She was 27, and at home.
She stood in front of the mirror, naked. She looked at her breasts. This was the biggest they had ever been. But she knew that they were going to get bigger. She stared at herself for a long while before she ran her right hand across the entire area of her belly, from just above her abdomen, all the way down to its lower end. It looked bloated and the bump had begun to show through her clothes now. She was five months pregnant, and had just received her scans from her gynecologist. She had dreaded this moment would come right from when she turned into a teenager. And 15 years later, she still wasn’t prepared for it.
“You are going to have a healthy and beautiful baby girl. You just have to keep eating healthy, and get good sleep and sufficient exercise, just like you have been doing so far.” The gynec’s voice rang in her head.
She was 9, and had gone to visit her second cousins who lived in Chennai.
This was her first visit to a metropolitan city and she was all excited. She decided that it would be the best and the most memorable summer vacation ever. Yes, she was innocent enough to believe she could have an amazing summer in the hot and humid Chennai. She was to live with her grandmother’s sister and her family. Her grandmother’s sister was an extremely fun person to be with. She spoke to her in English, which was a very cool thing for grandmothers to do, and also gifted her, her first video game. Super Mario Bros. Oh God! She was in love with this vacation.
One evening, everyone in the house decided to go saree shopping to Sundari Silks in T-Nagar. They din’t want to take her along since the women knew they would take forever, and taking a young girl along would mean they had to take short breaks to take her to the bathroom, or feed her idlis if she got hungry. So they let her stay back at home and play Super Mario. Her uncle stayed back to child-sit her.
She was engrossed in the game when he came and sat next to her. He looked at her for a while and suggested that he could help her play better. He came over her shoulders, put his hands around her neck, and held her hands and the video game remote, and began to teach her how to play. She got the trick instantly. He stood behind her shoulders and continued to watch her. Then, he slowly slid his hands down and began to massage her breasts. She was shocked, and uncomfortable. Her breasts had just started to grow. They were very small and she was always in some sort of a mild pain as they grew. That entire year. So when her uncle did that, it hurt her more. She didn’t understand what that meant, she was very young. But she just felt that it wasn’t right. She felt violated, shameful, and very, very scared. She didn’t know how to react. She just took his hand, pushed it away and said nothing. Her uncle then came around and sat on her left, and put his hand around her right shoulder, pushed her right arm aside, and began to squeeze her right breast, hard. She was in real pain. The sad part was she didn’t know what was happening to her, she didn’t know what she was supposed to do, and she didn’t know if she should talk to her mom about this. All she knew was that it felt dirty. Yes, very dirty.
She decided that she would never visit Chennai again. A few years later, she realized that she was molested for the first time in her life, and that she wouldn’t be able to forget it for a lifetime. She made sure she never saw that uncle in her life ever again. Every family gathering she attended, she made sure he wasn’t attending. She loathed him from the core of her heart.
She was 15, and in a temple near Bangalore.
Her family had gone to visit a very odd and old Shiva temple. The shrine was underground in a cave that was half-filled with water. One had to walk through the waters for at least 1000 feet to reach the end of the cave where the deity had been installed. Two priests would accompany each family, walk them across the waters, perform the pooja, and escort them back to land. The entire group consisting of the two priests, and her mother, father, brothers, and a few cousins entered the cave. She was the shortest and the youngest in the group. The water in the cave came up to her neck making it really difficult for her to walk. Her mother came to help her, but the priest suggested that the water-walking was a routine for them, and that the group should continue walking while he took care of her. Her mother trusted him. So he held her right hand in his left hand under the water, and he had a basket with the pooja stuff in his right hand that he held above the water since he didn’t them to get wet. He was patient as she struggled to walk.
She felt a pinch on her waist, on her right. She thought it must have been a water bug and continued to pace slowly. There was a tickle on her waist that slowly moved up to her breasts. It took her 30 seconds to figure out that the priest was groping her body parts randomly and pinching them, all under the water and nobody could see that. It hurt, again. This time she knew what was happening to her but she didn’t know what to do.
They reached the shrine. The priest moved forward, conducted the pooja, and blessed everyone there. She was disgusted beyond imagination. What a hypocrite, she thought, and cried from within. While returning, he offered to walk her back. She gave him a “spit on your face, you sick, son-of-a-bitch” look and went along with her mother. What troubled her was that she never had the guts to discuss these things with her parents. She felt cheated because her parents never told her that such things could happen to a girl. Was this normal? If yes, then why did she always feel like tearing away the violated skin, and why did she feel so disrespected and defiled.
