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Remember, It Is Not Your Fault; It Is NEVER Your Fault

Shivani’s trickle of tears turned into a flood as she buried her face in her mother’s bosom. For a few minutes, the silence in the room was punctuated with Shivani’s sobs.

Shivani’s trickle of tears turned into a flood as she buried her face in her mother’s bosom. For a few minutes, the silence in the room was punctuated with Shivani’s sobs.

The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women. 

Smita Das Jain is one of the winners for the July 2021 Muse of the Month, and wins a Rs 750 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. The juror for this month, Jane De Suza commented, “A maturely written account of unwanted touch, a generation apart, is what makes this story a social commentary as well as one of a mother-daughter moment.”

*Trigger Warning: This has graphic descriptions of child sexual abuse and can be triggering to survivors.

Shivani ambled into the house. She neither looked at her mother nor greeted Siro- her pooch- but went straight into her room. Siro came running to the mistress of the house with his drooping tail.

“Your Didi is in a bad mood. Something must have happened at school. Don’t worry; she is not angry at you.” Prajakta comforted the pet even as she worried about her daughter.

Her garrulous daughter had gone unusually quiet since the past month. The twelve-year-old didn’t say much to her parents and had been making excuses not to meet her friends. The habitual spring in her step was missing. Her meal schedule had gone erratic, and she was frequently skipping meals.

As a mother, Prajakta strongly believed in giving space to her two kids and letting them resolve their battles. She only intervened in their lives when required. Her younger child’s unusual behaviour had prompted her to talk to her a couple of weeks back, but Shivani had downplayed her concerns then. Prajakta then decided to wait for Shivani to open up to her.

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But she no longer had the luxury of waiting. Not after the call that had come from Shivani’s school today.

“Mrs Chopra, what a surprise,” Prajakta was nonplussed to receive a call from Shivani’s class teacher. It was the first such instance. “I hope Shivani has not been up to some mischief.”

“Shivani has been very quiet, and that is the reason that I called you. From one whose hand shot up to answer every question in the class, she has transformed to the other extreme of not paying attention. She has also not submitted any of the home assignments for the last ten days. Today, she was in her own world during the lecture, and when I touched her on the shoulder, she gave a violent jerk and looked terrified. You need to find out what is wrong with her.”

Prajakta had made up her mind then to speak to Shivani. She lovingly caressed Siro’s fur as he went about finishing his meal, wanting to give some time to her daughter to settle down after returning from school.

An hour later, Prajakta walked up to Shivani’s room and knocked on the door before attempting to open the same.

The door was locked from inside, highly unusual for Shivani.

With a sinking heart, Prajakta knocked on the door with more vigour. “Open the door, Shivani,” she shouted and was relieved to get a reply from the other side. “I am busy, Mom,” her daughter replied, “please come later.”

“No. We are going to talk now.” Prajakta surprised herself with the steel in her voice. “Open the door now,” she ordered.

After a few seconds’ pause, Prajakta could make out the sound of reluctant footsteps treading towards the door. Shivani unclasped the latch without opening the door.

Prajakta quickly stepped inside the room.

Shivani was already back in her bed, her body covered in the comforting cocoon of a duvet. Prajakta could hear the sniffles from that direction.

She darted towards the bed, pulled off the cloth that concealed Shivani from her sight, and kissed her daughter’s forehead.

“Darling,” she said in a gentle voice, “Everything will be fine. Trust your mother.”

Shivani’s trickle of tears turned into a flood as she buried her face in her mother’s bosom. For a few minutes, the silence in the room was punctuated with Shivani’s sobs.

Shivani looked up at her mother; her eyes were bloodshot and puffy.

“What is the matter, Shivani? Please tell me.”

Shivani’s lips remained unmoved even as her eyes searched Prajakta’s face.

“Unless you tell me what your problem is, how will it get resolved?” Prajakta reasoned.

“You will get angry with me,” Shivani said.

“I promise I won’t.”

“The Physical Education instructor at my school touches me here,” Shivani gestured towards her breasts.

Prajakta’s blood boiled. She restrained herself from saying anything lest her agitation further compounded Shivani’s woes.

Emboldened by Prajakta’s silence, Shivani continued,  “The students of our class have started to train one-on-one with the PE instructor for the upcoming Sports Day. I have opted for Skipping and hence practice indoors, unlike the rest of my classmates. A month back, when I was practising inside the PE hall, the instructor came close to me, squeezed my chest and remarked that my breasts were firm for someone my age. He advised me to wear a tighter bra to avoid distracting him. I was confused about his intentions the first time. But then he does it with me every time during the individual PE session.”

Shivani continued after a pause. “I thought of switching to an outdoor sport, but he would not let me. He also humiliates me in front of the rest of the class when we have group exercises. Today, when I told him that I would complain about him, he smirked and said, ‘You are a girl. Everyone will say that it is your fault.’

Prajakta’s mind went blank. The phrase ‘It is your fault’ echoed in her ears. She had heard it before, many years back.

*

“Mummy, I don’t want to take the Maths tuition.” Fifteen-year-old Prajakta hesitantly pleaded with her formidable mother.

Her mother, getting ready in front of the mirror for the Ladies Club, said without looking at her, “Don’t be ungrateful. We are not sparing any expenses to make sure that you get all the support to top your school boards. Maths is your weakness, and you are fortunate that, at my insistence, my cousin Sharma Bhai agreed to come home to teach you the subject. He is the best maths tutor in Kolkata and has a long waiting list of students. And you are saying no to his sessions! This won’t do,”  she concluded.

“I will study on my own and get good marks,” Prajakta argued.

“No more words on this,” her mother was dismissive.

