It's everywhere. In a word. In a look. In a touch. Sometimes women — and men — may not even know it's happening, but it does. To everyone who knows what it's like to be treated as a sexual object, you are not alone.
#metoo first jumped out at me from my Facebook newsfeed on October 16. It was a friend, talking about how she, too, had experienced sexual harassment — on buses, on crowded streets, among friends, at home. I read it, nodded my head in empathy and moved on. But it caught my eye again after a few posts, this time by a female colleague. She said it had been by her brother’s closest friend, when he was dropping her home. And there it was again, #metoo, a few more posts later, this time by a male friend. He didn’t mention details, just the hashtag.
That’s when I knew this would be more than one.
Almost a month on, it has become the rallying point around which an entire movement has sprung. Young or old, toddler or teenager, sexual harassment has touched everyone.
Welcome to the world we have created for ourselves. Where Harvey Weinsteins get away with assaulting women for decades; where Kevin Spaceys think coming out as gay in the wake of sexual harassment allegations by a minor can sway public sympathy in his direction; and where Akshay Kumars joke about “bajaoing” their female colleague in the same breath as bajaoing a bell.
But you know what’s worse? Women who perpetuate this culture of “boys will be boys”. Come to them with your issues and you will be told to “deal with it, it’s all part of life”.
#metoo comes at a time it is ripe for the picking. Thousands of women are coming out with their experiences; and many, many more are coming out in support of them. There are institutions to reach out to and success stories to gain courage from!
Here we share the stories of three Gurgaon women who may have been scalded by their experiences, but are in no way burnt.
1. *Sweety Kalra
A young girl, all of 9, did not know what “love” meant, until her brother showed her. In the darkness of a room when they were together. When their parents were away. Whenever they were alone.
He was two years older, a teenager. And she kept believing the touching, the fondling, was essential to loving her brother — until three years later.
Disgusted, she told her mother everything. But blinded by love for her son, she blamed her daughter for cooking up stories. The brother, too, feigned ignorance.
That was the day Sweety Kalra became a boy. She donned men’s clothes, began talking like a boy and behaving like one. Today, in her mid-thirties and unmarried, she can’t decide whether she is attracted to men or women — she’s confused about her sexual orientation. But what she does know is that she can’t get memories of those three years out of her mind.
“After my mother died, I decided to open up about the sexual harassment I had gone through,” she said. “I didn’t utter a word until then, as I didn’t want any incriminating finger pointing in my mother’s direction. But what I went through then I don’t want any other girl to go through. That’s why I want the world to know my story.”
Sweety is today a schoolteacher — one of the ways she chooses to relive her childhood. But she is always on the vigil for any red flags in any of her students. She will not let another Sweety Kalra fall prey to her brother.
2. Gayatri Kolaskar
Born into a conservative Maharashtrian family, Gayatri was brought up on a steady diet of tradition, values and feminine responsibility. She had everything she needed to have a conventional, happy marriage. And that’s what she thought she was on the cusp of when she married the shy, educated man her parents chose for her. But she was in for a painful shock.
Her husband raped her on the night of their marriage. Six times.
Numb with pain and shock, she was aghast when she saw her husband behave normally the next morning, as if nothing had happened. She shuddered as the night drew closer. And the rapes continued.
Unable to deal with the trauma alone, she confided in her mother. But she was in for a worse shock. Her mother told her off, saying it was her responsibility to satisfy her husband’s sexual appetite.
However, help can in the form of a urinary tract infection. The doctor she went to took one look at her swollen genitals and knew something was wrong. She referred her to an NGO, which finally helped her get away from her husband.
Recalling those days, Kolaskar said, “It was the darkest period of my life. For a very long time I kept wondering what I had done to deserve this. But then I realised I had done nothing. These things don’t happen for a reason. They just do. And they will continue happening till we don’t speak out, tell people our stories. I today work for the NGO that saved me, and I am thankful I am connected to them. Now through them I can reach out to so many other women like me.”
Kolaskar has since got a divorce from her husband. The very thought of marriage makes her shudder. Her parents no longer talk to her. But she’s fine. To her, everything she needs is right here, in the form of the work she does with the NGO. That’s all that matters.
3. Rajni Verma
Rajni was 11 years old, when her entire family broke out in celebration. Her uncle and aunt had been blessed with a boy and she had a tiny cousin to play with. As is tradition, there were functions, festivities and new clothes to be stitched. Which was when she had to visit a tailor.
She was excited as she chose the design and fabric, and got ready to give her measurements. But as the tailor wrapped the tape around her bust and tightened it across her breast, something about the way his hands moved made her uncomfortable. She repeatedly looked at her mother and aunt for cues, but they were busy talking among themselves. So she kept quiet.
A few days passed and life went on as usual, but the incident kept needling her. So she decided to talk to her mother. It was only then that she realised she had been subjected to sexual assault. Disgusted, her mind kept going back to the incident, even in the middle of day-to-day activities. She felt revulsion every time she thought about it, violated by the touch of an unknown man.
Today, thankfully, she has been able to move on, relegating the memory to the back of her mind. But she still remembers the way it made her feel. “Many of my friends have been victims of sexual assualt and I realise I am not the only one. But it still doesn’t take away from the seriousness of the issue. At the cost of sounding selfish, I am thankful I did not have to face the things many other women do. It is horrific,” Verma says.
*Names changed on request.
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