The author of this article has chosen to remain anonymous.
“Even confessing feels good under the right circumstances.”
It was during the time of mid-September when the winter has just started and with Chennai suddenly becoming whimsical with it’s dreamy sunsets and the dew drops in the trees, everybody feels fortunate and happy.
As a 13 year old girl who came home from school happily to go out with her mother, I was disappointed with the rain. I waited anxiously for the rain to stop and once it did I rushed and told my mother to get ready.
The markets were the same, the people were the same but the stories I told my mother became even more interesting each week. The stories were from algebra to catfights to almost everything that filled my mind. Now returning from the noisy market, entering into a quaint street I understood my voice became louder and turned down my voice a little. And going down the street i heard a speeding vehicle nearing us and at the spur of the minute the man in the vehicle gropes my chest and the girl who toned her voice down a minute ago now screams at the top of her voice. I felt assaulted and was assaulted by a person who was my father’s age. My mother searched for words to console me. But I knew my mother needed a lot of consoling than me. We couldn’t do anything more than scream or console. I felt weak. I remembered my parents teaching me different types of touch, and I knew this was a bad touch but my mother was just next to me, does this mean both of us are weak?
No, the only person weak was the one who sped away in the vehicle. The only person ashamed was the one who couldn’t face us and sped away. But before I realized this I felt uneasy to talk about this to people. So, It took literally six long years for me to talk about a groping incident, How long or how resistant will a child take or be? Will it be before he/she realizes it’s not their mistake or after they punish themselves for something they are not responsible for?
Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. I, luckily knew my rights and with the support of my parents knew how to deal with it. But does everyone have privilege for that? We have the responsibility to ensure a safe place for everybody to live in.
“You don’t know what people here are like, especially towards someone like you.”
This was one of the first warnings given to me when I arrived in the village. The statement correspondingly led to the meeting of him, my security guard, assigned by the school to ensure my safety for the semester.
Why do I need a security guard? What do they mean someone like me? A teacher? A researcher? An advocate? A musician? A student? A traveller?
A woman. But really, an outsider woman.
I had just moved to a small village in rural Punjab to begin a six month teaching contract in an exclusively female college. I was expected to stay inside the college grounds most of the time, and only leave with the assistance of my security guard.
For the first 2 months I used to pay him to leave me alone, to ‘forget’ to leave the gate unlocked and to develop alibis if anyone asked my location. I paid him for my freedom as I couldn’t surrender to the protocol that was implemented for my benefit. My fierce, independent, over confident, (naïve) 22 year old ego didn’t allow me to be spoken for by a guard.
My ego realised my independence cost 250 rupees and a hot masala chai from the favourite corner side vendor. Those 250 rupees paid for me to travel all over Punjab, being fully immersed in a different culture. I didn’t know it yet that the experience would alter my existence, forever being changed by the stories of the lives I encountered.
Opening up my security guard took three months. I wanted to know him, learn him, understand him. This man who is assigned to be with me every day but I don’t know anything about. Finally by month three he began to talk, and more yet, smile. The rest followed like a montage in a film, supported with a cheesy soundtrack, sepia undertone and laughing audio bites to portray the fast development of our friendship.
He said he considered me as his daughter, and needed me to meet the rest of his family so they could all love me as much as he did. The first visit to his home was where the real initiation process occurred, the bridge transforming this friendship into family. The kindness and warmth was overwhelming, not only did I have a new Indian father but a mother and 2 brothers! He never had a daughter, but always wanted one. I was a blessing, an answering to his prayers, after all these years God had finally answered him. I had never experienced the love and intensity of a Punjabi family. It was like the rewriting of my history, as if I could see the baby pictures of me materialise into their photo albums. I could feel my blood starting to run hot with the blood of a new identity, a Punjabi identity.
A nightly ritual began where I would join Papa Ji for a 7pm chai outside his station near the gate of the college. Each day I looked forward to my 7pm chai’s, like a treat at the end of a long working day where I could replicate the feeling of home. One night I arrived at the gate station and resumed my normal seat like every other day for the past 3 months, but this time Papa Ji told me to bring my chair inside the office. Without a second thought I complied, chai in one hand, chair in the other, mid-sentence debriefing about my day until I heard the door lock behind me. It was then, locked in a gate keeper’s station, did I feel my chai fly out of my hand as I was pinned against the wall with full force.
Then, my Papa Ji, kissed me against my will.
The kiss felt like a knife to my lips slit me open and all the newly acquired Punjabi blood spilled out. The baby pictures unmaterialised, my 5 year old self pixelated before dissipating into nothing. The memories tainted beyond redemption. It was as if my entire Punjabi family entered a car and had a head on collision on the highway, but the one who died was me, as I evaporated out of the delusion I put myself into.
The irony is, he was the one to protect me, he was the one hired purely for the sole reason of my safety, and he was the one who breached it. Not just physically, but emotionally abusing me. It was then I realised this is how every child who goes home to an abusive family member feels. That confusion of what does it mean to be safe? What does it mean to be loved? When my father/mother/uncle/aunt/cousin tells me they love me yet continue to hurt me, is that the definition of love? Why does love feel so bad?
