May 10, 2018. I’m standing outside the ICU doors in a hospital, trying to get a glimpse of my father who is lying inside on a standard-issue hospital bed with faded but crisp blue sheets. He’s under heavy sedation. Third worst day of my life.

March 24th, 2018. I’m throwing up in the sink at 5 in the morning while my mother holds my hair back. I look up at my face in the oval mirror, my complexion waxy and pallid. I feel like the terror itself is trying to fight its way out of my system. I’ve spent the entire day approaching members of my society and telling them over and over again, that I’m being sexually harassed. No one listens to me.

May 22nd, 2019. I’m sitting in the women’s cell of the local police station next to the Assistant Police Inspector. The constable has just taken my statement. I am cold, hungry and exhausted. I have filed an FIR for the first time in my life and it’s given me diarrhoea.

Worst day of my life.

It seems strange that the three most traumatic days of my life are centred around one man. One man, virtually a stranger, who for some inexplicable reason had become obsessed with me.

In early 2016, my family and I were renting a 3-bedroom apartment close to my college, where I was pursuing a degree in law. My father, a ex-fighter pilot from the Indian Air Force, had just retired from military service and taken a job as an instructor at one of the most eminent flying schools in India. His job needed him to stay far away, in a small town where the flying school had been set up. At home, it was basically my mother and I and the dog.

From 2016 to 2019, I was stalked and sexually harassed by a man from my society. Our society was situated on a hill, an arrangement of four eleven-story buildings standing haphazardly on uneven ground. The only public access road was highly visible so the comings and goings of residents could be monitored at all times. In my case, it regularly was. He had the uncanny ability to know exactly when I went out and show up there. To this day I wonder how he knew. Who was telling him? I marvel at the gall of those who enable stalkers.

I’ve worked in the field of women and child rights since I was in my early 20s. I remember my first street harassment protest when I wrote slogans on the road with coloured chalk. My body, my space. One of the first things an activist told me was, be smart.

“If you have a stalker, don’t get bold or foolish. Don’t ask him why he’s doing it. You already know why he’s doing it. Don’t get mad or pick a fight. That’s exactly what he wants. They like to provoke you and gaslight you, because that is abuse. To make it look like they were doing nothing and they had a very good reason for what they did. There’s no such thing as a stalker with honour.”

I kept my peace. I ignored him for two long years, until finally, growing frustrated with the silence, he decided to leave me with a threatening message. He tried to run me over with his car. I was shaken up, cold and clammy. Did that just happen?

In March 2018, he finally lost his wits, grabbed my hand and tried to touch me in the middle of the road. When my mother forcibly broke the hold he had on me (because I had gone into shock) we decided we had had enough. Trusting that a respectable residential society would take action, we approached the Chairman, the Secretary and the Manager of the Committee. We even took the initiative to politely request the boy’s mother and ask her to intervene. If she could speak to her son and ask him to respect my space, we could end the matter there.

Instead, the Secretary called up my mother, shouted at her and warned us not to go to the police. We would not be able to prove it. We should ‘talk it out’ with the boy and try and see ‘his side of things’What? Who says that? She ended the call by asking us to think of the boy’s future. There was no thought of my future. The conversation was so shady that it lead us to believe that this lady was up to something. She seemed complicit in my harassment.

I was grievously ill after making the complaint. I had final exams in 15 days. I barely got through those, surviving on electrolytes and biscuits but I was determined to complete my education. Then my father came home to see me, worried about the complaint. Before he could do anything about it though, he was struck by violent seizures.

My father suffers from a neurological disease and is dependent on medication. When he forgot to take his medication because he was stressing out over me, he ended up triggering his condition. We had to rush him to the local hospital where he was in the ICU for three days. He then had to be kept under observation for about a week before we could bring him home.

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For 6 months after that, I did not step out of the house. I fell into a deep depression. The kind that comes when those who are supposed to protect you, fail to do so. I believe it’s called institutional betrayal. I was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome due to extreme stress. I suffered from migraines, heartburn, nausea, diarrhoea, fatigue and dizzy spells. I was living in constant fear; fear, that my stalker was casing me. To case someone, means to find out every single thing about them. What they wear, who they speak to, where they live and who they live with, when they go out, their car, their place of work, their friends, the sound of their voice and the things they talk about. Stalking and sexual harassment are simply the preliminary steps a criminal takes so he can do what he’s ultimately out to do. Like abduction. Murder. Rape.

I knew that. So I lived in fear.

