Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Voicing Silence 4

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here, the second one here and the third one here)

Some years ago, my mother mentioned to me that she had attended my sexual assaulter's Sashtiabdapoorthy and I was appalled. This filthy beast was a pillar of the society and had had the temerity to invite my parents to its (no human pronoun for it) birthday celebration. Suffice to say I was apoplectic.

It was also around this time that the whole sordid episode of Jimmy Savile came to light and I had a thought. I began to wonder if I could take my abuser to court on historic sex abuse charges.

My shorts-wearing, middle-finger raising, Guardian-reading,
mobile-carrying, pineapple-wielding (not idea why
pineapple, may be 'cause the fronds resemble her hair?)
Kali 
For days I fantasised about dragging the filthy piece of shit to court and have it look me in the eye as I would recall in graphic detail what it had done to me. Then, I would watch with glee as it lost its house, its job, its status in the society and delight in the gradual unravelling of its life.

I would have my perfect revenge. I would be able to show it that it had not undone me and I would laugh the laugh of the triumphant survivor, the defiant avenger. And I would dance the dance of The Righteous And Indestructible Kali as my nemesis lies reduced to embers.

The reality however was starkly grey.

When I told my father about this idea some time later - it was also the first time I had told him of what had happened to me - there was none of the anger I had expected (note: people's reaction rarely matches your own expectations of how they would react). There was not even a hint of surprise. He just sounded immensely tired and wearily accepting of what I had told him. He then said that he would not be interested in becoming involved in such a legal battle.

Given that he was perhaps the most qualified person for the job - I don't know of any one else who has been practising criminal law in India for fifty plus years - it was disappointing to say the very least. I consoled myself that perhaps it is because he would not be able to be objective about it in the same way as he is when he handles sexual assault cases. So I had to reluctantly give up on the idea.

But I was not about give up on the thought of retribution. It would take some time but when the thought occurred to me, it felt like a jolt of lightning passing through my entire being.

(This is a series of every day posts which will culminate in publishing an animated short film Voicing Silence that I commissioned and helped create documenting the sexual assault that happened to me as a 10 year old).

Monday, February 27, 2017

Voicing Silence 3

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here and the second one here.)

Aged ten, around
the time of my assault
In the intervening years since my assault, the whispers grew ubiquitous. Hushed conversations from scarred friends who all talked in coded language about what had happened to them. I should have stopped becoming angry but I just couldn't. Instead I channeled all my rage into the blows I rained on the random stranger who once groped me as I was walking past him one evening when I was in my early twenties. The nonchalance with which another pervert thought he could get away with pinching my breasts made me chase after him faster. But I could rarely sustain the rage which would blaze fiercely and frequently but never long enough for anything positive to emerge. There were no planned course of action to follow through, it was largely fire fighting on a daily basis.

And then something happened a decade ago which reminded me of what triggered my anger all those years ago. I won't go into the specifics of it but suffice to say that the extended family was in vehement denial of it and that caused a permanent and irreparable rift in the circles. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that they all been subjected abuse in some form or the other. They were either themselves assaulted or knew others who had had that happen to them and they had all chose to keep quiet about it. After all, what could they do? And who would believe them anyway?

Remember the aunt from the earlier post who'd had a nervous breakdown? She said something to me not long after the family kerfuffle. She said, "there are very many respected people in this family, many of whose photos have hung on the walls in this house. But few would believe what they got up to." and then she held my gaze for just that little bit longer. She knew that I knew what she was talking about and I also knew that our stories were far from the only ones.

Anyway, by the time we had this conversation,  I was a mother and not constricted by the stifling environs of India and I wanted to do something. And not just for my children's sake but my own. Anything that would articulate what happened to me but nothing seemed right.

(This is a series of every day posts which will culminate in publishing an animated short film Voicing Silence that I commissioned and helped create documenting the sexual assault that happened to me as a 10 year old).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Voicing Silence 2

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here)

I realised, almost instinctively that what had happened to me was not a one-off. A casual conversation with a cousin revealed that she too had been touched by the same person. She didn't give me details but all she said was, "that one, him, you know...he's a devil" and gave me an almost imperceptible nod. A secret code that meant that she knew about what had happened to me too. It was our shared language of shame, wrapped in silence and consigned to the deep recess of our minds.