Prajakta continued to sit put. Should she tell all to her mother or keep quiet? The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now, she thought to herself.

She was afraid of her mother and didn’t want to give the details. But she will continue to get violated if she didn’t.  Prajakta shuddered at the vision of Sharma Uncle’s lecherous looks. The touch of his slimy hands on her arms and face was intolerable. Then during yesterday’s session, he had gone ahead to grope her breasts. She had recoiled in horror. He had laughed and boasted since it is going to happen every day, she might as well start to enjoy it.

Prajakta decided that it was best to get out of the tuition class before things got out of hand.

“Sharma Uncle touches me inappropriately, Mummy,” she blurted out.

Her mother paused. Prajakta had her full attention now.

“What do you mean by he touches you inappropriately?” she demanded.

“He squeezes my hands, pats my back, strokes my cheeks,” Prajakta replied.

“That could be normal paternal touch,” her mom countered.

“Yesterday, he also pressed my breasts.”

Smack! The ferocious slap on the face momentarily blinded Prajakta. Tears coursed down her cheeks before she could fully comprehend what had happened.

Her mother was standing in front, hands on her hips.

“So this is what you do behind our backs when you are supposed to study,” she shouted.

“But Mummy, what did I do?” Prajakta protested between sobs.

“I know Sharma Bhai for years. He is a nice person. You may have smiled too hard, spoken in too friendly a manner or worn something inappropriate to encourage him. I remember telling you the other day not to wear the mini skirt at home, but you didn’t listen. Look what that has led to now. It is all your fault.”

The pain in her heart from her mother’s sharp rebuke was worse than the throbbing sensation that was passing through her face.

“You will not step out from home. No libraries, no sports, no going out with friends. Study on your own from now. I will apologise to Sharma Bhai on your behalf and ask him not to come. Not a word of this to anyone, else your father and I will not be able to hold our heads in the neighbourhood. Have I made myself clear?”

Prajakta mutely nodded. She could not understand why she was being made out to be the sinner here. She was a victim of sexual molestation, and instead of providing succour and support, her mother was berating her. Exhausted, she fell asleep with the words ‘it is all your fault’ reverberating in her mind.

*

“Mom, say something, please.” Shivani’s subdued voice broke through Prajakta’s reverie. She stared at her daughter, who was younger than her age when the horrible incident had happened.

One positive outcome of that experience was the cessation of her tuition sessions with Sharma Uncle. With time her mother also lifted the restrictions that she had imposed. But the boisterous girl had turned quieter, the curious student in her had died a slow death, and she had abandoned all her ambitions. She became inured to meeting Sharma Uncle at family functions and pretending that nothing had happened. The wound healed on the surface, but the scars ran deep.

Over the years, she had consigned that chapter from her childhood to the remotest corner of her mind. Now history was repeating itself.

But this time, Prajakta was the historian. She would not let happen to Shivani what she had gone through in the hands of her mother.

She engulfed Shivani in a warm embrace.

No words were spoken for some time. Then Prajakta tenderly entangled herself from Shivani’s arms and held her daughter’s hands. Her face was set in a determined manner as she looked straight into Shivani’s eyes and proclaimed, “IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. If someone is sexually molesting you, you are a victim, not the perpetrator.”

Shivani listened quietly, relief visible in her eyes.

“Remember, you have nothing to be afraid of,” Prajakta continued. “Your parents will always believe you and will protect you from such untoward instances. In future, you are to tell me of such incidents upfront, rather than suffering alone, as you have been for the past month. Hope you have understood?”

“Yes, Mom.”

“Tomorrow, before assembly time, we will go to the Principal’s room and complain to him about this PE instructor of yours. You may narrate the facts as they were to her; there is no need to be ashamed. I will be there with you, and we will handle the situation together. Does that make you feel better?” Prajakta asked.

Shivani’s tears had stopped. She nodded vigorously.

“Come and have your lunch now. I have prepared your favourite Aloo Parantha.” Prajakta let go of her daughter’s hands and got up.

A flicker of a smile dawned on Shivani’s face. “I am starving,” she said.

Prajakta smiled back.

The scars of the past had started to heal in the present.

Author’s Note: Statistics show that 109 children are sexually abused every day in India. In 90 per cent of the cases, the perpetrators are known to the children or are people whom the children trust, including close relatives. Parents of such children are scared to tell anyone due to fear of him being shamed in society. Various experts have pointed out the disturbing tendency of victim-blaming, especially in cases where adolescent girls are at the receiving end of the abuse. The trauma sometimes impacts the children through life; they become guilty, fearful, lonely and worried.

Editor’s note: This month’s cue has been selected by Jane De Suza, whose books combine humour with thought-provoking insights, which have got them onto award lists and Amazon’s and Nielsen’s bestseller charts. Flyaway Boy (shortlisted for The Times AutHer Awards, PeekaBook and Neev Lit fest awards) and When the World went Dark bring hope to issues like death, grief and stereotyping. The Spy who Lost her Head and Happily Never After are of special interest to women, and the SuperZero series and Uncool for children. The Midnight Years, out soon, takes on young adult mental health.

The cue is from her latest book When the World Went Dark.

“The trick question had begun to seep in, however. It had become a trick situation. The longer she sat feeling sorry for herself, the less sorry she felt. It’s called a reverse something or the other. There isn’t time to get into that now.

Image source: tanukiphoto from Getty Images Signature Free for Canva Pro

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About the Author

Smita Das Jain

Smita Das Jain is the author of the bestselling short story collection, 'A Slice Of Life: Every Person Has A Story,' available worldwide on Amazon. Her E-book 'The Lost Identity' is available on Amazon. read more...

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