Tuesday, January 8, 2013

My story of sexual harassment - I break my silence

*Update: I've added links to two stories of girls who have shared their experience of being sexually harassed.I've also added links to a video which explains how Indian parents can explain 'good touch' and 'bad touch' to their kids.

I watched Eve Ensler's interview on sexual violence  and have been reading several articles on sexual violence over the past few days, in light of the gang rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi. This is obviously not the first rape that has been reported in India, but  for some reason is the first incident that has broken the ennui of many normal citizens. One of the realizations I've had over the past few days  is that men and women must come out and name perpetrators of sexual violence and overcome the culture of 'victim-shaming’. As a small start I felt I should come out with my own story.

My first encounter with a sexual predator was at the age of 10 in my grandmother's house. I do not remember his name/face clearly, but if I did I would have loved to provide it. He was a salesman who had come to fix the washing machine in the house. The machine was located in the upper storey of the house and I was sent to keep an eye on him and  to make sure he didn't steal anything. I sat in a sofa opposite to him and proceeded to do my school homework. I don’t remember the complete sequence of events and do have some gaps in memory about this incident. What I do  I remember  is that he sat next to me and started talking to  me. After a while he started kissing my legs and till this day I do not know why I did not scream. I didn't really understand what he was doing, but I knew I was feeling uncomfortable and asked him to stop. He didn’t. By chance, my grandmother shouted from downstairs and asked me to get her handbag which was present in her room in the upper floor. I slipped from his grasp and ran to my grandmother's room to fetch her handbag.I ran downstairs and refused to go upstairs till that guy had left. I never told anybody in my family that day about the salesman. Not that day or any day. Till now. I think I felt a sense of guilt that I did not scream and remained passive when he kissed my legs. At the age of 10, I had a very sketchy idea of sex and thought that a woman became pregnant if a man touched her breasts. I did not know the difference between a 'good touch' and a 'bad touch’. And this why I urge every parent to teach their children this difference and to  tell them  to run away at any time they experience a 'bad touch'. See this video Parwarish Good Touch Bad Touch Video.

All the other experiences I've had with sexual predators have been on public transportation in Chennai. Most of these incidents happened to me between ages of 12-16 when I was a scrawny and not particularly attractive teenager in school uniform. However I fought back every time I got groped and sometimes  school girls who were way bigger and stronger than me stuck to me in bus stands for 'protection'. I think my early experience made me determined to fight back every time. Many a time the gropers in buses turned out to be middle aged men. My arsenal of attack had a pattern. For a first occurrence I would stamp and kick. For the second occurrence I used to pinch and the final one used to be screaming and getting everybody's attention in the bus. I remember with particular pleasure of the day when I slapped a middle aged man who refused to stop falling on my friend and I, despite many polite requests to refrain from doing so.And of the day a friend and I chased a guy who pinched her butt. The way that guy ran after we chased him from the bus stand! These experiences are one of the reasons I gravitated to Blank Noise which fights against street sexual harassment in India. I have been angry so many times when I have heard women advice me to not make a fuss when I protested in the bus. They would say 'He's not raping you right. He’s just falling on you. Leave it; it’s just what men do and what we have to bear with’. This advice used to come from the decently-dressed middle class women in the bus. The ones who used to support me were usually the lesser educated women (fisher women, flower garland sellers etc).I would not term these heinous acts as 'eve-teasing'.This is sexual harassment and it is not something that any woman/child should put up with.

Here's to Jyoti. The girl who wanted to live. The girl who wanted her rapists punished. The girl who did not keep quiet about her attack. And to the rest of us who are alive. Don’t let your perpetrators free to continue with their perversions with your silence. Whoever they may  be.  The stranger on the street. Somebody in your family or social circle. An authority figure. Break the silence!

Also read these stories:
My friend S's story of sexual harassment
CK's viral article on her experience of sexual harassment
Strategies to fight against street sexual harassment

7 comments:

  1. Bravo! I am truly inspired to come out with my stories.

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    1. Thanks Keets.I want to hear your story!

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  2. you are amazing Vandy! Thank you for sharing your story. I am so proud of you.
    Janine

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  3. Hey Vandy! Never knew you were so courageous too...and I am glad you are. Most of us have faced such instances in a country like India, but very few have the guts to voice it up...People like you and others are better than me. That's because you all still have hopes that things will change in this country. I for that matter, don't have any such hopes. And I admit that loosing hope may bring me to the wrong side of development. But, that's the way it is...I have stopped complaining...and at the same time, I have stopped expecting a better environment from our country. Time for you to read my story of rape / molestation experience which I blogged on 1st January 2010...

    http://insights-of-rishi.blogspot.in/2010/01/worst-best-new-year-celebration.html

    Regards,
    Bond

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    1. Rishi,I read your blog and I feel really proud that you're my friend.I don't know how many people would have been willing to take on a dangerous Jaat crowd in Gurgaon.The situation is Chennai is comparatively better as I knew most of the gropers in the bus get humiliated and try to run away when I screamed and pointed fingers at them.But neither situation is acceptable.I'm going to post your post in Blank Noise and other such groups and see what can be done for Gurgaon.

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  4. Hi Vandhana, Nominated you for a blogging award here: http://www.mommystalesfromthecrib.blogspot.com/2014/07/liebster-award-for-tales-from-crib.html

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