53% of people in India have been sexually abused as a child, and 88% of those abused have been abused by their parent. I, luckily, at the age of 22 knew my rights and my worth to address this problem and take proper steps to deal with it. A child would not know. A child is the emblem of purity and child sexual abuse is a crime against innocence. It is our responsibility as adults to protect our children, and defend that innocence.
Speak up, dare to be fearless.
I had the displeasure of growing up with people who strongly believed that all girls had to behave a certain way. Surprisingly, though I was a child, their worldviews failed to change me. Instead, I found myself wrestling with comments like “She can’t even cook!” or “Watch it! Girls shouldn’t get so angry.”
I am a mother of two children – a boy, 8, and a girl,6. I absolutely love being a mother and I embrace that role whole heartedly. My hope, and my dream for them is that they would grow up to be a man and woman with integrity, values and a sense of responsibility. At the same time, I also fear the world my children are facing and will face by themselves one day. So the question that drives me constantly is – am I equipping and preparing them well to make the right choices in life? Parenting has become even more challenging as we sometimes feel like we’re competing with so many other influences in our children’s lives.
The role of being a mother comes with great responsibilities and fantastic benefits. It’s one of the unique roles of women where we get to mould the life of our children preparing them for life. We as women have the privilege of nurturing our children to be agents of change and bring healing to a broken world especially when we hear of brutal incidents involving women and girls.
[su_quote class=”post-quote”]It is a role that requires highest degree of patience, commitment and consistency.[/su_quote]
Even at a tender age of 6, my daughter already seems to have very specific ideas of standards of beauty simply by exposure to various media. She even prefers a lighter skin colour as a standard of beauty. As a mother, I see these expressions as a great opportunities for teaching. It is in moments like this that I realize the importance of being a mother – I have the opportunity to directly impact my child’s perspective and teach her values that can not only impact her own life but also build her up to be an agent of change.
There is a constant need for attention and intervention – be it caring for a child with cold and fever or sorting out sibling fights at the back seat while trying hard to negotiate traffic on the road, the unending “why” questions, continual demand for help right away and so on. You mothers know what I’m talking about! It is a demanding role that teaches us patience and perseverance. The good news is we are naturally equipped to handle the demands. Each of us are unique and our demands are unique too. Some of us need to manage a full-time job and home. We have different roles and responsibilities that we juggle everyday. How do we manage without compromising on our role as a mother?
Firstly, I think when we realise that we are entrusted with an important role, a sense of pride and responsibility sets in. Unfortunately we shy away from being identified as a mother and are comfortable with titles and identities that our careers give. With this change in perception, we can make our role more meaningful and rewarding.
Secondly, an important piece in enjoying motherhood is working together with our husbands. A positive atmosphere at home with active involvement of the father and the mother together is where the child finds comfort, safety and security, and where preparation for life and learning takes place. This partnership not only models a good example to my children, it also gives me added space to concentrate on other worthwhile pursuits. When the responsibilities of nurturing the children are done in partnership, it is possible to be a great mother and have a fulfilling career at the same time.
We would all agree that being a mother stretches our limits. There are many days that we feel weary and wonder if its all worth our time. In a world where everything is instant, we expect our children to produce instant results. After all we want instant assessment and instant approval of our role as a mother. Only time will show us the results of our investment. It is a role that requires highest degree of patience, commitment and consistency. The struggles are real and so are our emotions when we face difficult times as a mother. Mothers I interact with discuss many of their struggles parenting their children. Times like these can easily bring us down and feel defeated.
However, something that helps me greatly is having a positive support system. These can be a group of stay-at-home moms, working moms or other families who are in the same phase of life as us. This platform gives me time and space to share my struggles and also helps me to encourage other women in the same boat as me.
This mothers day, I would like to encourage women who are feeling less important or facing challenges in fulfilling different roles as women, to realise that we in partnership with our husbands and with each other, have a vital responsibility in making a world of difference to our children’s lives – to help them be the best that they can be. I realise this can be very challenging to many women due to various family circumstances. In such case I would like to recommend that we seek help from our support system or even organisations like Women of worth who exist to help women to rise up to their fullest potential.
Mother’s day is not complete without realising and recognising that there are women who are yet to become mothers or who are aunts, sisters, daughters, who still play a vital role in our children’s lives . Your role as a women is important to make this world a better place for us and generations to come.
Happy Mothers day. Let this mother’s day be a celebration of all mothers, women and girls especially those who are silently fighting battles on their own and who are the true heroes of motherhood.
[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Fenny Kanagaraj is Partnership Director at WOW and mother of two. She is a networker and bridge creator.[/su_box]
Sunjula Daniel, a Woman Of Worth staff member shares her perspective in this very relatable point of view of a mother.
