- Posted August 21, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
The tragedy of misplaced shame
- dsashin, CNN iReport producer
I have been stared at, leered at, groped and followed by strangers for close to 11 years of my life. And yet, I feel ashamed before I feel indignant. Perhaps its because one of the first things you are taught as a child growing up in India is to proudly defend your roots. You are taught to look at things "differently". You are taught to make excuses for your past. You are taught to justify the inhumanity of making an entire nation's worth of women feel unsafe and insecure every single moment of their lives.
One of the first pieces of advice I was given by my mother before I moved to Mumbai for further studies after graduating High School was to lie low. My mother, one of the most head-strong and independent people I have known in my life, told me to keep a low profile.
"Don't stand out. Blend into the crowd. Don't ever make yourself noticeable. And when you are in trouble, walk away as fast as you can."
This came from a woman who when I was 10 and got groped by a sales assistant at a store, publicly called him out and made sure he was fired that very evening. This came from a woman who has never pulled her punches by virtue of being a woman, in a country that by and large treats us as second class citizens. And it shook me up to the core. Because there I was, ready to step out into the world on my own for the very first time, and I was being told that I was helpless. That I had to forsake my dignity for my self-preservation.
None of us is born this submissive. We are taught to not talk about sexual abuse. We are taught to look away when someone stares at us. We are taught to hurriedly avert our gaze if we ever make eye contact with a stranger. We are taught to "cover up". We are taught to not travel on our own after a certain time of the day. We are taught that Mumbai is safer than Delhi.
However, the things we learn far exceed the things we are taught. We learn to accept sexual abuse. We learn to bite our tongues when 14 and 15 year old boys make lewd remarks about us loudly in public. We learn to stiffen under the touch of a strange man's hands. We learn to stare at the ground and keep walking after being groped by a man on a moving vehicle. We learn to find safety in numbers, all the while knowing the kind of helplessness that binds all of us as a society that enables a man to fondle a woman without anybody coming for help. We learn to be ashamed. We learn to victim-blame. We learn that "covering up" never helps and that the eyes pierce through anything we wear. We learn to not talk about the indignity and the humiliation of being molested with our friends. There is no point, we learn; the women live through the same things every single day and the men are…helpless.
Sexual abuse and a culture of degrading women reduces people to a flicker of what they were. It turns fiercely independent, strong women into mere shadows, lurking around wanting to go unnoticed. It turns us into nervous wrecks. It makes us feel unsafe and unprotected every living moment. And perhaps the worst of all…it makes us accept all of these things as a fact of our lives and a product of our birth, our nation and its culture.
It makes us ashamed. And helpless.