Dear whoever reading this,
I want you to know this.

Sexual assault is real and has happened to every single woman you know.

Sexual assault stories are not new to me or to any woman for that matter. I’m glad #MeToo is happening in India and people are stepping forward.

With power, money and fame, culprits manage to somehow get away; that’s the hard reality of today’s world and sexual harassment is no exception.

#MeToo surfaces only a very few horrible stories. There are 100s of horrible stories hidden underneath every household. These aren’t stories that involve just famous men, but men that are as close by and as “innocent” as the next-door uncle.

To me, sexual abuse dates back to my childhood, a stage when I didn’t even know what it was.

I was 13 years old then, I went alone to a tailor to get my first blouse stitched. I had no idea how blouse measurements would be taken. He touched my entire breast and told me he did that for some measurements. I was a kid who felt uncomfortable but didn’t know what to do or what this was about. I went back home hurt and confused, yet I didn’t tell anyone. Why? Because I didn’t know what this was. I just tried to brush this off my mind and went to school the next morning. It took me some more years to realise what he was doing was absolutely wrong and I should have spoken against it or at least told my parents.

I was 15 years old, when I was traveling by a local bus, mature enough to understand what a sexual abuse is. A grownup man who was twice my age kept rubbing all his private parts on me. I knew what it was. But this was my first time I had to deal with such a person in public. I couldn’t think; I was just sitting still. My mind did not work. My friend, somehow, noticed this and rushed towards me and took me away from him.

I’m sure every single girl has faced such incidents that introduced her to the bitter world of sexual abuse. And, have we always spoke about it? Most likely, no.

Fortunately, I have never been repeatedly harassed by someone; just imagine being victims of such pain! Why do they don’t speak about it? Because our families, as of today, don’t discuss these openly and there is an unexplainable fear in every girl’s heart.

My friend and her school senior who was a guy travelled to school everyday in the same auto. When we were 11 yrs old, my friend happened to go to his birthday party where he pinched my friend’s ass. He even challenged my friend to go complain to her mother. This guy continued to do this for a few more years and my friend could never confront things to her parents. She can still recollect these incidents and regrets for not letting her parents know, when she was undergoing what she was not sure of. I still wonder why the guy who was also a kid did this. We will never know. Because these topics are too sensitive to discuss!

Another friend has been continuously harassed by her father’s brother for so many years when she was still little. Same thing, she knew it was abuse only much later in life. She isn’t close with this uncle anymore, but she doesn’t want to speak about it now. She is tired and just wants to remain away from the harsh past. But sadly, a lot of culprits never get caught because of situations like these. We need to act right after things happen. Sometimes, it becomes too difficult to act later.

Nothing hurts a girl like a friend who wants to take advantage. One of my friends trusted and liked a guy a lot. He was around 4 years elder than her and was like her mentor. They had to stay together, one night, to get a work completed. When she was almost asleep in the middle of the night, he tried to get physically close with her. She took a while for the reality to sink in, that he was touching her inappropriately. As she just remained still, in shock, her eyes closed, the guy took it as a sign of consent and he went ahead with his misbehaviour. She then calmed her mind, woke up and asked him to leave the house which he did. She blames herself for this; she thinks she shouldn’t have called him home, to have created such an opportunity for him to misbehave. He was a good friend except for this night. Or was he pretending to be good all this while? I see this as a reflection of this society that always places the girl at fault. If he chose to misbehave and try his luck with the girl, in what way is this the girl’s fault? The girl should not have become friends with a guy, the girl should not have trusted him enough to invite him home, the girl should not have slept when he was around, the girl should have done the work before the Sun set… If the guy didn’t have a teeny bit of self-control for a single night, how is the girl at fault?

My dear friend, it was not your mistake. It was his.

I was walking in a park with a friend who came to meet me after almost a year. A random guy who was in the adjacent building played porn on his phone and showed us. He got into our nerves, but because I had only a little time with my friend, I wanted the evening to remain pleasant and we just walked away. He was not shouted at; he was not reported to a Police. Walking away seemed to be the best option we had. Now, I regret it. There were kids in the park. What if he does this to kids and spoil their minds? I could have and I should have done something that day.

Sexual harassment is everywhere. From random people in public, friends we’ve been trusting for years, colleagues, relatives.. Can be literally anyone, anywhere. And it’s high time that we at least start confronting it. I myself have been very silent on this and I regret it.

There were numerous incidents in my own life. There are times when I fought back. There are times when I couldn’t really do anything. There are times it hurt badly that I just went home mum and hoped to forget it. But I have never been able to forget even a single incident. Every minute detail is etched deep.

I feel disheartened to even think about the things women from the previous generations underwent. They were not educated. They were not making money. They would have had no power even if they intended to do something about it. I have heard numerous stories of husbands being the harasser. All they could do was to bear all the shit, in utter silence. Their stories will never be heard in public. This holds true even for a lot of women in this generation. But some of us have a space to speak out and we must not be ashamed to let the world know what we undergo.

I sincerely urge you to ask women in your lives on what issues they have faced/face and do your bit if they need help. You will be shocked to discover so much more about the issue than you’d think.

We need to educate kids on what sexual harassment is. I’m glad that there are good touch/bad touch lessons now. I so much wish someone taught me those when I was young.

We need to create a space to discuss these sensitive issues at home. It is okay to discuss about harassment at home. If not home, where else? Parents/elders must take the first step. Before that, we should get comfortable discussing these sensitive things amongst ourselves.

These problems cannot be solved overnight. They are very deeply rooted in our society. The more we talk about the problem, the more they will be understood and will become evident. Only then can we address it.

I have written the entire piece around women because those are the stories that I personally know. I’m sure sexual harassment spans across all genders. After all these years, our society has started speaking about women’s issues only now. I sincerely hope we speed this up, be inclusive and understand everyone’s problems and not take 100 more years.

None of these thoughts are unique. These are being spoken by hundred other people. I’m glad this started and I hope we don’t lose the pace. We need to talk. Strong, loud and clear.

Change has to be from within. We need to speak out and stand up for ourselves. We need to create comfortable homes, homes that teach what harassment is, why it’s wrong and how to deal with it.

Let us stop running away from discussing the unpleasant truths and be there for each other.