The stories are many, the theme the same. Of the clouds of silence and shame that blanket rape and violent sexual subjugation. Yogesh Pawar unravels narratives hidden in the folds of time to understand the trauma of rape survivors and a society that offers little succour
I was 17 when it happened. It took me five years to speak up. And all my mother could do was hit and shout at me. “I know your father’s side. They don’t like me and must’ve put you up to shaming my brother like this. How can you do this?”
She was somehow more upset about how this would make her family look in front of everyone.
When it happened I was too young to understand its gravity. We’d gone in the summer holidays to my mother’s village in Kerala. My parents left me and my 11-year-old brother with our grandparents for two days while they went to meet an ailing relative.
The house is walking distance from the back waters and I was playing catch with a rubber ring with one of the local girls. The ring fell into the water and I tried to pick it up but the rocks below were slippery. I fell and got wet.
I ran back to the house to change. It was late afternoon and my grandparents were asleep as were the help in the house. I went up to the attic where our bags were kept, locked the door and began to undress.
I didn’t know that the window without grills looking out onto the terrace was ajar. When my uncle (he must be nearing 30 then) jumped in, I was startled. I felt it was inadvertent and quickly tried to cover myself with a towel. But before I could gather my wits he just grabbed me and forced himself on me. To stop me from screaming, he used the same towel to cover my mouth.
When he was done he just wrapped his lungi and left. I lay there weeping and feeling dirty. I wanted to tell my mother right away. But this was still not an era of mobile phones and the relatives my parents had gone to in the interior village did not even have a landline.
I felt conflicted about telling my grandmother. My late grandfather was anyway hard of hearing. I was too numbed by what had happened and just kept quiet. My rapist uncle meanwhile went about looking after the rubber trees and coconut palms as if nothing had happened. He would insist on calling me monë -the affectionate Malayalam term for little girl – which would creep me out. “You are hardly touching your food. You Bombaywalas may not be liking our village food,” he’d say at meals when I wouldn’t feel like eating.
When mom and dad returned, I had fever. I didn’t have the courage to say anything and only kept crying that I wanted to go back to Bombay. Even back in our Mulund home, I never told anyone anything about it. I now know the term for it because I have read other women’s experiences. I was just blocking it away, thinking that would make it go away.
In college, I was friends with a classmate from my colony. When she angrily told me of how a pervert in her coaching class had tried to grope her, I broke down.
It was as if what happened to her had opened the floodgates. I couldn’t stop crying and she was herself quite shaken when I told her.
That day I told my mom. “Who else have you told all this lies to?” she kept asking, worried about how this would affect her youngest brother and his marriage. “At least think of how many lives you are ruining with your lies. He has two children.”
She told my dad — with a preface of questions on about why I’d kept quiet all these years.
In my heart I knew my dad believed me. But he resorted to his typical way of dealing with anything unpleasant/problematic. He simply hit the bottle with vehemence. To date both my mom and brother blame me for his excessive drinking and all the health complications he now has.
I’m now married and a mother of two lovely children and live in Sharjah with my husband. After the way my own flesh and blood had reacted, I haven’t had the guts to tell him about what happened.
I like to now lie to myself and imagine that it all never happened. But it can’t go away. When I get too overwrought, I just sit with the rosary and pray. My husband thinks I’m old fashioned, asexual and even frigid. When he’s inside me I just close my eyes. I am 17 again.
Unlike many guys I know, I didn’t ever struggle with coming out. My parents and elder sister saw the signs when I was very young and have been very supportive and encouraging of my choices. Growing up in Goa in such a liberated accepting environment was quite blessed.
When I first began flying with a private Indian airline I moved to Mumbai to my aunt’s home. Because of my upbringing and the relatively liberal atmosphere at home, I never lied about being gay to anyone.
When opportunity came to move to fly for an national airline based out of an island nation in the Indian Ocean, I was told by my cousins to keep a low profile about my gay identity. “You don’t need to hide it, but keep it on a need-to-know basis only,” I was told as I packed my bags.
