My father’s best friend took advantage of this relationship and sexually abused me for years before I spoke up, only to be silenced. But I’ve now found healing by fighting back as an adult.
The first time he touched me, I was a seven-year-old who trusted him blindly. We had all gone on a road trip to a beach city. It was his family and mine.
He was my father’s best friend, our family-friend and a rock-solid support to our family. He was also a renowned person in the field of academics, the head of a prestigious institution and a mentor to many promising students. The couple looked upon my elder sister as the daughter they had never had. She would often stay back with them for better studies.
I remember reaching the city late in the night. We had taken two adjoining rooms. It was an early dinner after a tiring journey. Sleep conquered us all. The next morning promised to be an exciting one. It was to be spent in the beach.
Clad in our swimsuits, we made our way to the beach. Soft and timid, I was my mother’s shadow trailing her around. After hours of fun and frolic, it was almost time for lunch. My mother and elder sister stayed back with his wife, while I and my younger sister returned to the hotel with him. We were wet and covered with sand. Taking us to the bathroom, he stripped us, scrubbed us clean and washed us. Well, I did not feel anything unpleasant. Why should I? He was after all a father-figure. We were fond of him. Every time he came home he got us goodies and he would also help us in finishing our homework. Our trip was uneventful and a happy one.
Most of our social gatherings involved him. That meant spending time with them. If my parents had to leave town for a medical emergency, the safest place to deposit us would be at his. Very often we would be left with them as my grandparents were unwell. Relieved, our parents would rush to our ancestral place to tend to their parents. This meant spending more time with him. We were growing up. Our academic pressure was mounting up. And he volunteered to coach me.
I was probably ten, when realization dawned upon me. It was a hot afternoon. My elder sister was sitting on the edge of the bed studying. I and my younger sister were on his bed. Having finished our studies, we were trying to sleep that afternoon. He sat next to my sister explaining a Mathematics problem. All of a sudden, his hands crept into my hair. Playing with the strands, he urged me to sleep. I closed my eyes and drifted away. My eyes jerked open, when I realised that the hands were no longer on my hair but on my back. The sensation was odd. The tickles were hard to bear. But he whispered that I should not make any noise. I might disturb my sisters.
That was the beginning. Their visits grew frequent. He declared that I was his pet. He favoured me more. By then I was almost eleven. I was confused. It was good to have him shower compliments on me but at the same time, his touch bothered me.
I was thirteen when he cornered me. We were visiting our ancestral place. My parents were busy downstairs while he was supervising our studies. He sent out my younger sister on the pretext of getting him a glass of water. And then began my ordeal. His hands snaked up my body, feeling and fondling me. I tried my best to free myself. But could not! Terror, shame and bewilderment filled me. Luckily my sister came back with the glass of water and I ran for safety.
I kept quiet about it. And every time I saw him, I evaded him. He would smile and grin at me from afar, try to grope me if he had the opportunity. It was torture. I refused to step out of the house. I kept my bedroom door locked. It was the only safe haven I knew. I withdrew into a shell and I was not comfortable with my body. I hated people who complimented me on my looks. Efforts went into making myself look ugly. My focus shifted to academics. I changed into a shy, depressed nerd.
I was almost fifteen. I was still battling with myself. My elder sister was getting married which meant frequent interactions with HIM. The anxiety was threatening to overpower me. I suffered a major emotional breakdown during an exam. The school authorities were shocked. There was no one I could speak to. An inner voice told me that no one would believe me. Fortunately, my maternal grandparents came down for the wedding. I blurted it out to my grandmother. She confronted my parents who simply stood there shocked and in silence. My elder sister blamed me for cooking up stories. Preparations for the wedding continued. That man was invited to the grand occasion.
It was then that a Christian Missionary from Ireland visited our school. I wrote an anonymous letter sharing it all. It still remains a mystery how the Brother identified me and spoke to me in confidence. The two days he spent with us became my succour for the rest of my life. I had finally found someone who understood my trauma and could advise me how to deal with it. We kept in touch through letters and Brother counselled me at every stage of my life.
I grew up, matured into a woman, completed my education, married and had my first-born. I was thirty, when a friend request came on Facebook from the perpetrator. The years of rage and shame that had been building up in me finally burst.
I did not waste time, and wrote a long email to him, to his adult son, and marked a copy to my parents and sisters. I wrote in detail how I had suffered for years in silence. The suffering had been a lonely one with no one to believe or stand by me. I connected with an activist, a CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) survivor herself and decided to take up legal action against the man who had terrorised my childhood.
By then, my abuser was almost a septuagenarian and a renowned professor. My parents begged me to let him go. I was rigid. Finally, it was Brother who wrote to me how forgiveness was important as a virtue. Something in me changed that night. I cried myself to sleep thinking of the family that had disbelieved me and failed to provide me their support when I needed it the most.
I resolved to be vocal about my trauma and not hide in shame. Well, there is nothing to be ashamed of. I think that the biggest mistake we make is by attributing the blame to ourselves. I started sharing and writing about my experiences. It has been cathartic. It has made me reach out to many women and girls with a traumatic past. And that’s how I have healed.
I have healed by learning to fight back.
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Sreemati Sen Karmakar holds a Masters in Social Work (MSW) From Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan. She
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