She was 21, and at a multiplex in Mumbai.
She had always loved Bombay. She saw herself visit the city and go on a shopping spree in her dreams every fortnight. She had always loved her Bombay friend’s flip-flops, ear-rings, and shawls. So when her Bombay friend called her to visit the now Mumbai, she went frenzy.
One rainy evening, after she had spent hundreds of rupees on buying beautiful accessories, she and her friend went to the Infiniti Mall to watch Rang De Basanti. Aamir Khan was her favorite actor and she was excited. During the intermission, she and her friend went to buy some popcorn and coke. She stood in the queue, and her friend stood behind her. After a while in the line, her friend said, “This man behind me is weird. He is hard and is rubbing it against me.” This time, she knew what it was, and what to do. She pulled her friend aside, and yelled at him, “Hello, mister! What are you trying to do? Do think you can do anything to girls and they will shut up? You bloody molester! I will call the police. Go and shag at home, you loser.” The man fled. Nobody came to her rescue. Nobody cared. People were just glad that one man left the line and that meant that they would get their popcorn sooner. She and her friend couldn’t sit through the rest of the film. “I just want to go home and shower. I feel horrible.”, she said. They left the theater.
She was 22, and at a research institute in Hyderabad.
She had been offered an internship at the L.V Prasad Eye Institute and was in love with her job. She commuted by the bus everyday. One evening, a little after 5:00 pm, she walked out of the institute. She was dressed in a black salwar with a georgette white dupatta. She had to cross the road to go to her bus-stop. She crossed half of the road, and stood on the divider to cross the other half. Since it was just after 5 pm, there seemed no stopping to the endless line of vehicles. She stood there patiently. Suddenly, two men on a bike drove past her. The one sitting on the rear of the bike darted forward and squeezed her bosom and forcefully snatched her white dupatta off her neck, and threw it on the divider, a few feet away from her. Everything happened in a split second. And before she could cope up, and yell, “You fucking bastards, may you go to hell”, the bike was out of sight. She was embarrassed and devastated. She picked up the dupatta and covered herself with it as people on either sides of the road stared on.
She went home and put a band-aid on the wound on her neck.
She was 27, pregnant, and at home.
She hadn’t been sexually assaulted for at least five years now. Nobody had touched her, any part of her, against her will. And for that, she gave credit only to herself for leaving the country. She had been in the West for the past five years. She was an Indian, very patriotic, and stood up every time she sung Jana Gana Mana and all that, but deep within, she knew that her country shouldn’t be famous just for its diversity, curry, and snake charmers. She wasn’t saying that the Western country she lived in was a crime-free nation. Yes, there was molestation, rapes, bomb blasts, terrorism, random shoot-outs, and a high crime rate at that. She could not deny that and did not assume that the West was heaven. But then, there was something different here. She didn’t know what exactly it was. The best she could say was that it was the sense of freedom.
She could go and watch a film without being afraid of someone groping her body parts in the dark. She could go and have an ob/gyn exam without feeling exploited. She could go shopping without having to fear hidden cameras in the fitting rooms. She could cross the road, and walk her dog at the same time, without having to be extremely cautious of male hands that could pop out of nowhere and abuse her. She could stand at the billing counter in a grocery store without fearing that someone would get hard and rub it on her ass. She could let the plumber or the electrician inside the house to fix stuff when her husband was not at home. She didn’t have to fear the male taxi driver or the bus driver. She didn’t have to shield her body with her laptop bag, or office files, to protect herself while walking on a crowded street. She didn’t have to fear that the guy on the other side of the cash counter at the bank would try to play with her fingers when she went to collect cash. She could go and eat at a restaurant at 11:00 pm and not be molested by 16 men on national TV. She didn’t have to fear sitting next to a man on the bus or train. She wouldn’t forcefully be made to watch two men masturbate at a dark street corner.
She was going back to India after two years. Her husband’s contract with the company here was ending and she had decided to quit working to take care of the kids for a while. Everything had seemed normal. And today, suddenly, everything had changed.
She was going back to India after two years, with a baby girl.
A girl of her own. How could she protect the beautiful thing. She had lived with all of it. But she couldn’t imagine the same things happening to her daughter. It broke her heart to think that she had to take her daughter back home, to a place where if a girl is travelling in a crowded city bus, the chance of her being molested is higher than the chance of her getting a seat before she reached her destination. She had to take her daughter back to what she now considered to be the rape capital of the world.
She brushed her teeth, put her pajamas and t-shirt on and went to bed. That night, she cried. A lot. Because there was nothing else she could do.