What can a guy possibly know about sexual abuse? After all, he can only have a second hand experience of what the female population of this country goes through on a daily basis. That is why I have to tell you my story.
I was a very shy kid in school. I never bullied anyone or picked up a fight. All I did was study diligently and top my class every single year. When not studying, I was neck deep into Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Arthur Conan Doyle. My sports teacher were perplexed to come across a boy who did not like throwing and hitting balls. I had great difficulty in striking a conversation with strangers and was terrified at the prospect of leaving the warm embrace of known faces in my school and join a college. To my utter discomfort, that is exactly what life had in store for me.
I got admission in a good college in Delhi University. The college was a one hour bus ride from my home. In those Metro-less days, The DTC buses as a mode of transport were as good as Manmohan Singh as our Prime Minister. So, the only way to get to the college was to board the notorious killer machines called Blueline buses. Sometimes, the buses were so crowded that you won’t find space to expand your chest to breathe. All I could see was a mass of hands holding the metal rods and pressing the windowpanes for support. The crowd was like a giant, single animal with multiple hands protruding from all sides.
The year was 1997. It was a time when we still talked about a lot of topics in hushed voices. Topics like rape, sexual abuse, child molestation, sexual orientation were not openly discussed. And yes, Rape and Sexual abuse happened only to women. Add to it my complete disconnection to the real world because of my nature and you would realise that I was shockingly naive.
So one fine day, I left the college in a hurry to get away from the awful place full of strangers and boarded a Blueline bus chock-a-block with more strangers. I squeezed in somehow and stood completely surrounded by unidentified torsos. A few moments later I felt a hand on my crotch. At first I ignored it, considering the number of people in the bus but then I felt that the hand was not there by mistake. It was slowly rubbing my crotch. I looked down and traced the hand back to the human attached to it. The person who was doing this was an elderly uncle in his late 50s. He looked straight into my eyes and kept rubbing.
The first emotion that hit me was complete confusion. Why would a person who is of the age of my grandfather rub my crotch? I knew he was somehow getting aroused by this but I failed to understand how. I went red in the face and moved away from him. To my surprise, he came after me. He again stood near me and tried to rub my crotch. By this time, I was completely agitated and it showed on my face. I had no idea what to do in such a situation. I was this scared, timid boy who did not have the courage to push him back. When I look back, I understand that courage and anger are the last of your thoughts, especially when it is happening for the first time. Confused and scared – that is what I felt at the moment. Why was this even happening? I again moved away from him and this time he sensed trouble and did not follow.
When I reached home, I felt anger erupting inside me. I still could not make sense of an old man touching me like this. I felt dirty and disgusted. I did not discuss this with anyone but my parents did notice that I was a bit sad. I encountered the man two more times in the bus back home. He recognized me and tried to come near me but I was not going to let him get away with it, so I always moved near to the driver where I was not completely surrounded by people. He gave up after that.
It took me a long time to get over the incident.
I told my wife about this incident a few days back. She asked me that how would such an incident play on my psyche if it happened again and again. I told her that I would be devastated till the point that I will require medical help to come out of it. She told me about numerous incidents that happened to her while traveling in buses. She told me how she was groped many times and how she sometimes received help. The women not only survive such abusers but they have to then survive the fingers pointing at them. I cannot imagine someone coming to me and telling me that what that uncle did was my fault. I would spit in the person’s face.
So you see, I know a bit about sexual abuse. It is a tiny blip in comparison to what happens to women in India but I understand what they go through. I understand how it plays with your mind, how it makes you jittery in the presence of strangers, how it makes you wonder about a life in a parallel universe where you are respected, where people will not touch you without your permission, where they will not treat you as objects.
I still feel angry that he got away with it. I feel angry that so many people get away with it in our country, in this world. Yes, the world around me has changed in the last 16 years. We are more vocal, more angry. But the abuses haven’t subsided.
I am a different person from how I was in 1997. I have lived alone, managed my affairs and have shed most of my phobias. And if it is any consolation, if that incident happens now, I would grab that uncle by his balls and toss him out of the moving bus. It would save many more youngsters the trauma they would have gone through by his hands.