It were summer vacations and like every other Malayali family, mine used to go to Kerala as well. But this time, it was after a long hiatus. I must have been 10-11 back then and we were staying with our extended family. There was this guy, my cousin, who was about 18 at that time, I think. We got along quite well, so we spent a lot of time playing and going to nearby places together. Post lunch, everyone got into the habit of a siesta. There were 5 rooms in the house and everyone took whichever room they preferred. Inadvertently, we ended up sharing one room, with one bed.
During the first few days of this routine, he started keeping his hand on me. I didn't make much of it then but one day, he started touching my breasts. I was blatantly uncomfortable, but he continued regardless. He told me if I made noise, people would get up and the prospect of them waking up and asking me questions didn't seem too good.
So, I kept quiet.
I thought it was just a one-time thing but I couldn't have been more wrong. It happened again the next day, and the next, and the next. Each time he went one step further. He did everything he possibly could, except penetrate me. After failing methodically to evade him, I started sleeping with my mother.
This is my story.
But I'm not the only one who has been inappropriately touched by someone in the family or by someone known to the family.
Over the past few days, every news outlet has been reporting stories of children being abused across the country. While the media is discussing this issue at great length, it's not a new phenomenon. But even after so many instances, we have repeatedly failed to recognize it, and irrevocably failed to educate our kids about it.
We continue to live under the pretense that things like sexual abuse and incest cannot happen in our families or to us. But we couldn't be more wrong.
I asked around to know if more people around me have been abused as children. While the results were astonishing, it was not unbelievable. From acquaintances to complete strangers, everyone came forward and told me their story.
These stories might be long and tedious to read, but they need to be heard.
"I was 8 years old and a cousin Chachu was living with us for 3 months. He was probably 25 or so. One day, he told me that big girls don't kiss on the cheek or the lips. They kiss somewhere else. He proceeded to remove his pants and make me kiss his penis. Somehow, it didn't feel right to me. It just made me sick. So I went and told my older brother. He was 10 at that time. He went and told our dad. Chachu was out of the house the very next day and hasn't been allowed inside our home ever since. I am glad I have a family that believed me over an elder person and that I listened to my gut instinct even back then. This is a situation that my family dealt with but it still remains something of a taboo."
"As a kid, I was travelling in a bus with my younger brother who was seated on my lap. The guy next to me slid his hand onto my thigh. I didn't make much of it until he started sliding it upwards and inwards. I didn't understand what was happening because sexual abuse was alien to me and while I had seen women getting harassed in movies, I never thought such things happen to guys as well. I didn't know what else to do so I made my brother sit on my other thigh and blocked the guy out. I was too scared to even look at his face but I put my arms around my brother's waist to make sure the guy didn't touch him. Now when I think about it, I wish I'd slapped him."
"I was in Class-6 and we were in the middle of a science lecture when the guy sitting next to me put his hand on my knee. I looked at him from the corner of my eye and he was looking at the blackboard. Just when I thought it was a mistake, his hand moved upwards towards my thigh. He lifted my skirt and felt my thigh. I was stunned. I stayed away from him throughout the rest of our school years. Just recently, the bastard had the balls to send me a friend request on Facebook. I blocked him for good."
"I was a teenager. Small enough to not know what molestation was, and big enough to have breasts. I was at home with my mother when one of my grandfather’s friends came over. He was a good friend of his and often paid us a visit. My mom went to the neighbour’s place for a few minutes. He realized I was alone and came close to hug me. This was not one of your regular hugs. He kept standing, holding me by my waist, and then squeezed me. That was the most awkward I have ever felt in my life. I used to hide whenever he came home after that but it really shouldn't have been me hiding."
"My cousins lived 5 minutes away from my house. My unmarried uncle used to rub my vagina for I don't even know how many years. I didn't even realize what he was doing. The worst part is that I had got habituated to it and found it a normal play routine. Very late, I somehow realized it's wrong and stopped being alone with him. Then I developed breasts and one day while dropping me home, he kept his hand on my shoulder and started touching them. I coolly removed his hand and he didn't dare after that day. No one knows all this, but I felt like a rebel, the day I finally dared to remove his hand."
