Durga Pujo vacation was round the corner and I had a spring in my steps because the festivities for the Bengalis were about to begin, and I was soon to revel in it, breaking the drudgery of my school life – class tests and studies and endless activities. I was a 13-year-old girl studying in Standard 8 and little did I know then that the upcoming Pujo vacation was to change my life forever. I would be sexually abused by a family member.
(As told to Saurabh Paul)
Coping with the shock of being sexually abused by a family member
I always loved to be in Kolkata during the Pujo, but that year my parents had a different plan for me. “This Pujo you will be in Durgapur at Sakshi’s place,” my father said, smiling. Then he ran his hand over my head and kissed me on my forehead.
“We shall miss you here though, but we wish you to be a company for Sakshi this Pujo,” he said with a smile.
Sakshi was my Didi– my sister 11 years older to me- almost like a guardian and mother figure. “Help her in whatever way you can,” my mother added, hugging me.
My Didi was expecting her first baby then and probably my mother spoke keeping that in mind.
I had mixed feelings
Although I was happy at the prospect of being with my sister, I was also sad about leaving Kolkata and missing the Pujo pandal hopping with my family and friends. Never a girl to disobey my parents, I was off to Durgapur along with one of my uncles (who happened to be from Durgapur and had come to Kolkata for a personal visit and was returning home) in a train. My uncle, having dropped me safely at my sister’s place, took leave after having a cup of tea.
It all started happily
I was elated to receive a new dress on Pujo from my sister and Jiju (brother-in-law), and I gave them those that I got for them from my parents. Gifting and receiving pujor kapor is an age-old bangla tradition. I was received heartily and always respected my Jiju like an elder brother. That was my only Pujo in Durgapur, and I was enjoying with my Didi and Jiju-roaming around the town, visiting pandals.
Things were going well, until gradually, I noticed something: that my Jiju would often hold my hand for no obvious reason, or would find a pretext to do so, and then gift me chocolates too frequently (I thought) and then hug me after I had said ‘thank you’ and so on and so forth. Surprisingly, whether by design or coincidence, those incidents happened when my Didi was not usually around.
The Durga Pujo was soon over, but those incidents occupied my thoughts, and gradually I came to think that something might not be right. That was the beginning of my nightmarish story of being sexually abused by a family member.
I convinced myself it was not a bad touch
“Should I share this with my Didi?” I asked myself, and then usually shrugged it off. “These are such trivial things – my Didi will obviously laugh at it and won’t make any sense.”
“Are they not brotherly hugs and touches?” My heart, tried to convince me, but deep inside I felt that things might be murkier. I didn’t know anything about child molestation then.
Soon my vacation was about to end and I was to return to Kolkata in two days time. The same uncle, with whom I had come, was supposed to take me back. I went to sleep that night quite exhausted by the day’s activities, after all I had been playing hide-and-seek with companions of my age from the neighbourhood most of the day. I had no idea that I was about to be sexually abused by a family member I held so dear to me.
Then it happened
In the middle of the night, to my utter shock, I realized that someone was sleeping next to me. I turned back hardly managing to open my eyes in my sleep. “Jiju!” – I shouted in disbelief. I was wide awake now.
“Shhhh..!” He said putting his finger on his lips and then pointing his finger towards the next room indicating that my Didi might wake up. I staggered from the bed, speechless. He started getting close to me, holding my hair in his hand. I moved away. No way, it did not feel right. I dissuaded him by trying to move him away with my hand. He persisted, trying to hold me tight.
With one shove, however, I managed to free myself and ran to the attached bathroom and locked myself there. How long I sat there in that tiny bathroom, sobbing in embarrassment and disbelief, I did not know.
But it must have been long as I finally saw the first glint of daybreak from the window. Eventually, with horror in my eyes, I unbolted the door and to my relief found the bed vacant. I didn’t realise I had saved myself from being sexually abused by a family member. But the whole incident scarred me for life.
I told my Didi
At around midday, when I and Didi were alone at home, I tried to gather courage to speak to her regarding the incident last night and (maybe) also before that.
“Didi, Didi…” I kept mumbling, but hardly could bring myself to speak anything.
“Will you speak out finally?” my Didi exclaimed while doing her kitchen chores, and then looked at me and said, “What is bothering you since morning? You are not yourself.”
Emboldened by those words, I finally said, “Didi, last night Jiju came to my bed.”
I looked at her; she was looking at me in horror and the steel utensil that she was holding in her hand, suddenly dropped to the ground.
“And he tried to get close to me, he tried to hug me and hold me and…and…”
I could hardly finish my words, when my sister shouted out in agony. “Stop this! I know these are all lies, leave my house! Get out now! – I cannot hear this anymore.” And then she burst into tears. I tried to hug her, she shoved me away. Not only was I sexually abused by a family member, but also shunned by my own sister…
That day is still a nightmare
I still shiver remembering that day because I lost my Didi then and there. Since then she was never the same for me.
I spent the day alone in the house, sitting in a corner, dazed. After an hour, I could overhear my Didi speaking with my mother from another room, “Do not send her here again and I do not want to see her face again.”
I returned to Kolkata a reticent girl, only keeping to myself. The attempted molestation by a family member I trusted most changed me forever. My Didi’s reaction to the whole incident left me deeply hurt. A girl who once loved to mingle and talk with all – the rickshaw pullers, the chanawalas, and the bais, who worked in the neighbourhood – on the way back from school, just clammed up. I became an introvert and soon came to perceive males (most, if not all) as sexual predators.
Whenever Didi had plans to come to our house in Kolkata, I was shifted to one of my relative’s places to avoid any uneasiness or anxiety. I came to accept this changed dynamic in our relationship as if it was always like that. I am unable to comprehend what happened. The same Didi who was closest to me, my friend and guide, didn’t want me around anymore.
I found my soul mate
Eventually I met a guy who showed interest in me. That was quite a rare thing. Because in my college and early working days I kept away from men and avoided any attention they gave me. But he was persistent. I accosted him one day with my uncomfortable past and thus dissuading him of any advances. If I was sexually abused by a family member, what was the chance that another man wouldn’t violate my boundaries? But, my apprehensions and fear did not deter him. Only after a couple of years was I able to accept him in my life.
I am happily married now and getting myself back every day, bit by bit. My parents have also been supportive, but they were conscious to keep me away from my Didi. At my marriage ceremony, my best friend from school, Neha, asked me, “Are you happy?”
“Only if I could get my Didi back,” I said, smiling meekly.
I shall get her back, I know it is only a matter of time. She will understand it was not my fault. Or maybe she already knows, but isn’t able to confront the truth.