I have been thinking long and hard. I have read through every #metoo post that has appeared on my timeline in the last few days. I have felt the pain in each of them, I have understood the anger behind every story, and, needless to say, I see myself or someone I know in all of them. Even though I always knew molestation, harassment, and sexual abuse is rampant, these stories have filled me with a deep sense of helplessness. Or should I say fatigue?
Fatigue of fighting all the time. Fatigue of watching my back every second of the day. Fatigue of looking at every man with suspicion. Fatigue of checking on the eye and hand movements of every friend and relative who is close to me, my sister, my daughter, my niece, my friend, my cousin…
I was never taught to stay quiet about the wrong that was done to me. But I was also not categorically told what to do if someone tried to violate my body. Hell! The subject was never even spoken about at home. And with no elder sister, aunt or cousin, I was left to figure things out on my own. Whether it was the 45 year old, seemingly educated and gentle looking tenant at my aunt’s place, or the doctor who operated upon me at 14 — I remember every touch that has made me uncomfortable. But I did not know what to do about it. I did not know I could tell the elders about it, or share it with my friends. All I could do was cringe and wince, and pray to god that I do not have to face the person ever again.
And so, even though I was never taught to stay quiet, I did. Because I did not know any better.
I kept quiet when my math teacher routinely stood behind me and placed his hand on my back, feeling up my bra strap. I kept quiet when some random man flashed at me inside a museum in Calcutta in broad day light. I kept quiet when the lecherous gaze of my father’s young cousins scared me out if my wits. I kept quiet when I was told that I was too grown up for my age. I said nothing when I was groped in the middle of the road or touched in the dark of a movie hall. I even stayed quiet about the man who stalked me every morning for over a year. In retrospect it was such a stupid thing to do, but at that time I did not think so.
Initially these incidents troubled me — as they would trouble anyone. Later, however, they became a part of life. Sometimes I remembered them, sometimes I forgot about them. But I never spoke about any of them, for I always believed that it was something that happened only to me and hence it should be my fault.
It was much later that I realized how every girl I knew had a story to share. Well almost. The friend who’s uncle regularly felt her up right in the middle of family get togethers. The class-mate who’s cousin almost raped her. The cousin whose cousin who she found naked next to her one night. Everyone had a story to share but none of them had told anyone about it. The reason? The same feeling of guilt and shame, and the belief that reporting it may cause families to break.
I do not know who told them that the family was more important that their dignity or well being, but somehow the belief was conveyed and so like me they had stayed quiet too.
But I also found those who taught me to fight. Like the cousin who chased an auto guy who had passed lewd comments on her and pulled him out of the auto to kick him in his stomach before handing him over to the police. Or the friend who told me how I ought to stand up for myself and fight back the man who was trying to come too close. Even though I succeeded in doing so, and hitting, fighting, and protecting myself, I cannot say the same about the others.
I really don’t know if #metoo is going to change anything. Maybe like most internet movements this too will die its own death. Or maybe it will make a small little dent somewhere. Maybe it will succeed in bringing forth the magnitude of the problem. Every change begins with acceptance and talking is the first step to changing. Or so we can hope.
And yes, #metoo. Like everyone else. And I really hope there are more #notme than #metoo.