Dear Ma, I Know Why You Asked Me To Be Quiet When I Was Harassed
Do you remember the day when I told you that I didn’t like the way my tuition teacher touched me? Hearing this you tried to know more about it and then sat in silence caressing my back. That day I thought that maybe I can share such things with you without any hesitation and that you will support me and protect me. I was sure that you will at least reprimand the tuition teacher if not fire him. But when you said, “All men are like this. We can’t do anything,” I hit rock bottom. That was the moment when I began to internalise the stigma that it is women who will have to cover themselves, protect themselves from the wrong but unquestionable male gaze. You asked me to cover my breasts with a dupatta while sitting for my class because no one else could teach maths better than him.
At that time I couldn’t comprehend what was happening and why were we so helpless. Why did you tell me to adjust and compromise? Was it my mistake when I sat close to him to understand the formulas better? That’s what father made me realise too. Whenever he saw me leaning towards the teacher, he gave me a reprimanding look saying, “Sit and behave properly!” Why did you remain silent when you knew that I was not wrong? My childhood could’ve been different if you told me to rather react whenever anyone harasses me.
You asked me to cover my breasts with a dupatta while sitting for my class because no one else could teach maths better than him.
Then maybe I would’ve never wiped my clothes in silence and would’ve told you about other incidents. When you fired the driver for stealing your jewellery, I was happy. But would you have done the same if I told you how he molested me and ejaculated over me and then forced me to keep quiet? That he told me that if I opened my mouth, you will throw me out?
I did not have the answers to these questions before. But after an afternoon of an unexpected hour of bonding, when you sat with my cousins and me, and told us about your childhood, I began to make the connections. You told us how a close relative tried to harass you and you, in retaliation, pushed him and ran away. But you couldn’t tell anyone about it, not even your mother who, as you said, often scolded you for crossing your limits. It was then that you internalised that while women are restricted by several norms, men cannot be questioned when they forget their limits.
But you did listen to me, talked about it to me, even though you did have to muffle your own cries of protest. Though your response clearly reflected your helplessness. I appreciate that you were supportive, and did not directly blame me or stopped me from growing just because I was harassed. In fact, you did whatever you could to keep me safe and continue my education. I remember you sat with me and kept an eye on him till the end of the tuition class and sometimes even dozed off in the middle of the class out of exhaustion. Although, I couldn’t tell you about more such incidents that I faced. I was afraid that you might give up on the unsafe hostile world and would feel guilty of not being able to do anything to protect me. To see you weak and defeated is the last thing I want in my life.
In fact, you did whatever was at your disposal to keep me safe and continue my education. I remember you sat with me and kept an eye on him till the end of the tuition class.
But today, I want to tell you, that you did your bit to keep me safe and that is why I am here, educated and empowered. Yes, you could’ve done more but it is not your fault that you were never taught to raise your voice. Perhaps, you could never think of firing him because the education of your daughter was more important. Perhaps, you saw your helpless past in me and felt vicarious freedom in watching me grow in the way you always wanted to. You always knew that once a woman is educated, no one can stop her from questioning the wrong. I will not inherit your hesitation like you did not inherit your mother’s silence. But what I will take along with me forever is your will to resist and to continue to love and live for yourself despite the hurdles. Happy Mother’s Day Ma.
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