I first saw 5-year old Sushmitha looking through our compound gate. She didn’t say a word – just kept looking. I began to feel uncomfortable and guilty as I avoided her for a good twenty minutes and then I gave in and we invited her home. She was thrilled and rushed in without telling her parents who it appears were migrant construction labourers working nearby. The girl was smart, well-behaved and highly observant. I enjoyed her broken Tamil and her drama to illustrate how her mother and her brother would do things. She was so cute! She would come home everyday. When she wasn’t at our place, I would see her just roaming the street, chatting with much older men and women, whiling away time.
It is sad that we live in an era that feels like our kids are walking in the wild with predators lurking in the shadows.
She had both parents and a little brother. She also had food, shelter and enough clothes. But did she have safety? Each time I saw her, I kept asking myself “Is she safe? Will she be ok on these streets? What if something untoward happens? What if she is abused? Will she know? Will she ask for help? And if she does, will she be helped? Or will she be shushed?”
Sushmitha and her family have now left our neighbourhood. I often think of her and wonder if she is safe. It’s sad that I worry over her. It is sad that we live in an era that feels like our kids are walking in the wild with predators lurking in the shadows. It is sad that it is possible for a child so cute and lively to be abused!
Childhood is sweet and tender. Let’s give our children a safe childhood. Let’s keep our eyes open for child sexual abuse. Let’s end it.
#endChildSexualAbuse #EndRape #FearlessProject
[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Sunjula Daniel is Operations Manager at WOW and a mother who is passionate about changing the world. [/su_box]
To the teacher who told her students that girls should not dress in jeans and lipstick:
Dear Teacher, have you used public transportation in your city and never been groped? Have you walked along a street lined with men smoking beedi or drinking chai and never been hollered at? Have you never been judged as a woman when your parents sought a suitable alliance for you? Have you never been mentally undressed by perverted eyes in public? Or did your iron-clad-saree-armour protect you from these experiences?
Ever wonder why it’s easier to blame a girl for her jeans and lipstick?
People generally believe that bad things happen to others. The “others” is something people do not want to associate themselves with. Because once you do that, the threat becomes personal. Bad things could then happen to all people. We are scared to believe that. And so we start defining the characteristics of “others.” Jeans, lipstick, heels, being out after dark, alone with a boy, cell phones, Indian-Chinese food, peacocks, etc. etc. etc.
Don’t feel bad to associate yourself with your students. Yes, you are free to choose what modesty means to you and what perverse means to you. No, you are not free to pass judgment on a girl because she has defined her boundaries differently.
Dear Teacher, you are free to speculate Nirbhaya’s gruesome assault, torture, and demise. But you are not doing anyone any favors when your speculation has no bearing on statistical facts of a study showing 41% of women who reported their rape in India were dressed in sarees. And no, the other 59% were not all flaunting themselves in jeans or skirts. Majority of them were burkha clad, which indicates a very small possibility of sexual provocation as defined by you.
I am a woman, a mother, a sister, and all those wonderful tags that people use to associate themselves with others. I am saying this to find common ground with you. So that I may plead with you to not just take back your words but to learn the truth about sexual assault and rape.
Your prejudice filled rant might have actually been an attempt to educate your young students about safety. But I urge you to use not only sympathy but empathy, in the classroom. Without empathy, you will be fighting a losing battle. So here are some ideas that might help you to effectively advocate the safety of your students:
- Boys and girls are both in danger of being raped and sexually abused in our nation. The Study of Child Abuse: India 2007, published by the Government of India had a shocking revelation that 52% of boys surveyed claimed to be sexually abused. So, when addressing safety issues, make sure to keep students from all sexual and gender orientation safe.
- The hardest thing for a child to do is communicate the violation and abuse they experienced because often they lack the awareness and vocabulary to do so. The next time you choose to address your students on safety mandates, begin by assuring them that you will be an adult who will believe their broken words and incoherent stories. Assure them that the violation of their bodies was not their fault.
- Do not let socio-economic status or caste lead you to believe in the existence of an automatic safety zone for the child. Please know that most children are sexually abused during the day in places where they feel safe: their home, their neighborhood, their community. So make sure to talk to all your students about safe resources available to them, like 1098 (the phone number for Childline), or a school counselor, or your classroom – because it’s time to maintain an open door policy and create safe classrooms.
- Also, if anyone tells you that ignoring the abuse will allow the child to get over it sooner, please do not believe them. Trauma manifests itself in different ways and at different times, often hindering the student from enjoying healthy lifestyles and relationships as they grow older.
- I have already presented data to dispute that clothes don’t make a victim, and this is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. But if clothes are something that distracts you from associating with a student who has been sexually abused, look for common ground as a fellow human being. Always exercise your power to empathize.
I am glad you want to address safety issues with your students. For a student to succeed academically, socially or emotionally, safety has to be a priority. Make sure the school administration supports you in this effort to keep your students safe.
There are several organizations that can help your school implement safety protocols in order to promote the best interest of the student. If you unable to find one in your area, write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll help you with your efforts.
Let’s build each other up instead of shaming those who have suffered much already.
Lydia Durairaj, WOW Staff.