Last week, while I was eating lunch, my sister was reading the newspaper-an article about AIDS and how some men still sought out young virgin girls to "cure" them of the disease. Suddenly she casually mentioned the ex-cook of someone we used to know. He used to grope me, she said. Filled with rage and shock, I just stared at her, unable to say anything. AP, another cook, still with some friends, had dealt with him, she told me. This wasn't the first time my sister had been groped or sexually assaulted, but I don't know why she chose to tell me of this particular incident only now.
For the past week I've been filled with a feeling of impotent rage and misery and bad memories. The feeling that I could not protect my sister. Memories of the many times I myself have been felt up. Memories of one night in the hostel at college when some of us girls got together, talking about some of the worst times in our lives.
I first remember being pinched at Grant Road Market, where I had gone shopping with my mother. I was standing near a cart piled with whatever wares the vendor was selling, holding my mother's hand. I was so young, I had no breasts to pinch. Yet this man came by and did just that and then started running away. My mother turned and I blurted out what had happened and she ran after him. He was caught, by her and some other people, and severely beaten, taken away by the police.
Other times, I didn't have my mother with me. Like the time I went to a magazine shop and was grabbed and groped from behind. I came back home, tears running down my cheeks and kept showering, as if that would somehow make things better.
Then there was a time in some small town in the South, between school and Chennai, when I was in a moving auto rickshaw and a guy reached his arm inside to get a feel. I felt like there were spiders crawling all over me. At that time I had 15 year old A next to me (now my husband) who saw what was happening and yanked me inside. We didn't even see his face, he sped off on a motorbike.
There was the taxi driver I once passed who flashed. If I came across a flasher today, I would think he was just pathetic and report him to the police. But I was 11 then and absolutely shocked, so much so that I was trembling.
The list just goes on-grew when I went to Delhi. Never travelled on the bus without a sharp object.
I don't know what triggered it, but one night some of us girls were sitting together in my room-mates and my room in the hostel. We were talking about being groped, sexually assaulted, raped. Not a single one of us had escaped. Not a single one. The stories came out slowly, most of them never talked about before.
S was regularly assaulted by her cousin. She was only seven and didn't understand what was happening. Her cousin threatened her and told her not to tell anyone. Until one day, her mother found her wearing sperm sodden underwear while helping her change. Her mother, a widow in a small town, confronted the family. They denied everything and accused her of maligning their son.
My best friend N, who told me everything, but hadnâ€™t told me or anyone else this, suddenly revealed she had been molested by her own cousin. Taken into backrooms. And then later, by her sister's father-in-law, in a car, when he'd taken her out shopping.
Another friend, raped, because she turned down the advances of a man who kept chasing her.
I haven't talked about this issue with my friends and colleagues here in the UK, but I don't have a single Indian girlfriend who hasn't been groped or sexually assaulted in one way or another. Not a single one. It happened to my mother, it happened to me, it happened to my sister, it happened to my friends. It continues to happen.
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