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I complained about his behaviour to my parents, but again the advice was the same as the last time, “stay away from him when he comes home. This is how he’s always been.”
Trigger Warning: This deals with child sexual abuse and may be triggering for survivors.
I was 6 years old and funnily, though people say kids’ memories can’t be trusted, I remember that day even now- 32 years on.
My parents were at work and I was being looked after by our stay-at-home carer. She lived in a small self-contained 1bhk unit in our property and was the best cook after my mum.
She was absolutely lovely and would play with me, cook for me and tell me the best stories every.
I had no reason not to trust her.
One day as she was doing laundry, she brought home a middle-aged man who brought along with him a load of laundry.
I thought nothing of it as I continued to play with the rabbits and chickens we had.
My carer went into the house make some snacks for me- it was about 4 O’clock in the evening, and my usual snack time.
It was also about 2 hours before my parents would return from work.
This guy smiled at me and I will never forget his face.
He had a wispy moustache and stubble for a beard. He said, “hello” to me and I smiled back at him.
I’ve never been a talker growing up and even getting a hello from me was akin to pulling teeth.
He began washing his clothes, and back then, although it was in metropolitan Bangalore, clothes were still washed in the old-fashioned way. Beating the clothes against the ground and using buckets of water to soak and rinse them out.
He kept staring at me and I was just about to go inside as I began to feel uncomfortable.
Out of the blue he said, “see here” and I looked at where his hand was.
He was holding his penis in his hand as he sat squatted in front of his laundry.
“Come touch” he continued and all I remember after that was running away inside the house.
I looked at him through the window and he finished his washing and left.
I remember telling my parents when they returned from work, and my parents were so angry.
They spoke to our carer who was just as shocked and angry with the guy. She promised that she would never allow him back home again and she kept her promise and I never saw that paedophile again.
That was not my last brush with perverts. There have been men shagging near my school, holding their dicks out while I walked back after tuition or playing with my friends.
Each time, I’ve found good male support whether it was the school van man, or my father and they would chase after these perverts and threaten to beat them to a pulp.
It was terrible to know that these guys were out there, but it was also a good feeling to know that there were men I could rely on to keep these bastards away from me.
Fast forward to when I was 13 years old.
My grandmother on my mother’s side had her older brother come visit after many years. My family stayed in the house opposite to my grandmother’s so obviously we all joined together to meet and greet and feast.
All was going well until my grandmother’s brother came up behind me and said, “Oh you’re growing up. Let me see what you weigh. I have an easy trick to find out what you weigh.”
And before I could say anything, he had his hands across my chest cupping them and carried me up.
“Stop it! Put me down.” I struggled and got out of his grasp. I glared at him, but he laughed along with the rest of the family and walked away.
I was so angry and embarrassed and ran back to my house.
No one had stopped him or even come to check on me. Not my father or my mother.
Not my grandmother- who at that time was an advocate for women’s rights.
I told my mother about how I felt, and she said, “yeah, he’s always been like that. Next time don’t go there when he comes.”
I was completely speechless. So, this man had been doing this for years and no one could say anything to him?
It doesn’t end there- fast forward to another ‘uncle’ who would come home and had the habit of tapping ONLY the female members on their butts with his feet.
His modus operandi was to first get really close to the females by holding their nose with his fat fingers and then giggling as they resisted and fought back and as they walked away, he would kick them in their buttocks.
It was a sharp kick and painful and I’m sure that was his intention.
I had seen him do this to my mother, my aunts and now he had moved on to me.
Funnily, he was the most welcomed into our house because he bought the most extravagant gifts for everyone. No one wanted to offend him.
I was gobsmacked!
These people were completely ok with accepting lavish gifts in exchange for their female members being objectified and touched inappropriately.
I ended up yelling at him myself when I realised that I was never going to have my family’s support.
“Kick me one more time and I’ll kick you back!” I screamed in his face.
