I remember the time when I shared the account of my sexual abuse with my older cousin. She didn’t respond immediately and looked a tad sombre. I felt better after having shared a painful secret that I had clutched to my heart for ages. Everything seemed fine until the day we were together with family, and a relative mentioned the name of my abuser.
She looked at me. I looked at her too. I didn’t know where else to look. She had become my confidante. But, what I saw the next moment pierced my heart. She was sneering. My sexual harassment was something for her to mock. I felt cheated. I told her later that what happened to me was not a laughing matter. That day, something between us faded, and it never came back.
The incident shook me and I started feeling hesitant to share anything with anyone. But I also began to notice other peoples’ reactions when hearing about sexual harassment. I would notice how the news was being presented, how it was discussed in school and in my friend circles.
My sexual harassment was something for her to mock.
I remember how teachers would ask students not to share news on sexual assault in the morning assembly, as it would look ‘indecent’. Rape jokes were so common amongst students that every case would generate a plethora of insensitive jokes. It would take a gruesome case where the victim lost her life for these people to not make a mockery of the case.
Recently, Breakthrough’s StreeLink campaign took place in Dabua in Faridabad, where Sukhmanch Theatre did a street play called ‘Dastak’ which revolves around domestic and sexual violence. The motive of the StreeLink campaign is to spread awareness and make public places and transport safer for women.
One of the scenes in the play depicted a little girl getting sexually assaulted by a boy she referred to as ‘bhaiya’. As the scene progressed, she cried and howled. As Sukhmanch Theatre founder Shilpi Marwah explained that the girl had been raped, I watched the crowd. There they were – adolescents giggling, a few men sneering and little boys laughing as if it wasn’t a rape scene, but a comic scene that had taken place.
Teachers would ask students not to share news on sexual assault in the morning assembly, as it would look ‘indecent’.
I could recall a number of ‘comic’ films that involved sexual harassment of the heroine at the hands of the hero. Forceful kisses, groping, stalking, harassing – these are what actors are shown doing in many Hindi films. I remember many stand up acts in old comedy shows, where a male comedian would crack a joke about him raping someone or one where a female comedian would jokingly ‘desire’ to get raped!
Yes, you read that right! I remember a comedy show in which an actor cursed his co-star so that may she get abducted – which the actress starts happily daydreaming about! Later he tells her that he wishes nothing bad happen to her and she gets miffed with his wish. 15-year-old me could see what an obnoxious and insensitive act it was. I wonder how was it a comedy act.
Acts like these where sexual harassment is joked about or rape jokes circulated amongst friends create an environment for me where I feel unsafe and alone. As a survivor, the message that I have had received is that: sexual harassment is no big deal, so what? Move on and forget it, and not to forget this part: laugh about it! Sexual harassment, after all, is a joke, isn’t it? We often fail to empathise with survivors and instead, subject them to an environment where they would think a thousand times before sharing anything.
Featured image used for representational purpose only: Every Two Minutes