I might have been 12 or 13 when we took that bus journey from Tiruchendur to Chennai. It was a long overnight bus ride, and started off as a very comfortable one. The bus was plush, the aircon was strong and I was snuggling against my mum. My parents and brother returning from a very hectic trip during our summer vacations. I remember falling asleep as soon as we plonked ourselves on the bus, out of sheer exhaustion. And I remained dead to the world until I felt something cold. I moved closer to my mom assuming the cold feeling was from the aircon in the bus. A few minutes later, I woke up with a start. The cold feeling came from creepy hands from someone behind! I remember being confused, lost and frankly a little embarrassed. I tried to shrug off the straying hands, moved closer to my mum but it was all to no avail. The ordeal continued for the whole journey with a squirming me and an emboldened man who took my quiet as his right to venture further. And choked and shamed, I remained still unable to move. This incident scarred me so much that I became incapable of taking long overnight bus journeys until I did one recently in the US. And I had to fight many demons to overcome a feeling that I cant quite explain.
As an adolescent, I was an introvert, sticking to the few friends I had, with more indoor hobbies than those that required me to venture out, was a conservative dresser and definitely not one to raise my voice in the event of anything that bothered my person.
And that night that remains vivid and etched permanently in my memory, it didn’t occur to me that I could turn back and slap that pervert who was feeling me and raise a cry or even wake up my parents and complain. I was just wanting the night to get over and for us to get off the bus so I could forget that such an incident ever happened to me. It was not the only groping, or involuntary sexual experience that happened with me. Like I am sure with a zillion other women around me. And I am sure a majority of those zillions have buried such unpleasant memories in the depth of their hearts.
I am a different person now. Life experiences have taught me to call out and make a big noise when needed. But I can relate to the hundreds and thousands of girls and women who remain quiet about their embarrassing encounters, assuming that somehow they are at fault. I am nearly 40 now and it took me 3 decades to even write about this incident publically. And even now, the first thought that crosses my head is “OMG, my dad might feel so bad when he reads this!”.
As I read this article, somehow I couldn’t help myself from sharing this article in Mint this morning, http://www.livemint.com/2012/07/17120248/Views–The-harsh-realities-of.html#comment. As I read this words “All these years later, I still feel afraid before speaking up. I worry about hurting my father by writing these words. The difference between then and now is that I know that I will reach out despite the fear. I am in charge of the world my parents and my children live in. And I am going to protect them”, I feel like these are from my head.
And I want to tell the world, I am not afraid. To speak up or fight. For myself or for anyone else.