I was 16 years old when one of my cousins came to live with us. He was appearing for competitive exams and had to take special classes for them, which were not available in his hometown. My family lived in a big city, so he came to attend those classes at an education centre.
We were a family of 7; me, my two sisters, mom, dad, and my grandmother. I was the eldest of my siblings. When he came to our house, we all felt happy that we’d have a good time together. He was preparing for medical school and was a very brilliant student, so I secretly hoped to take his help in my studies.
In the beginning, everything was good. My cousin had to go to his coaching centre every day in the morning and came back late in the afternoon. I was busy with school too, and in the evening, we both studied in the same room. Gradually, he started helping me in my studies. I made a great project with his help, which got a lot of appreciation in my school.
Now, I was enjoying his company because it was proving beneficial for me. My mom was very happy too. Little did I know then that he expected something in return.
Slowly, he made his moves. Firstly he moved his chair nearer to mine. Then, he started finding excuses to touch me, sometimes at the pretext of explaining something or handing me a pen. I, like a trusting idiot, couldn’t understand anything.
When he got so confident as to start massaging my shoulders while helping me with my studies, I felt uncomfortable for the first time. At last, my sixth sense was awake — we girls are gifted this sense to beware of such predators. Mine was a little slow to kick in but finally, I could understand what he was up to.
The denial came first. I was so shocked to learn that my own cousin whom I looked upon as my idol and brother could think like this. The way I saw it, he was only two years older than me, and a genius at that. These acts are committed by boys who are normally bad at academics or are bullies since the beginning — we all like to believe so. But this case was challenging every norm set by society.
He was good at everything: a bright student, an obedient son, religious, introverted; basically everything opposite to a supposed sexual offender. In contrast, I was an extrovert, average in academics, too loud, and definitely not an obedient kid.
My mother was in too much awe of him and didn’t suspect anything. Ironically, my grandmother whom we thought couldn’t see or hear properly so wasn’t observable about anything, noticed this. She came to me one day and asked why my cousin was always touching me. Then I realized that it wasn’t my imagination but a reality.
I discussed this with my mom, and she blamed me.
I discussed this with mom and she blamed my behavior. She said that I was too friendly and open and loud so he might have misunderstood. For God’s sake, he’s my brother, I wanted to shout out loud, but I was too shocked to say anything. She also accused me of kissing my younger sisters in front of him to give the wrong impression.
I was too young to protest or say anything at that time and even believed her that it was all my fault. But reflecting on this now after so many years I realize how traumatic it would have been for me. I have two daughters now, and my elder one is roughly the same age as I was then. I can gouge anyone’s eyes out now if he does anything remotely like this, but I will never blame my own daughter. She’s part of my flesh, and I know her too well to blame her for anything she had no control over.
After realizing his intentions, I maintained my distance from him. He was at our house for one year only so the time passed away soon and it was time for him to go back. I had stopped talking to him and he, too, realized this and never made any advances again.
Before leaving, he came to me and said sorry, but I couldn’t say anything to him. I felt completely betrayed and shocked to say “it’s ok,” because it wasn’t. Many years have passed since then, and we met many times after that.
During the whole incident, I was most hurt by my mother’s reaction. Instead of comforting me and confronting him, she chose to blame me. I never discussed this with her so as not to make her feel bad. But this always remained with me whole my life that at the time of need my mom didn’t take my side.
But can we really blame her? In a highly patriarchal society like India, my mom was cursed by three daughters, so naturally, she was inclined towards her male niece and couldn’t find any fault with him. Anytime something happens with a girl, it’s always her fault and not her perpetrator. If even a rape victim is blamed for the crime instead of getting sympathy, then why I was complaining about such a small incident?
Girls are conditioned to always keep themselves safe in any situation, so when something happens, it’s presumed to be her fault for not taking enough precautions. A boy is never blamed to do it in the first place, but a girl is accused of letting her guard down.
Why do we always need to be on guard? Why can’t we be carefree and happy? If we are not safe in our own house from our own relatives, then what chance do we have in the outer world?
Girls, too, want to live their life happily without any fear and apprehension all the time. It’s important that we teach our daughters to fight any pervert instead of feeling victimised, and also to our sons that girls are not just objects of entertainment or someone beneath them. Both have equal rights over everything.
Only then this world will be a beautiful place, safe for our girls.