One of the best things about the family I was born in, was that there was no gender discrimination of any sort. In fact, I only realised after studying class 8 Anatomy that boys and girls are supposed to be different. Call me dumb, but that is the way it was. But soon after that, in the next two years or so, I suddenly grew up. In fact I was forced to grow up and realise the world is not as beautiful as it looked before the apple. There were many people around who looked at this young bubbly chirpy tomboy girl as an object of desire and pawing and who just left a feeling of loathing in my mind.
When you are 13-14, with all the hormonal changes in the body, girls are already struggling. Dealing with studies, teenage issues, boys, parents and lechs. I was travelling in a train, sleeper class with Maa. It was an overnight journey and we both had lower berths. Maa fell asleep on one and so did I. I was 13 years old, wearing a frock, covered with a thin sheet.
In the middle of the night, I woke up feeling spiders crawling over my legs. I grew wide awake and saw a guy sitting near my feet and his hands moving over my legs. Though nobody had really told me about good touch and bad touch, instinctively, I knew this was not right. I sat up suddenly and moved to the other end of the berth. The guy reassured me, don’t worry, all is well, lie down and go back to sleep. But I could not. I was wide awake, trembling and sitting with my arms wrapped around myself curled up near the window. I thought of waking up Maa but my mind told me not to, no, don’t wake her up, she may think it is your fault. (She wasn’t like that, but the mind of a 13 year old can play tricks, maybe it was the 70’s Bollywood effect, who knows). So I sat through the night, wide awake, at the corner of the berth, sometimes falling asleep, but waking myself up the next instant. The guy became tired after waiting for a while, and finally left. But I could not sleep again. Since then I have ensured I always book the upper berth and cover myself head to toe with a sheet, safely tucked under me from all sides, or not travel by train at all.
In the same year, there was another incident as I was staying with my extended family. One would assume that a young girl would be very safe with family, brothers, cousins and uncles. But in the repressed Indian households, that is seldom the case. Summer holidays, too many people in the house, you did not get individual rooms to sleep, all growing up “kids” slept in a giant drawing room, brothers and sisters and young unmarried uncles one after the other. I have come to the conclusion that night’s wake up the animal in boys who are not yet mature enough to be called men. And I woke up again with hands pawing me. Talk about being despo. 20 people sleeping one after the other and this guy is pawing his cousin sister who has just entered puberty. Woke up, removed the hands once, tried to go off to sleep again, hoping he would get the hint, but it insisted on coming back again and again. At that age, girls don’t like creating a scene, they don’t want all eyes on them and looking at them as if they have done something wrong by growing up. I warded off the hands a number of times, but they always returned back so finally I woke up another cousin and told him what was happening. And then the fellow got beaten up surreptitiously but squarely, without the rest of the family being aware of the fact. And the guy had the audacity to claim because my knees touched his once in an overfilled car on a bumpy road, he assumed I was leading him on.
Those two years were the most troublesome for me as a lot of people around thought I was too young to resist, an easy prey. I feel so sad for the girls who have succumbed to the carnal desires of the men with no sense of right and wrong. This guy had come to Jodhpur to “see” a girl, for marriage prospects, a standard Indian practise along with his foreign returned brother. Being a distant relative, they stayed at our home. This was a school day but for some reason, I had not gone to school, maybe I was sick or something. Maa had gone to her school and Dad had gone out to the market for something. Hence, it so happened that for about an hour I was alone at home with the foreign (returned) brother who believed Indian girls were as easy. I was reading a book sitting on the sofa and this guy came and sat next to me suddenly and started talking. I hardly remember what he said, but I remember every detail of what he tried to do, how he tried to touch me, how I tried to move away, how he came closer and closer and tried to manoeuvre himself in a way that he could touch me anywhere and everywhere. I was sick, I was stuck, I was alone at home. I told him I will shout, he said, there is nobody here. I was in real trouble.
Finally I had a brainwave. I got up and walked out to our roof and went and sat at the parapet edge, which was visible from the street and the shops. The guy followed me and started insisting I come inside. I refused and said, if you try anything I will jump. By that time the people from the street had started looking up. They could see a young girl sitting on the edge and a man standing behind. Now this guy could really not do much, so after some futile attempts at persuasion, he went back inside and I stayed there, on the edge, in the harsh sun, till Baba came back home. I told Maa this story later, once the guy had gone back and though she was very upset, at the end she did nothing, nobody told the guy what he did was wrong, nobody slapped him or kicked him. I continued with my life and he with his.
It is not that my life has been shattered because of these incidents, or I sit every day and curse these people. No, we move on. But the mind of a young teenage girl, changes. She grows up, her childhood is suddenly over. And what if more had happened? What if I had been raped, scarred for life? I was “lucky” enough not to be. It is really ironical that I consider myself lucky because though I was pawed, molested, but I was not raped. But, if there is me, there are thousands who are not so “lucky”. This blog is for all those girls, telling them to be careful, don’t trust people blindly, you have the freedom to decide who is allowed to touch you, keep your presence of mind, find your way out of tricky situations, raise hell if you have to. On this independence day, I wish the world to be free from perverts and dirty minds, I wish for a hassle free life for women, I wish for us to be equally safe.