“Pah! What attitude, that too for a girl!” he snarled in my face.
He never touched me again or even acknowledged my presence after that.
Immediately the gossip mill began! Everyone began to label me as disrespectful and arrogant.
“No no! Don’t associate with her. Don’t let your daughter’s play with her- how can a girl behave like that?”
“How arrogant she is!”
“How disrespectful! How can she talk to an elder of the family like that?”
“He was just playing with her. No one, not ever her mother said anything to this uncle and look at how she spoke to him!”
I couldn’t comprehend the thinking. I was ousted from all family events.
I was forever labelled as arrogant and disrespectful and that how would any man ever live with me.
I thought back to the times when my parents had leapt to my rescue and found ways to chase those perverts away.
Why were they refusing to stand up to men who brazenly walked into our homes and were violating their daughter in front of their eyes?
Was I not worth fighting for anymore? Was there an unspoken rule that when girls start growing up, then they need to start fighting their own battles?
I started to grow up with the thought that to be accepted by my own family, I need to accept the rampant male dominance.
I started to hide away from social gatherings. Preferred to stay away from all company and family events. I would much rather stay aloof than be part of any social event- and unfortunately, that part has grown up with me.
When I got married, I believed that it was good for me to stay quiet when my father-in-law said that my chest was getting bigger because I was pregnant.
I was thoroughly disgusted and spoke to my then husband about it, but again, those familiar words, “don’t think too much about it. It wasn’t anything. My father always jokes like that.”
I didn’t understand which part of it was humourous- the fact that he thought it was appropriate to comment on my breasts, or the fact that he said it was getting bigger– how long was he watching my boobs for?
The hilariously hilarious male humour!
Yet, I chose to stay silent because that was good for the family and for me to be accepted.
I stayed quiet for all those years being married to my husband. All the years of marital rape… but no no! It is not rape between husband and wife.
“Why can’t you give him what he wants?”
“If you don’t, then he will find it somewhere else.”
I finally separated from him, but not before he had managed to wreck my emotional and physical being and my self-worth.
To my closest friends, and I only have a couple, they know that I have never been one to shy away from standing up for what is right when it came to friends, but for some reason I could never stand up for myself.
Was it because my family stopped standing up for me?
I’ll never know the answers to why I went from a bold and outspoken girl, to a woman who ended up beaten down emotionally and physically, unable to stand up for myself.
It was not just the episodes of sexual violation that I think have shaped who I have become now, but it was the response, or the lack of it from my parents and family.
I was conditioned that in order to be accepted into my own family, I had to accept it from any man, especially men in our families. As girls and women, our bodies belonged not just to our husbands, but to every elder male who walked through the door- especially if they brought lavish gifts!
I’d like to think that I’m growing past that experience, but it does haunt me time and time again. I think it’s wrecked my idea of male relationships, because I haven’t unfortunately come across a man who sees me as a human being and not something that must be dominated.
Having a daughter of my own, I teach her about her self-worth and that she must stand up when something doesn’t feel right.
I tell her that she can yell and scream at men who force themselves on her or treat her like an object and to hell with what they feel- and to hell with them.
I make sure she understands that I will never ask her to hide away from these men- but I will keep these assholes away from her.
A lesson sadly that I missed from my own family.
Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month [CSAAM] is about taking back our power, our lives, even if it is years after it has happened. It’s a violence that preys on the fact that a child is vulnerable to both – the abuse itself, and to the guilt a predator burdens them with, effectively silencing the survivor. Add to that the fact that in majority of cases, the predator is someone the child knows socially, possibly in family, and who takes advantage of that fact.
We need to take this power away from these predators, and reclaim it by speaking up.
Read all posts here.
Source of Image: NCRB and a still from the film Monsoon Wedding
Cheryl Christopher is a mum, a working professional and a writer by passion.
She was featured in a published anthology by Scholastic India, published a book in 2019 and writes for several online writing communities.
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