Editor's Note Trigger Warning- Child Sexual Assault, Child Sexual abuse
The following account is by Sowmya Ramasundar in her own words. She reached out to me via Instagram, with these words, " Thank you, Shweta. The first time I came across your blog, I was moved reading some articles. You do some commendable work. You have a given a platform to people to confide while remaining anonymous. Writing is such a great way to get over some bad or sad feelings. Writing this today, I have relived some memories I don’t ever want but it also made me wonder why I didn’t do certain things or what I felt exactly when some things happened. Writing this has also taken off a bit of anger in me today that’s still remaining. When I connected with you for the first time, I realised I want to write about my #metoo as well but never got the courage to pen it down. Was not sure if I want to circulate this to my friends who never probably knew that something like this happened to me. I will know that if and when you publish this article"
Here is her story in Sowmya's own words.
I vividly remember the first time it happened - the BAD touch... only, we weren't taught these things explicitly back then. However, when it happens you still know it's something that shouldn't happen.
I was barely 7 or 8 years old. My brother and I (and my parents, as well) were spending our annual summer holidays at one of my dad's brother's place. My dad being the 3rd born, the age gap between the cousins and I was at least 4 to 5 years. My brother, though only a year and a half older than me somehow always got along with the cousins. I was almost always mocked at or teased for something. They would not let me take part in the games that they were playing because I was too little and did not play well or did not know the rules. The point is I was always trying to fit in and always felt bad about not being made a part of their gang though I was never too vocal with that bit of communication.
Anyway, one lazy summer afternoon my brother and I were playing on the Carrom board. My brother had stepped out for a bit (can't remember why) and I was just goofing around (literally) with the board and trying out multiple angles (lying down close to the board with a lot of focus) to try and outplay my brother (he was always good at any kind of sport/ game). Suddenly a cousin of mine came into the room and offered sweetly (or so I thought) to play Carroms with me in my brother's absence. I still remember the sense of joy at the thought of my cousin playing with me since it made me feel included. At that time I did not realise that he probably came into the room where I was because he might have gotten a sneak peek of my chest (actually, the lack of it.. remember, I was just 7 or 8 years old) when I would have bent closer to the carrom board. Five minutes into playing, he got the courage to put his hands straight into my dress (neck down) to touch my literally bare chest. I froze. I knew what he did was not appropriate but I don't think my mind and my age understood what it was or what it meant. I did not have the courage to put my foot down and I remember distinctly that I felt I would be shunned in the cousins group even more if I said no to him strongly or if I created a ruckus about the whole thing. It felt wrong yes but I didn't know why exactly. So, that's where it all started and by not confronting him on day 1, I became his biggest enabler.
He was probably 13 or 14 at that time and was probably just happy he found a muse to practically toy around with and practise what was learnt/ watched at that age. I also remember me going and placing my head on his lap the next day or so in front of the whole family (because I have seen all my other cousins do it to each other.. strictly in a non-sexual manner) and him getting petrified about the whole thing. He tried to explain to me that whatever happened between the two of us had to remain a strict secret and that we will have to behave totally different (basically, he will continue to bully me) in front of everyone else. It confused me but I went with the flow.
I was scared to tell my parents because I thought they would scold me. However, I hated the whole thing and I didn't want him to do anything to me and I did not want to do anything to him either but I did. Typing this now, I am wondering why I obliged, what I thought was happening between us and why I thought my parents would scold me when all they have ever done is to be supportive of me and my brother. More importantly, why was I ok with the fact that things had to remain secret between us. Didn't I think of informing to someone, anyone about this?
The most important question that comes to my mind now with this though is - Did I enjoy it? My 7 or 8 year old self was thrilled initially at the thought of being included in the group in some way (Could someone just slap my childhood self for being so insanely naive?) I realised very soon that even that little perk that I thought I was having, I actually did not have. I think this whole thing lasted for less than a month if I remember right. I started running away from him a few days after this whole thing started since I didn't enjoy anything we did. He would chase me, get me alone and would do stuff to me and make me do stuff to him. I hated it, I absolutely hated it. (I am suddenly reliving those moments as I am writing this and yes, I definitely hated it). I remember getting hurt in the hip once trying to run away from him once and lying to my mom that I got hurt while playing. I started begging my mom and dad to let us stay in my mom's sisters place but obviously, since they did not know the reason they did not oblige since my dad wanted to spend sometime with his brother and his family.
The day I went to my mom's sisters place, I had this innate sense of relief, a super duper sense of happiness, more than anything else.. I felt SAFE. Nothing ever happened between us ever again. I never came back ever again to spend my annual holidays with any of my relatives ever after that. I preferred to spend my annual holidays with my set of friends in my own house. We met each other year on year for some function or other and we spoke to each other like nothing happened.
Thankfully for me, I had great friends even back then (I am still friends with 2 from that lot). As soon as I came home from my holidays, I spoke to my 3 girl friends about this. One of them was 2 years older than me and she had gone through something similar with her uncle. One friend who was the same age as me shared some experience as well. Both of them just like me went through shit initially and then escaped from the molestors by avoiding them in some way or the other but not by confronting. At that time it felt like the best thing we could have done and having shared this with my friends was probably the best decision ever because somehow this incident that happened to me did not scar me in a bad manner that then needed to be worked on later in my life. Neither did I have issues physically connecting with men later in my life consensually.
My cousin got married when he was 25 years old and I was the one who did the SISTER rituals at the wedding. It was funny but it really didn't matter to me at all at that point. I was 18 or 19 years old then. I could do it with no evil or sad thoughts in my head. I never confronted my cousin. The thought always came but I never did. I never spoke of this with my mom or my dad and till date they both don't know that something like this happened. When I got a bit older and knew what things were, I knew my parents would support me if I spoke to them. However, I did not know what would happen to my dad and his brother's relationship and hence I left it at that. I spoke about this to my brother when I was older and mature and knew my brother would understand. He got super pissed, super angry and wanted to confront my cousin. I told him not to. I told him to leave things as is.
I am 32 years old now. I am married and I have a son who is 2.5 years old. My cousin is 39 years old and does not have any kids. I hear they have been trying to have a child for a while now and that things haven't worked in their favour. I swear I have thought multiple times that god decided it's probably best he doesn't father a child and I also get a revenge laugh at the back of my mind (highly insensitive maybe, but I do think that god got back at him on my behalf).
My takeaways from the whole thing are below-
1) Teach your kids about good and bad touch from their early years.
2) Make sure you give the right environment for them to be able to come and confide in you. (My parents definitely gave me this environment but I still did not utilise it).
3) Randomly probe your kids - I mean just have random chats with your kids to understand what they did in a day and talk them through things. Would probably help if point no 2 is given but still not utilised.
4) Raise your kids to be sensitive - to everyone and anyone.
5) DO NOT gender stereotype. I often hear this statement in my house now that I have a son and when he does something - he's a boy, that's what he would do. I always reply to them saying even if I had a girl, it would be a similar behaviour that can be expected and I am trying to get my husband and my in-laws to not pass such statements.
6) As a person who went through molestation - confide in someone you trust. It will definitely make you feel better.
7) If you are caught up in a situation like mine, stand up for yourself and say NO.
Before publishing this, I asked Sowmya if she wanted me to hide her identity. She said, that writing this was the difficult part and that she had no reason to stay anonymous. I'm sure her brave voice will strike a chord. Thank you, Sowmya for pouring your heart out and taking the effort to help others learn from your pain.
For more from Sowmya, follow her food blog here.
For more conversations that matter with Indian mothers, please follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
((Image Courtesy : Pixabay))