It made sense and I kept it that way. It was two months after flying for this airline, at a Colombo layover, that one of the pilots in our team caught me kissing someone in the hotel lobby.
Later, when he rang the doorbell, I opened the door thinking I’ll tell him everything, clear the air and that will be that.
But he had other plans. First he went into a hyper homophobic rant and then grabbed me. When I fought him he punched me in the face. “Anyway you like it in the bum. Why not me?” he said as he kept hitting and shoving me. My brain felt blank as he brutally raped me.
When spent, he left warning I’d be out of job if I ever told anyone. He was senior and a pilot while I had been a purser with the airline for only two months.
I remember using concealer to hide all the marks on my face and make up an excuse to the airhostesses about a fall in the bathroom to explain my limp.
My silence became my worst crime. This pilot fell into a pattern of regular abusive sex whenever we flew together.
I felt I should try and make a friendly overture and actually began acting extra polite and sweet around him thinking that I’d make him less violent. Once I was reaching over him to hand some papers to a colleague, he pushed me on the floor in front of everyone. “Bloody homo! Keep your distance.”
It began taking a toll on my health. I was depressed and began binge eating. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. Finally, I told my mom last year. She flew down and forced me to file a formal complaint. “What’s the worse that’ll happen? They’ll sack you na? That’s ok. You can come back and live with us in Goa.”
The complaint led to an internal inquiry where my attacker denied everything. The panel dismissed my charges as false. They were wondering why I hadn’t complained before.
Though they paid me all my dues, I still find it unfair I was asked to resign. Homosexuality is a crime both here in India and in that island nation. I couldn’t even go to authorities and courts, either there, or here.
Now I’m in Goa managing the front office at a well-known resort, trying to rebuild my life…
I grew up in Aundh, Pune, in a typical middle class conservative home. I’d never even worn trousers or jeans. Salwar-kameez and saris were what we were told to wear.
The only leisure activity which appa (that’s what we call my father) and aai were ok with was classical singing. The whole household regimentally lived by the clock.
Everyone thought I was very lucky when I got a proposal soon after graduation from a boy settled in the US. A month after my marriage and a quick honeymoon in Mahabaleshwar, he moved to a job in Bangalore and soon I was ready to move to the south to a city I’d never been to.
It took me a while to get used to the food, the weather, the people and the culture. My husband Avinash introduced me to some friends and colleagues’ wives and I finally felt I was beginning to settle.
That was till Avinash suggested we throw a party for his gang. I threw myself into preparations over the week, planning an elaborate Indian menu. I wanted to everything to go right and impress all his colleagues and his boss.
On the day of the party, he kept calling to introduce me to everyone. I was going back and forth to the kitchen to ensure that everyone had what they wanted.
It was on one such trip to the kitchen that Avinash walked in with his boss to make introductions. Something about the way his boss checked me out left me adjusting my pallu and feeling uncomfortable. When he was leaving he threw an arm around both of us thanking us for the party. I distinctly felt his fingers curl around my waist and immediately broke free.
Later that night I tried to tell Avinash about this but he just told me not be a villager. “These are modern people. They are more open and free about expressing their regard for people. You are completely mistaken. And this is my boss. I know him. He would never…” Though I didn’t believe him, I wanted it to be true.
A week later, in the afternoon, the doorbell rang. I thought it must be some salesman and opened the door only to see Avinash’s boss standing there grinning.
I felt awkward and it must have been obvious because he immediately offered to leave. “This must seem inappropriate. I was just driving by and decided to come say hi.”
Unsure of how Avinash would react to his boss being sent from the door I asked him to come in. I was wearing a nightgown and told him to wait. While bringing back water for him, I flung a dupatta across since it felt awkward to be wearing a nightgown in front of him.
He had the water and held out the glass. When I went to take it, he held my hand. I tried to resist but he kept saying I mustn’t be shy.