"When I hit puberty, a cousin of mine, who was 5 years my elder, found this new obsession of resting his hand on my shoulder, with it brushing against my breasts at regular intervals. Honestly, I didn't even think much of it because of my innocence. However, my mom noticed and we had a talk about how it was a bad touch. He wasn't allowed to chill with me alone after that."
"My best friend's family friends had a 16-year-old son. He would often play with her. However, around the time when she was in second grade, he started telling her that he would teach her a new game. He made her feel up his penis, calling it a toy. It happened a couple of times before it stopped. She realized it was abuse only once she grew up."
"I was too young to make much of it at that age, but it impacted me a lot. I was in Class 3 and we used to have a music class. I was always excited for this one. There was a female teacher and tabla guy who used to teach us. This tabla teacher was always a little weird. I never got the right vibe from him. I remember this one time I had forgotten my notebook in the classroom so I went back inside to fetch it. He saw me, called me and made me sit next to him. He touched my face very weirdly. It just didn't feel right. Next class onwards, I changed my seat.
"We had this group of friends in the colony and we all used to play together. We were all around the same age of 12-13, I guess. But there was a guy who was older than all of us. He was in Class 12. So one day, he said that he'll be taking classes for younger kids to help them improve their grades. Now I didn't need those classes but I went anyway thinking that I'll get to play more.
"My friend had a male servant who was about 18 years old. One day, when his parents weren't around the servant showed my friend his dick and asked him to give him a handjob. He barely knew what he was doing."
"When I was younger, we lived with my paternal grandparents. Apart from them and my parents, there was my uncle and my sister, who is 17 months younger than me. Both my parents worked. By the time they got home in the evening, they'd be pretty tired. When I was around 4, my grandmother hired a young girl to look after my sister and I. She would have been around 18. Around 7:30 in the evening, the grown ups would all go into the dining room for dinner. This girl would be tasked with keeping us occupied in the living room. Most of the time, my sister would have slept by then. But I can remember some days when she wasn't.
"When my sister was 13, she was molested thrice in her sleep by our cousin, who was actually like a brother to me. She had epilepsy and took medication for it. It used to knock her out. He tried to take advantage of that. He didn't have sex with her, but did enough to make her feel violated."
"I was 6 years old when my family members pressurized Ma to marry again. I used to live with Ma and Nani. My mom got married to this man who became my stepfather. It was nice at first, you know. During my school days, he would drop me off at the bus stop. But one day, everything changed. I was coming back home from school. Ma, as always, was still at work.
"I was 4 or 5 years old and we used to spend our summer holidays in my hometown. There was a guy who used to live right across from us. Now as a kid, I liked exploring and playing. So one day, I went to play with him. There was some construction going on and there was a lot of noise. Just then, he picked me up and took me upstairs. I thought he was playing with me. Before I knew what was happening, he inserted his fingers inside me and made me touch his penis. This happened again the next day. He told me that it happens with everyone and that even my parents might have been through this. At that time, I thought this was something very normal and that he was just teaching me something new. It was only after a very long time that I realized that it was sexual abuse."
" I was 11 years old when it all happened. My dad took me to the house we were building under the pretext to check the progress of the work that has been done. It was dark since there was no electricity connection yet. He took me to the last room, pressed me against the wall, touched my breasts and forced himself on me. It felt weird the moment it happened, so I broke free, I cried, shouted and ran off home. No one knew about the incident for about 9-10 years. When I finally confronted him and my mother, he denied everything and my mother refused to believe me. "
We live in horrible times and the only way we can protect our kids is by educating them. Teach them that their body is their property and if anyone, including you, touch them inappropriately, they should make a scene about it. Educate them about their body parts and tell them that no one should be allowed to touch them.
A lot of people who have been sexually abused might have been able to identify it if only they knew or were made aware of the concept of good touch, bad touch, privacy, consent and personal space.
Sex education is not the evil here, but the lack of it can be.
Design by Chhabi Parmar.