– By Joyona Medhi
The spotlight’s still weight held her fixated to her lectern. She looked into the pitch black stare of more than a hundred pair of eyes. With palms all sweaty, eyes dilated, throat dry and knees weak, she rummaged through her now-hazy notes only to keep returning back to the word “chacha” encircled with bold red and accompanied by a scribbled, got-to-be-confident looking “extempore” right beside it in the margin. The moment had come. There was no more avoiding it. Suppressing it. Gagging it. It needed voice. It was a story silently shrieking for a release, under the weight of 20 muffling years bearing down upon it.
She closed her eyes and a series of images started flashing by rapidly front of her. She visualised her 8-year-old self, wearing a pink frock and being offered a chocolate by dear ‘chacha jaan’, so as to get her to sit on his lap. She recalled the image of her frilly green panty lying on the floor after being swiftly ripped off. She remembered the incessant rubs, strokes and jerks vividly. The very thought of that inextricable pain which would shoot through her body every countless time she was penetrated, always caused her entire body to go rigid and then break into a cold sweat. Chacha jaan’s face somehow came into prominence. He would make his blood- shot- red eyes even bigger bringing his face inches away from hers and then repeating a resonating sound which would, till date, echo in her head- “shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…”
She tried remembering her speech therapist’s instructions, even though the word ‘instructions’ always brought her back to the harshest of orders she’d ever had to obey. Five words were all it took to make that adamant stutter always loom behind every sentence she spoke ever since- “Put it in your mouth.”
The sting of her mom’s slap still burns her cheek every time she recounts the day she gathered up all the courage that a 10 year old could muster, and whispered everything into her mother’s ear. Yes, two years had passed. She left the room sobbing, now bound by a vow to her mother to never ever open her mouth about this to anyone ever in her life. ‘Bear’ was the word used. Yes, she’ll never forget. Even if she tries to, she can’t.
Today, she was guest speaker at a seminar titled- “Raised voices: Against the killing of innocence.” The irony caused a small smile to play around her lips. It was the first time she was going to publicly narrate her deepest fear and the nuanced impact it has had on practically every single relationship she has attempted to build throughout her life. From barely being able to walk after those dreaded hourly sessions in the bathroom, to not even being able to put two and two together, She had come a long way.
Child sexual abuse needed to come out from under the covers of the inherent orthodoxy of the Indian family. Patriarchy thinks that it can get away with anything and everything. But to make a child go to sleep every night afraid of the darkness, clenching on to her teddy and with a tear strewn face is unacceptable. It is nothing short of bestiality, she thought. For all those unfulfilled dreams lost somewhere in the emptiness of those cold nights, she had to find their realisation. She had to speak.
Slowly she raised her eyelids to meet pitch black eye to eye.