I remember it like it happened just yesterday. I was about 18-19 years old. It was the summer holidays and we were attending a cousin’s upanayanam. Since it was during the school break, the entire hoard of my cousins had landed in town – we were close to 15 of us and were having a great time chatting and goofing around.
I was dressed in a silk pavadai-dhavani or half-sari – I still remember the exact dress I wore. Soon enough, it was lunchtime and we all headed to the dining hall of the mandapam which was filled with several rows of steel tables and chairs. I sat down at the end of one row, my younger cousins seated next to me and we waited to be served on banana leaves, still chattering amidst ourselves. I remember the caterers being dressed in identical white shirts, veshtis folded up, standing around and waiting to serve.
Suddenly, I felt a hand on my waist, grazing against my bare skin, pinching my waist hard, and trying to grab. I froze for a moment and by the time I recovered, the man had melted into the crowd. I couldn’t identify him among the crowd of the 7-10 catering staff who were standing there. I remember scanning their faces – searching for a man with shifty eyes or a smirk on his face. I couldn’t find him and till date, I regret that I didn’t see his face.
I was both angry and upset and my eyes were filled with tears, but the ‘elder sister’ instinct in me took over instantly. My skin had turned red and I pulled the pallu across to cover it. I leaned back to check who was seated at the other end of the table and breathed a sigh of relief when I realised it was a tall and much older cousin brother. The younger girls were between us – thank God for that. My mind was on high alert for the rest of the day and the next day -I carefully refused to let my younger sister or any of my cousins go to the dining area alone, and till today, refuse to let them sit at the edge of the table. I remember wrestling with my feelings – wondering if I should tell the elders of the family. It was not a fear that they wouldn’t believe me – my concern was that they would, and that my grandfather would cause a huge fuss and commotion. I didn’t want to be the cause of any unpleasantness at a happy occasion, and so, I kept quiet.
Some might dismiss this as a minor offence, considering that scores of women and young girls face the same and worse every day – I don’t know, but it has stayed with me for over 5 years now.
A couple of weekends ago, I had met my girlfriends for dinner and one of them was telling us the story of how her marriage of 6 months is falling apart – with her husband abusing her emotionally and sexually. We all listened, tears in our eyes. And then she said she’d told her parents and in-laws about the abuse – every sordid detail, and together they’d confronted her husband. She filed for divorce the next day. Another of my friends, ‘X’, then asked, ‘What? You told your parents and in-laws about your husband’s sexual abuse??! Why would you? Its too sickening to be shared!’
Something inside me snapped when I heard that and I yelled at her. Its sad enough that a friend is going through such horror but to question her courage in dealing with it angered me to no end. My relationship with X has changed since that day, but it doesn’t bother me – there are somethings that need to be said.