Policing and courts alone can’t counter sexual harassment and abuse. The emotional complexity of such experiences as well as the family’s reluctance to discuss abuse make it hard for survivors, male or female, to speak up. As this series of first-person accounts by survivors shows, the trauma stays for years and often affects other relationships. Some of the survivors who shared their stories with TOI, on condition of anonymity, have not even been able to open up to their families.
In the first of this series, a successful career woman in her early 40s explains that her confident facade hides scars of being harassed by an uncle, victimised by an alcoholic husband and raped by a stranger. She tried to numb the pain with alcohol and drugs, but then chose to fight back. Now sober for nearly eight years, she says she still struggles for a life that’s ‘normal’.
‘Years ago, a man raped me as his friends stood guard at what looked like a construction site near Dwarka. I was terrified. I was sure I would be killed. As I waited in fear, another man threw my clothes at me, and said, “The man who raped you is the son of a politician from another state and he has a gun. He will kill you and I don’t want to be embroiled in a murder case so I have decided to help you escape.” Rape was normal for these men.
He dropped me off where I lived. I dragged myself to the police station to lodge an FIR. A cop heard my story. He went on to ask me my name, address and father’s name. The last made me back out. I realised that I could not tell my parents all this. They would not be able to take it. My identity became my biggest challenge as I had a successful career as a communications professional. I was a single woman, a divorcee, 28 years old at that time, living alone in an upscale neighbourhood. The stakes were high, so I chose silence over legal recourse. My rape is still a secret.
Years later, I have forgotten the faces of those men in the SUV but when I hear of a rape case, I am unable to take it. Something inside me breaks every time.
There’s more. To this day I remember an uncle shutting the dressing room door to fiddle with my skirt. I was 12. I shouted. He let me go, but never let me be. Every time we visited his house, he would hold me tight, touch me inappropriately, or switch to a porn movie if I was in the room. I was too scared to speak. In my late 30s, when I finally told my mother, her response shocked me. She said: “Tu hi galat hogi (you must have done something wrong)”. This changed everything between us. I still love her but it was a turning point in our relationship.
I was not always an alcoholic. I married when I was 23, only to realise I was stuck with an alcoholic and a drug addict. I started drinking with him. He beat me, I drank more; substance abuse became a way of life. I always wonder how such an educated man could beat such an educated woman. We divorced a year later.
I focussed on my career but being single is not easy. I worked for a top corporate, and one day my boss asked for the keys to my house. He said he wanted to rest and I could join him. Stunned by this open assault on my dignity, I threatened to go to the HR department. He said he’d give me a bad appraisal. I decided to be quiet. That was the biggest mistake. He ruined my career anyway, and it was too late to go to HR. I wish I had acted earlier.
I hope my story will help others find their way. I was lucky to find help to battle alcoholism, the coping mechanism I’d fallen back on to deal with years of abuse. Today, I have been sober for nearly eight years. I am in the midst of setting up a business. The wounds are healing. Normal feels good. I have started writing and share my experience on various platforms, keeping my identity anonymous. I speak here hoping that this coming out will help other women and girls. I want them to stand up for themselves and not suffer alone.
Part 1 of a series in which survivors of sexual violence share their stories to help others open up, and heal their own trauma.