A 10 year old me,
around time when I
was assaulted
Every now and then the incident would get an airing but I would almost dismiss it by making light of it. During joint studies with classmates from the 11th and 12th standard, two of them talked about the improper touching that had happened to them as children with an almost casual aloofness that I added my incident (for it was now entombed and labelled as Exhibit A in my mind) to the mix. Being abused was so endemic to our lives that it barely needed elaboration. Only the details of it was different. Imagine that. A group of sixteen year old girls talking about being sexually abused as if it were a dress we all owned, only in different shades. "Oh, I have that in a Dirty Uncle shade", "Mine is a Filthy Neighbour hue" or "I have many in Ugly Relative colour". Yes, that's how normal it had become, how casual our acknowledgment of it was.

Plus, it was also the time in our lives we were becoming newly aware of being targets of casual everyday assault. Like having our butts slapped, our breasts fondled, our bodies rubbed against. We were facing turbulent times nearly everyday that serious crimes from childhood were packed off to the Unwanted Archives Department. But I wasn't prepared to forget it just yet.

(This is a series of posts which will culminate in an animated short film that I commissioned and helped create documenting the sexual assault that happened to me as a 10 year old). 


Saturday, February 25, 2017

Voicing Silence 1

There is no nice way of saying this so I will say it as brutally and as unvarnished as it needs to be said. I was sexually assaulted when I was ten and a half years old. While I recall the precise details of what happened that night, much of what happened in the immediate aftermath, I have little memory of. In the days and months that followed, I became increasingly angry. I would smash things, kick people, yell, scream and throw a tantrum at the drop of a hat. I was labelled difficult and called names. Rakshasi was a regular epithet and it clung to me like an dirty scent.

The red dress some time
before it was ripped
apart
There were so many incidents of rage from those years and most involved destruction of some sort. I once lost a card game and went about meticulously ripping up an entire pack of cards much to the amusement of the gathered extended family. There was some other minor provocation which ended in a lovely red dress which was a gift from abroad being shredded to pieces, again to a mute audience

Word got around that I was prone to having temper meltdowns and random strangers would remark upon it - once the father of an aunt by marriage mocked me in public and few people came to my defence. It was not until I was thirteen that an uncle clocked that something was amiss and took me to see a psychiatrist. Back then no one ever went to a psychiatrist. General Practitioner, yes. Dentist yes. ENT specialist, yes. Dermatologist, yes. Eye Doctor, yes. A doctor for the mind? Never. That was strictly for those who were certified mad, and we'd seen plenty of them.

There were loads of mad ones on the streets running around with bedraggled clothes, we'd seen them in movies, always  played to a hilt by actors who always rolled their eyes too much (yes, that classic symptom of insanity) and on our annual sympathy fest when we distributed prasadams to the inmates at the Kilpauk Mental Hospital on Deepavali day.  Psychiatrists were only for those who were properly insane and no one from our family could ever become mad. We were not that sort of a family. There were those who had this mysterious illness called 'hysteria' and I certainly wasn't hysterical.

A digression. Sometime around then an aunt was sent from her marital home to spend some time at ours. She had clearly had some kind of a mental break down and as a pre-teen it was amusing for me to see her sing and play an air-veenai as she wept copious tears. No one seemed to know what had triggered the break down and everyone just assumed she'd get over it. In the subsequent years, (possibly as a side effect of the medication she was taking) her speech slowed down and her voice grew loud and people treated her like an idiot. Not seeing her for the kind and loving person that she was but as someone who was a nut job.

Anyway, we had limited understanding of mental wellbeing back then and the trauma of the assault which may have been causing me to have regular outbursts of anger was not addressed. The sole visit to the psychiatrist was an odd one. I sat on a chair next to my uncle with the doctor on the other side. He asked me why I got angry and I just mumbled something incoherent as my uncle looked on helplessly. He filled in the gaps with some of the aforementioned anecdotes and the psychiatrist said we should schedule another visit this time with my parents included. I never went back. In fact, I once ran to hide myself inside the house when I chanced to see him on the road, convinced that he was paying me a home visit. Most unnecessary, I thought and carried on having a short fuse.

(This is a series of every day posts which will culminate in publishing an animated short film - Voicing Silence that I commissioned and helped create documenting the sexual assault that happened to me as a 10 year old).