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My Friend Was Molested At A Swimming Class And This Is How She Dealt With It

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*Trigger Warning

Why do monsters in human form prey upon babies and young girls? I feel that it is just because they are well aware of the fact that their victims would not retaliate or maybe because they won’t take a stand for themselves, as they are too young to understand what happened with them. They know that their victims won’t be able to express their feelings by speaking their pain because of their tender age. Has humanity disappeared completely? Or are Indian laws too slow for immediate action?

The following article is a narration of the time when my friend opened up to me about her history of being a sexual abuse survivor:

“Kas kas ke! (With force!)”, and as that uncle said these lines, he continued pressing my breasts with both his hands underwater. I could even feel my nipples paining as if an animal was biting me hard. I was practising my basics. My mind was at a crossroads at that moment. Firstly, it was obsessed with what was happening to me. I kept wondering if swimming required flatter breasts and am if I was not capable of swimming. And secondly, I kept thinking, if I should slap the uncle and tell him to stop instructing me and if I should die inside the water.”

And as soon as she was done talking, my friend burst into tears, with her head on my lap. I was, both, devastated to know of her traumatic experience, and also proud of how strong she was. She was so small at that time, yet she took a stand for herself.

“Shreya,” she said, with blood-red eyes, full of tears, and started narrating, “You are my childhood friend, and you have known how interested I have always been in swimming. Football and swimming are the two sports that I have always loved. But, when we were kids, we never processed events that needed a long time to get over. I was so interested in learning swimming, that I was the only person who had more than one trainer. During the tenure of my lessons, I had faced no such issues. They had taught me bubbling, then paddling by holding the rod, and laying down upon the water, and then, they taught me balance. I was happy and excited, that finally, one of my childhood dreams was about to get fulfilled. I didn’t think that there would come a day that would make me develop a feeling of hatred towards the sport I grew up loving.”

“He was a man in his mid-fifties, who would come there to learn and to train beginners on the basics of swimming. His son was also a beginner and was in the batch next to mine. I was practising my basics as my regular trainer was busy training other students that day. So, he came to my side and said, “Beta, aise nahi, aise karo (Do it the other way, and not this way).”

“He was instructing me to hold my breath for minutes underwater. After a while, he said again, “Nahi beta, aap galat kar rahe ho (No, you are still doing it wrong),” and followed that with flattening his chest and asking me to follow him. I thought he was an experienced swimmer, and he might do it well. So, I straightened my back, as much I could, and started to bubble underwater, holding my breath. He said, “Nahi beta, aap fir galat kar rahe ho (No, you are still doing it wrong),” and all of a sudden, he touched my breasts with both hands and started to press them, trying to flatten them further. As he continued doing that, my nipples began to hurt so much that tears came rolling down the side of my eyes. Too young to know all that, I did not, at first, understand what was happening to me. He kept pressing my breasts harder and kept saying, “Kas kas ke beta, aise! Swimming ke liye aapki chaati flat honi chahiye puri tarah, tabhi aap swimming kr paogey (With force, like this! You need to flatten your chest out to be able to learn swimming properly).” 

“I pushed myself away then and said, “Uncle, hum seekh lengey (Uncle, we’ll learn).” And as soon as I said that, I saw that man give a cunning smile and said, “Koi baat nahi, beta, hum aapko sikha dengey. Hum hai hi na isi k liye (It’s okay. I’ll teach you, that’s what I’m for).” Shreya, you might feel that it was stupid of me not to slap that man then, but you know what? To act against any injustice, we first need to understand what has happened and know how to take those actions. My mother never talked to me regarding these issues because acts like physical abuse, rape, and molestation were not too much in the limelight then.”

“The #MeToo movement was not in action, and so she might have thought, that maybe, I was too small to understand these acts, which I was. On my way back to the changing room, I could still feel the pain. At that moment, I felt like crying my heart out. The pain was so extreme that I feared that even the littlest of touch would make me writhe.”

