WHY THEY DIDN’T REPORT IT

Donald Trump’s tweet about why Brett Kavanaugh’s accuser didn’t report the incident earlier triggered a hashtag movement across the world last week. In India too, many women — and even some men— came forward with their own stories of sexual assault and why they chose to stay silent for so many years. Because…

I didn’t want to spend my life living in fear of his retaliation

V.M., 24, MUMBAI

The incident I spoke about on Twitter, as part of the ‘why I didn’t report’ movement, was one where I was cornered by a man in a professional setting. He was in a senior position at the organisation. He had been messaging me a lot with sexually coloured comments. I thought I had made it clear that I wasn’t interested. But one day when I was taking a phone call, he came in to the small room I was in. I don’t want to get into specifics, but he touched me very inappropriately. I was taken aback and didn’t know what to do. One of my friends walked in and asked him what was happening here, and told him to stop.

I spoke to higher-ups in the organisation and they wanted me to file a report, but didn’t have any policies in place to protect victims from retaliation. He was politically connected. He had my phone number, social media information and photograph. I run an NGO and come home late at night. I didn’t want to spend even more time living in fear.

When it happened, part of me was really pissed, but another part of me was just so desensitised. I know that sounds inhuman, but I work a lot with sexual assault victims and I knew in the moment that this is just how things are. In the time since, it has coloured how I interact with men in general, but especially in the workplace. I’m friendly by nature, and have men in my team at work, but I have started to restrict my interactions and am very mindful of how I talk to them. It’s difficult because a lot of people in senior positions are men, so to network without giving anyone the wrong idea is hard. You don’t want anything to be misconstrued, and if harassment does happen, you don’t want them to be able to allege that it was consensual.

When you share such incidents with people, there is such pressure to report, but no one understands how unsafe that can be. People who put the onus solely on victims should try going with them to the police station, or accompany them to their trial hearings, or be with them as they tell their families who may disown them. There isn’t an ecosystem where it’s safe to report such incidents so you can’t expect victims to put their safety on the line to bring their perpetrator to justice.

—As told to Ketaki Desai

A small MeToo flame has started. Let’s keep it going

TANUSHREE DUTTA

Someone recently asked me why I thought MeToo wasn’t happening in India. No movement can start unless what happened to me 10 years ago is resolved and I get justice. Because that set the precedent. I spoke out and fought, and finally had to abandon the fight and go away. How much can you fight when you are dealing with slut shaming, harassment, disappointment and trauma?

The damage that incident did to my 24-year-old person, property, reputation, and mental state is irreparable. If today I speak about it, it’s because that damage continues.

Though people think I was thrown out of the industry, that’s not true. It is not that the industry stopped giving me work. I had 30-40 film offers but I couldn’t take them up because I was going through post-traumatic stress disorder. Only a foolish person would go back to a film set in that state of mind. My outlook towards life became pessimistic. I felt anybody could misbehave with me and get away with it after the way the incident was handled. I’d wake up in the middle of the night, afraid, and then realise I was in my house and safe.

There was not much talk of therapy back in those days, and it was not even an option that occurred to me. Spirituality came to me very naturally. I went to an ashram, got into Buddhism, did yoga, Vipassana, and Bible studies. I travelled and studied self-healing techniques. Today, I feel confident and healed.

The producer and director were accomplices in my harassment, in pressurising me to shoot that intimate sequence though I was uncomfortable with Nana Patekar’s behaviour. When I didn’t comply, they called goons to make me shut up. All this because that man didn’t have the grace to know when he was not welcome, even when I complained verbally. But that is the attitude in Bollywood — if the hero wants something, everybody tries to please him. Though I complained to the Cine & TV Artistes’ Association, I was told I was wrong and should have complied with the producer’s demands. I knew it was a lost battle.

I had this beautiful life, and suddenly all that was taken away. While I was afraid to go to a set, they were not affected in any way. We filed an FIR but they filed a counter FIR; my dad, hairdresser and spotboy had to go through harassment for the next couple of years. We spent money, energy, time. My family was traumatised. Later, I got calls threatening me with court cases. Our law and order system is designed to drain and harass the victim while the culprits walk free.

It even affected my life in the US, where I shifted two years ago. Recently, I was pursuing a prestigious job offer but didn’t even get called for the interview. I wondered why so I googled myself and I came across these nasty stories calling me unprofessional and a failure. They maligned my image. When I came here and was approached for interviews, I saw it as an opportunity to clear the air.