In what seemed like a C-grade movie he then went on to have sex with me. Did I scream? No. Did I protest? No. I was far too scared to do anything. He was my husband’s boss.
Though I felt dirty and used, given how Avinash had reacted to my reaction to his boss after the party, I kept quiet.
Emboldened by my quiet, his boss would think nothing of my dropping by whenever Avinash was away. His threats to tell him everything made me submit.
I would think how appa and aai would react if I went back to Pune. What would our neighbours and relatives say?
About a month later, Avinash found an empty cigarette pack in the trash and began to suspiciously ask me questions. Frightened, I broke down and told him all.
I thought he would be sympathetic of me and furious with his boss. But it was the other way around. “He’s a man. He may have tried to take advantage but where is your sense of decency?” he kept screaming, even raising his hand.
Next morning, I took a bus to Pune. It has been three months. Our marriage is as good as broken. Avinash thinks my silence after the initial rape meant I was wilfully sleeping with his boss.
His real concern has left me shattered, even more than the rape. Due for promotion, he does not want me to pursue this legally or talk about it anyone. “Let’s give it some time. Once I’m able migrate to the US, I will call you there. Let’s put all this behind us and start afresh.”
My parents too think that’s the practical way out. Only I’m not too convinced. What if he has a boss there too?
These are just some of the many stories of the clouds of silence and shame that blanket the issue of rape and sexual subjugation. Some stay hidden, and others hit the headlines.
Like this tweet by septuagenarian Juanita Broaddrick — “I was 35 years old when Bill Clinton, Ark. Attorney General raped me and Hillary tried to silence me. I am now 73….it never goes away” — that not only threatens to throw a spanner in the works of the Hillary Clinton campaign but also brought the focus sharply onto the double-edged tyranny of silence that rape survivors suffer worldwide.
Women’s rights activist and lawyer Flavia Agnes, who heads Majlis which works closely with many such survivors, admits the situation in India is worse. “Here, apart from all the other excruciating circumstances there is caste and class that the survivor also has to deal with. When the attacker is a boss or any person in authority it can be very difficult for the survivor to come ahead.”
She cites the instance of the rape allegation against former Tehelka editor Tarun Tejpal and the ones against some judges. “One can’t imagine how difficult it must be for these women to even make the first complaint.”
Echoing her, psychiatrist Pavan Sonar says that it’s unfair to expect uniformly everyone who faces rape like trauma to have a ‘fight’ response. “Psychosocial make-up varies from person to person. Very often, the person who has suffered rape shows signs of post traumatic stress disorder. Sometimes, the victim may be frozen between the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.” He says from experience that working with such victims is not easy. “Instead of support, very often victims face stigmatisation and this can often compound trauma.”
Like him, Agnes, too, says that in principle the law is on the side of the victim. “What is needed is the presence of one specially trained facilitating caseworker who will help the victim through the process working with her and the family.”
She rubbishes the idea of a creating special one window centres. “This hasn’t led to great success even in the West. After the first visit, victims generally drop out. If she is a daily wage earner how can they afford to travel to the one or two centres?”
(Names have been changed on request)
Rape, an act of power & dominance
Victims are more likely to be raped by someone they know.
Between 50-70% of all rapes occur within the context of a romantic relationship, and more than half the time the assault takes place in the victim’s home/familiar vicinity.
Rape is one of the most underreported crimes – due to fear of embarrassment, humiliation, or retaliation by the rapist.
Estimates of the percentage of rapes reported to authorities range from 10-15%
Because of poor conviction, less than 2% of rapists are convicted.
Even they mostly serve only approximately half their original sentence
Over 70% of rape victims develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
Typically, rape victims are questioned about their sexual histories or why they were there.
You are a victim of a crime if you have had unwanted sexual contact. Sexual battery is no less serious if you know your attacker.
Previous sexual contact with your attacker does not justify or excuse the crime. http://www.dnaindia.com/lifestyle/report-rape-and-the-tyranny-of-silence-2166669