How can I touch the feet of a person who I know had touched my breasts? How can I respect a person who never looked in to my eyes but kept ogling at my breasts? But, this is not acceptable to my family who upholds customs and traditions more than anything else. And I am sure, that I am not alone in this situation. Sexual harassment in family, is something many women are forced to ignore or assume silence on just for the sake of ghar ki izzat and sanskaar.
But why do we always forget that sexual harassment is one of the gravest crime a person could commit? Why do we always tend to ignore sexual abuse when it done by a person who is generally an elder and respectable person? Why it is important to preserve a molester’s dignity just because he is elder and powerful? Isn’t the fact that the woman’s respect has also been torn into pieces as serious?
There are so many cases of sexual harassment in families. I have been harassed multiple times and by different people in my childhood. But I never had the language to stop someone or seek help. But my silence not only took a toll on my mental health but also ruined my sense of self. I had to meet, talk and respect the person everyday who groped me when no one was around. And the fact that I continued to meet him and couldn’t stop him, encouraged his advances even more. Slowly, I was losing my freedom and agency over my body each time that person felt entitled to touch me. But still I couldn’t stop him.
Why you ask? Because I was bound by my parents expectations to be respectful and obedient daughter who will never let her parents down. Each time I thought that it’s enough, that I was being wronged and used, and approached my parents to tell them everything, the only question that pricked me was “Will they believe me?” What if they think that it was all my mistake? Somewhere, my silence on the perpetual harassment made me feel guilty for being complicit in whatever was happening to me. I was literally torn between my own guilt and the helplessness to stop the wrong.
Sexual harassment in family: What are the girl’s choices? And when the parents side with the assaulter?
But today I wonder, if my parents wouldn’t have made sanskaar so important in a woman’s life, I could have mustered the strength to tell them about everything. But, on the contrary, the burden of the sanskaar was real and in the effort to not disappoint my parents, I lost myself.
And after this realisation, when my mother asked me to bow down and touch the feet of the same person yet again, I just couldn’t go further with it. I had had enough of sacrificing my self-respect just to preserve the reputation of my parents. I never realised that I wasn’t really obeying parents as much as I was preserving the dignity of the one who invaded mine. I was only validating the wrong he did to me by continuing to pay him a pseudo respect. I was eroding the meaning of respect and the people whom I actually admired.
In fact, I opened up to my parents also. But nothing really changed. The next day, the person was welcomed at my home with tea and snacks, addressed with respect and then all the eyes turned to me to touch his feet. And I vehemently refused. Is this how we should treat sexual harassment in family against one’s daughter?
My mother glared at me because she was afraid that she will be blamed for wrong upbringing. My father remained silent because he knew his part of anger also fanned my mother’s annoyance. But still I was adamant. I knew I was doing the right thing, but, I wonder if all those complications were really important? Why did I or my parents feel the need to suppress sexual abuse and pretend as if everything is fine?
It is nothing but the taboo pertaining to it. We always already knew that sexual harassment is not something that we discuss or reveal to other people. It is also because the society has always undermined the self-respect and individuality of a woman. Her problems are suppressed because she belongs to a weaker gender whose voice is blasphemous for the patriarchal society that can ruin her life.
But aren’t we done with patriarchy defining every inch of our life? Women today have education, empowerment and freedom and can very well understand whom to respect and whom to blame. We know how to fight our battles and win our agency back. Even if that requires to break through the sanskaar and define our own rules.
Views expressed are author’s own