My story is getting importance now in the light of the global MeToo movement but no one seems to be speaking up. What does someone who comes forward get in return for reliving their ordeal? My case is watertight. There are video records, media reports, eyewitnesses. I reported it right then, yet people are still throwing questions at me. There are still some who ask me why I am speaking out after so many years.

MeToo can only happen when you allow a conducive environment. Many of Harvey Weinstein’s victims spoke up after decades. People are not robots, they could take time to heal, figure out stuff and speak up. They must be heard with compassion. The day is not far when you will have people coming forward in India, who will talk about events that happened years ago. Maybe they will not have told anybody, or may have nothing to back them. You should take her at her word because no woman will want to put herself through something like that.

I don’t want to entertain any fear. They should be afraid now. A small flame has started. Let’s keep the flame and the dialogue going, and wait for someone to speak up whenever they feel ready, comfortable and safe.

— As told to Sonam Joshi

I never told my parents because I didn’t want them to feel like they didn’t protect me

TARA, 34, DELHI

He was a friend of my brother’s, and we were part of a group of kids going to school and back in an auto. When I was in the ninth or tenth grade, he started becoming very friendly. I figured that he had a crush on me. It started with blank calls or phone calls where he would declare his love for me. After that, I started hearing things around school that there was this other girl who he grabbed and kissed. The day after that, she stopped coming to school.

Slowly, when it became just the two of us in the auto rickshaw, every day in the morning and evening for a year or two, he would brush himself up against me very close, so that I had no space whatsoever. He would grope me and touch me wherever. I struggled to keep my arms tight and protect whatever part of me I could.

I couldn’t say anything and I didn’t know what to do. I knew that he could be vindictive, and I knew what he had done to that girl. I remember the entire day at school was spent thinking about how I’ll protect myself when I’m inside the auto. He knew I wasn’t going to do anything about it and just got more brazen with time. I would hope that it didn’t rain, because the minute it did, they would roll the curtain of the auto down, and he could do anything because no one could see.

I had trauma in my life since the age of 13, and after this, I felt like I would always be targeted. I didn’t feel safe anywhere, not even with my own parents. I started feeling uncomfortable physically and thought of intimacy as something dirty. I already had anxiety back then and that only grew. My therapist once told me that the way I talk about it sounds like I had been raped. That’s when I realised, no matter what the severity of it is, it just comes down to how violated you felt.

I didn’t say anything to anyone because I was scared of him. The second part of it was that my brother was very mischievous and already in trouble for all kinds of things. I was really worried that if I do say something, my brother will beat him up and be thrown out of school. I didn’t tell my parents and I still haven’t to this day because I never want them to feel like they didn’t protect me. Living in Delhi, you’re already so restricted that I didn’t want it to get worse.

There was no mechanism laid out in school where I could go talk to someone about this. People don’t realise how tough it is to walk into a police station and report this. The fact that I didn’t report it doesn’t change that it was valid and something that deeply affected me, and still does to this day.

Name changed on request

People either don’t believe that men can be victims or think that we should enjoy it

ALBERT ARUL PRAKASH, 38 BENGALURU

I was around 14 and he lived in my neighbourhood. My parents trusted him. I used to go to his house to watch TV because we didn’t have cable. It started slowly — he would touch and rub my thigh, then it moved to the inner thigh, and then slowly private parts. He would also sleep on my lap. After the first time, his friend was also involved. I don’t think I realised what had happened until later, maybe even until college. All I knew was that it made me very uncomfortable. Luckily, he didn’t force himself on me. It lasted one or two months, after which I avoided his house at all costs. We moved away from that neighbourhood soon after.

I didn’t report it because he would threaten me. He told me thatifItalked to my parents, he would tell them that I was the one who did it. I knew my parents trusted him, and that they would believe him, not me. My parents used to beat me like crazy because that’s the way they had been brought up. I knew I couldn’t tell them and I haven’t told them to this day. That person is no longer in my life or my parents’ lives so why should I create a problem? Let me bury it inside of myself, and help others by letting them know that these things do happen.

I went through a bad phase afterwards, when I went into depression and didn’t know how to trust anyone or anything. I was already an introvert, and just became more introverted after it happened. Over time, I have come out of it, but it never fully goes away and the memories don’t blur with time. I’m 38 now and that distrust still exists. I would say I’m still 5% affected by it psychologically. Even in my daily life, I prefer not to travel in buses. What people don’t know is that while men touch women on public transport, they touch men too.

The reason I didn’t report is ultimately the same reason that women don’t report abuse. But women do at least have a voice these days. People either don’t believe that men can be victims or think that we should enjoy it. The support system for men is limited and people think you’re being too dramatic.

TOI

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