I don’t know if I am writing this as a victim or a survivor, it’s not been too long.
The imposition of the lockdown and the request to head to safe places didn’t go down well for many people. The night Delhi announced the lockdown and closed interstate borders, my parents and I decided to visit our relatives in our native town in western Uttar Pradesh as we all had leave from college and office.
We left the same night. On our way, we saw the exodus of migrants embarking on long journeys on foot. There were a huge difference between us – I was going on a vacation and they, fearing the dwindling earning opportunities in cities and towns, were looking for their ‘safe home.’
We eventually reached our grandmother’s place in the dusty little town I was born in. Just like us, some of our other relatives also travelled and joined us. In total, we were 22 people under the same roof.
Initially, I enjoyed spending time with my aunt, uncle and cousins. We barbecued and played cards, and I didn’t feel so affected by the fact that I was living with my abuser under the same roof.
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As time went by, I unwittingly started withdrawing from things I earlier enjoyed. His presence, I realised, distressed me. While my cousins still ate and played together, I would sit quietly and watch their happy faces in the smoke of barbecue.
I was cautious all the time about keeping my distance from him. I never closed my eyes while taking a shower and checked the bathroom’s lock again and again. If by any chance I met his eyes, I felt gutted. While changing clothes, I pushed them down quickly over my face.
“Gudiya” is what he used to call me, my father’s younger brother. And years later, I am being called the same name, but it now causes indescribable pain. Even after trying my best to avoid him, he would always be somewhere close by. I observed and calculated his movements, I knew where he would be and at what time. We have a tradition of eating together as a family, so I would eat quickly and rush away.
It was awful to meet the reality of what I had been trying to bury for years.
All that remains deep in my memory is pain and fuzzy images. It has been 11 years. It wasn’t just his presence and the memory of things he did to me that kept haunting me but the fact that I let it happen. The fact that I kept quiet. I grieved in the memory and submitted to its pervasiveness; everything happening around me was a repercussion of my silence.
I had again seemingly brought it upon myself by pushing my parents to visit my native home.
The countrywide lockdown kept on continuing, one phase after the other, and I was trapped in a lonely and oppressive environment in a rural setting while being exposed to my abuser. Isolation was the only option I was looking for, which became impossible in such a big family. I was getting worn out, emotionally and physically. During the month of Ramazan, I barely ate. My mother observed this and thought it was because I was not being able to adjust and was missing home.
All the time, I could feel my mind sifting through the possibilities of leaving.
But I had lived long enough with fear, to the point that I had stopped feeling much – let alone being scared of what might happen. I mustered my strength and told my parents everything, yet nothing. They now knew about the abuse, but not that it slowly made me into a passive and numb person. That I had developed negative thoughts about myself or always had troubled relationships and I blamed myself for every break up. Those years when I faced difficulties in sleeping or pulled away most of my friends. That I am still trying to come to terms with it. And that I was afraid that I would return to that phase.
The next morning, we drove back home. I sat in the back of the car and glanced at the deserted roads. There were still migrant workers walking on the road, and this time, like them, I too was looking for a ‘safe home’.
While I was at my grandmother’s home in the village, if you would have asked me what I was afraid of, I would have said it was him. But now, sitting far away from him and writing this, I am somewhat taken aback by the fact that it’s not him I was afraid of.
I was afraid of myself. That it was my mistake. Perhaps, I was both the protagonist and the antagonist of my story. But it also made me realise that it’s time that the narrative was changed. The lifelong consequences of being sexually abused in childhood are immeasurable, but I shall no longer live as a victim.
Sumbul Jahangeer is a student of Delhi University, pursuing graduation in Journalism.
Featured image credit: Julius Drost/Unsplash