I spoke to a women’s rights activist who told me I’d done the right thing and that it should work. She asked me wait and see if my stalker had gotten the message and would back off. If he didn’t, then I needed to start recording him in the act. Whenever I went out and he showed up, I should have my phone with me and record him while he committed the crime. This was very sound advice because if and when you decide to go to the police, you must have proof.

From September 2018 to March 2019, my mother and I diligently recorded him whenever he came too close. We found out that he had filed a complaint against me for ‘intimidating him’. It seemed like my speaking up had offended him. Instead of ensuring my safety, his family and the society members were choosing to shield him. This had undoubtedly emboldened him.

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We realised we needed to move to a new place as soon as I finished college. In 2019, just as we were about to move into our new home, the Secretary contacted us. The boy and his family were planning to file yet another complaint against me for ‘breach of privacy‘. Again, she suggested, rather smugly, that we should talk to the boy and give him a chance. The woman was practically crowing, so gleeful was she at the thought that she had cornered me into talking to him. I still remember what I said to her.

“This isn’t couples therapy madam, this is sexual harassment. I will never, ever speak to him.”

That very night, at 10 pm, my mother and I went to the police station and filed an FIR. We had ample proof. First, we had complained to the society and asked it to put a stop to it. Second, we had witnesses- my Doctor and my best friend who was an advocate and could corroborate. Third, we had electronic evidence. Months of videos of the stalking. Last, we had my prescription for antacids and sleeping pills. I’m still on those.

The policewomen at the women’s cell were truly incredible. They helped me go over my story until I could recall every detail with clarity and give them a true account of everything that had happened. They arrested him immediately and put him in lock up for nearly 12 hours. He was let out on bail later. They conducted the investigation thoroughly and within a week, filed the charge-sheet. They took me to the Sessions Court where I gave my witness statement to the Judicial Magistrate. I actually stood inside a witness box and cried my heart out. I talked about how I’d lost 3 years of my life. How I had no idea what I was going to do with my life anymore. How I was too sick to find a job or get married. How I had to leave within a few days of filing the FIR and move to a secure home, as the police had told me that this man was mentally insane and therefore, dangerous. On a side note, they also told me that it seemed more like a conspiracy to force me marry the stalker than anything else.

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Here’s what you need to know about my stalker. He already had a girlfriend and his girlfriend knew what he was doing, yet she supported him. His mother knew what he was doing, yet she harboured him. The Secretary knew what he was doing, yet she defended him. There was never any apology. Any man who stalks and harasses with impunity, does so because there are women who approve it. Victimisation of innocent girls, is a hobby. It’s entertainment. Sexual predators are not born, they are made.

It is not men who are sexually deviant, it is society which is sexually deviant.

After I moved into our new home, the peace and quiet was unbearable. I couldn’t believe I was actually safe. I was hyper-vigilant. I had panic attacks. I had nightmares and flashbacks. I locked doors, took no calls, refused to go out of my apartment, broke off from friends and stopped eating. I would get very angry and then I’d suddenly start crying. I would cut vegetables for lunch and hold the blade to my wrist. I’d lean over the balcony railing and lean down as far I could go. I’d calculate the number of sleeping pills it would take to never wake up. I’d look up at the ceiling fan and imagine hanging from it. If I went out to go get groceries, I’d have this sudden urge to throw myself on the road in the way of a car. I was having a nervous breakdown.

When I started therapy, I was diagnosed with Depression, Anxiety and PTSD.

The day I started healing was the day I accepted that I was safe. I had not let him get to me. I had not let him hurt me. I did the right thing. It wasn’t my fault. I was OK. I was going to face him in Court one day and I was going to see him punished. I needed to live so I could see how justice was served. I could let go and move on.

I got my degree in law and a diploma in counselling. I started my own business, as a legal consultant and counsellor for women and children. I started a support group for women’s mental health. I devised a safety plan for victims of domestic violence. I did an online workshop on reporting sexual harassment. I became an activist for gender equality and mental health. I took whatever had broken me and then I remade myself.

Today, I feel gratitude. Not for being stalked and harassed. But for knowing what to do when it happened. I feel grateful to my parents who raised me as a feminist. To my teachers who taught me criminal law. To the API and constable who helped me. To my support group who showed me empathy. To my Doctor who treated me. To my therapist who helped me heal. To the Judge who listened to me compassionately. To the women’s rights advocate who empowered me.

But most of all, I save my gratitude for you, dear reader.

Because you believed me.

This is the real story of Abha, a legal consultant and counsellor. Views and information shared in this piece are that of the contributor, not of SheThePeople.

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