“I kept numb, then, and somehow, reached home to my dad. That entire day, I hardly ate anything. I felt tired and sleepy throughout the day. Mom thought that I might be too tired. Anyway, somehow, the day passed, and again, the next day, dad woke me up for the swimming classes. For days, I kept hiding my pain from my mother as I was not able to comprehend as to how to express it to her. What will she think of me? How would she react? I was unable to understand. Days passed by, and I continued skipping my swimming class for a week.”

“A week had passed by, and one night, I felt the pain re-emerging. I began crying, and my mom, who was sleeping beside me, woke up from the commotion. As she hugged me tight, I narrated the entire incident to her, after which she wiped my tears, kissed my forehead, and told me that I should have informed her sooner.” She made me feel safe in her arms and said that I had done the right thing to share and, thus, gave me the courage to fight back. My mother said, “If you keep numb against this injustice, then not only might you fall prey to the hands of that monster again, but a lot of other women may suffer too.”

“Always remember that whenever anyone touches you or tries to touch you without consent, or in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, then that is not right. You need to raise your voice against them. Remember, that not all men are monsters. A true gentleman will never think of touching a girl anywhere without her permission. You must know the difference between the touch of a gentleman and that of a monster.”

My mother said to me, “Look, you need to fight back against this injustice. You need to raise your voice to can save many other lives and be an inspiration to all at a young age. Tomorrow, you will go and do exactly as I say. Trust me, beta, you will win in this, and I will be standing just behind you. I can feel your pain right now. It is painful and shameful, but remember, once you take action, you will feel lighter after this.”

The next day, I went to my swimming class, and my trainer asked me about my absenteeism. I told him that I had exams and I could see that man staring and giving me that same cunning smile. He had two thick gold chains on his neck, and many gold rings on his fingers. I ignored him and started to walk sidewards to do my breadth distance swim.  He approached me soon after, stood next to me, and said, “Beta, aaj bhi dikha du chest ko kaise flat karte hai (Should I teach you how to flatten your chest again today)?” I gave him an angry look and started yelling, “Uncle, aap please badtameezi band kijiye. Agar aap ne dobara aisa kuch karne ki koshish bhi ki, toh main sab ko complain kr dungi (Uncle, I’d request you not to misbehave. If you continue to do so, I’ll have to complain to everyone).” 

“He got a little frightened by my threat and went far away from me. All the people there were looking at me. Witnessing the ruckus from afar, my trainer came towards me and asked about what had happened. I narrated the entire incident to him, and finally, they took steps to implement justice. Everyone there debarred both him from the pool. The pool authorities withdrew his membership and fined him with Rs. 5000. Though he apologised to me while everyone was present, police action was not taken. I just glanced at my mother and father standing beside me near the pool. I could feel the sense of my heart being light now. I recalled what my mother had said the previous night; that my heart would be lighter, and it was true.”

As she summarised and summed up her story, I held her face between my palms and said, “I am proud of you, Swati. I am proud to be called your friend. God has been grateful enough to send you like an angel in my life.  You are a ray of sunshine in all our lives. Today, I salute you for bearing such pain at such a tender age and not keeping quiet and taking a stand for not only yourself but also for thousands of others. Your stand would have managed to save countless other Asifas and Lakshmis throughout the country.”

My friend wanted to narrate her story to everyone out there, and she chose me as her medium. Through this incident, I request all of you not to keep quiet in the face of injustice, especially when you are a survivor of that injustice yourself. When you choose to stay silent, you indirectly affect all your brothers and sisters, who could have been saved by just your voice. My friend is doing well in her life today, well settled with her family and her husband. She might have been a bit late to take a stand, because of her young age and blooming innocence, but I would request all of you to raise your voices. Your one action can save millions of lives and revive the smiles on the faces of their family.

*Feature image is for representational purposes only. 

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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.

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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.

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