. I did not know. I wanted to ask Daddy. That old man at the crowded temple. The way he had touched me and ran his heavy hands up my body. Could that have been the reason? That distant relative who every year held me tight around my waist and whispered into my ears when no one was around. Words I could not understand. Sentences I could not comprehend. I remember a few. Beautiful, lips, bite, wife, kiss, don’t, tell, mother. I remember being scared all the time. I remember running round and round the place trying to avoid that horrible man. I remember hiding behind my amma and my brother. I remember warm tears streaming down my face. Could that have been the reason? I wanted to ask daddy. But I did not. I was nine and I did not know how to ask. I repeated, “Nothing daddy, I’m fine.”
I was walking towards the bus stop. It was 9 PM already. I had to get back to my hostel soon. I should not have left late. I heard some men calling me from behind. I heard one of them say I was a gulaabi. Another one wanted me to go with them. They say that we provoke them. They say that our clothes do. I was wearing a salwaar kameez. I wanted to turn back and punch them right in their faces. But I had to be smart. That wasn’t the time for brave acts. I ignored them and started to walk faster. I could feel them catching up. I began to run with them at my heels. Sweat beads were dripping down my forehead. I could feel my heart beat quicker and quicker. I fought hard to block out everything from the past. His rough hands running up…Beautiful, lips, bite, wife, kiss, don’t, tell, mother. No, no, please, no! I ran and ran until I found a group of four men and women waiting for the last bus. That day, that moment, I thanked my stars.
I have suffered from depressive episodes and struggle each day with anxiety issues. When I first decided to open up about my experiences, my friends asked me, “Are you sure you’re ready for it?” I was. It is extremely crucial for women and men out there to know that they aren’t alone. Be it in the workplace, school or any other setting, almost everyone especially women would have had to experience what I went through. It’s high time that we broke the silence. It’s high time that we stood up for ourselves and raised our voices against injustice.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.