I am the Victim and I Blame Myself

>> January 3, 2013

I’m not sure when exactly it was that I discovered that my sex made me different- more vulnerable, more susceptible to a certain kind of look, touch, interaction, and, of course, violence.

It may have been when I was twelve- standing precariously on the precipice of puberty, trying to make my peace with a rapidly evolving body- and a visiting uncle (who ironically, even today, claims to have held me as an infant as I peed on his brand new shirt) prodded at my barely there nubile breast.  It may have been when I decided that I shouldn’t bring it up with my parents- a twelve year old child’s considered decision based on sheer inability to articulate what had happened to her. It may, perhaps, have been when my period did arrive in all its awaited glory, and my mother gleefully declared that I was a “woman”, and that I was not to pray during those painful days because, as she patiently explained to me, I was “unclean”. To be fair at that age, religion and prayer were mere rituals to me, but my sense of justice-, I remember-, was acutely offended because there I was, not being allowed to do something, only because I was a girl.

It doesn’t matter, in any case. After twenty five years of being a woman in this country now, it simply does not matter when I discovered that I was “the fairer sex”, fair game for every boy and man. It seems insignificant to remember when I discovered that my interaction with the world will always be different- at odds with, even- from the way my father, my brother and my male friends experienced it. It doesn’t even matter that as I gleaned this reality of my difference, my girl-ness as a child, I did not realize that it would only be the first of many such battles I would fight and inevitably fail at.

As an independent urban twenty-something, I fight some battles every day. Heck, as the elder daughter in a mostly conservative middle class family, I’ve been fighting them ever since I can remember.  As a young girl, my earliest interaction with patriarchy was when I found it residing most comfortably in my own home. In retrospect, the battle I waged with my mother because I was expected to clean up after dinner, and my brother was not, seems almost laughably petty now. More recently, I was on holiday at home in Kerala and my mother told me about Thiruvathira- an auspicious day on which unmarried women across the state undertake fasting and prayers in the hope of bagging good husbands. Oh, I thought I was being so cocky, so with it and feminist, when I asked her if she thought there was a man out there fasting so that he may bag me, glorious and beautiful that I am.

Looking back now, I realize that these battles were pathetically irrelevant in the larger context of a deeply misogynistic society. The futility, however, of these wars I waged privately never occurred to me and I remained steadfast at the front-line, fighting for what I was convinced was a worthwhile cause. In my first year of college, when I was living with my aunt, I discovered that my younger male cousin was free to stay out after classes, watch movies and plan trips out of town with his friends, and I was not. I was outraged, of course, when my uncle tried to explain this discrimination to me using a famous Malayalam proverb – that of the thorn and the leaf, and how it didn’t matter whether the thorn fell on the leaf or the leaf on the thorn, it would always be the leaf that would be considered “damaged goods”.  And even though I was extremely indignant at being reduced to a leaf in my battle for “equality”, it was only after I went to law school and discovered feminist narratives on the patriarchy of language that I would fully appreciate the ridiculous sexism of the analogy. As a young girl, I always fought these battles with an unwavering conviction of purpose, because it was about me and my right to lead my life as I saw fit. I argued about language and age-old customs that reinforce the deification of the woman to the exclusion of all agency on her part. I believed that these lonely battles were a significant albeit small part in championing the cause of women. And, yet, as I look back, I have failed so miserably in my own liberated life, it’s shocking.

As I grew older, of course, even as I continued to wage the war at home, I began to sense the very real danger lurking at every corner in the world outside. As I championed the cause of the maid’s daughter who did not wish to be married off back home, on my way back from college I only pretended to not have seen the dirty old pervert who sat at the bus stop every day, with his penis held out in his hand, hungrily watching girls in their school uniforms.  Even as I mocked my grandmother’s favourite television serials and the distorted reality they represented, I only walked faster, holding myself a little tighter, when I was followed by a young man on my way back from college, walking past my own house and entering a friend’s, so he wouldn’t know where I stayed. 

I thought I was a rebel, one more worthy revolutionary in this endless battle as I stood outside college and smoked my morning cigarette at Amma’s, much to the chagrin of our many chauvinistic professors, both male and female. And yet, the one time when I was in real danger of physical violence, of sexual assault, when a bunch of Karnataka Rakshana Vedike rowdies barged into a friend’s house where we’d been hanging out – yes, barged right in, to that most sacred of all spots, one’s home- and  started threatening to have their way with us, taking videos of us on their phones, laughing at us in sheer delight at our helplessness, our fear- this one time, I recoiled in fear, I pleaded with them in my broken tear-soaked Kannada to leave us alone, to let us be, to let the girls leave without harm.

After college, when I moved to Bombay, I revelled in the freedom the city brought me- not only in terms of financial independence but also the more cosmopolitan outlook I knew the city afforded its women. I took cabs back home from work and nights out at two in the morning, and I dealt with my perverted landlord, my lecherous plumber and my nosy neighbours with the same irreverent attitude. I took offence at the slightest indication of what I thought was patronizing at the workplace, argued about the inappropriateness of the jokes the boys’ club in office were sometimes prone to cracking, and generally played the part of the strong independent woman I had always wanted to grow into. And yet, when the cab-driver took a route not known to me, I looked around in dread, and stared straight ahead at the road, my face set in pretend-fearlessness Even as I argued almost too passionately with a friend- who very rightly pointed out that the discourse on safety should not be lost in our frenzy to assert women’s independence, in the context of the recent rape of the student from my college-on my way back from a friend’s at two in the morning, when the auto broke down for a bit and a bunch of drunks started asking me “where going, madam?”, I only pulled my stole tighter around me, praying that the auto would start again. Even as I returned home, slightly drunk from a glorious night out of spending hard-earned money, I only averted my eyes as a guy on a passing bike jerked his hands in an indecent gesture. Even as I raged against the Salman Khan who reportedly demands final edit on all his movies, replete as they are with dialogues like “pyar se de rahe hai, rakh lo, varna thappad maarke bhi de sakte hai”, I only retreated, crouched away in crowded places so the men could pass first and I could pass safely later. Even as I complained about my friend’s boyfriend with a roving hand, I walked in meek cowardice past the fruit-wallah who broke into song every single time that I walked past him. 

After twenty five years of battles big and small, it destroys me today, right now, as I slowly and surely realize the futile it has all been. How naïve I have been waging my private war with male chauvinism- much like every other woman in this country- a war that now appears to me to be so irrelevant and insignificant, I might as well never have tried.

For every man who has made me feel a little less confident and a little more vulnerable, I have allowed another man to get away with exactly that. I remember one occasion when I did respond to a pervert thrusting his groin against me in a bus in Bangalore, when I raised my leg and kneed him right where it hurt.  I remember he moved away, surprised, even a little scared, and writhing in pain. I probably got lucky that one time; I realise that he could have responded in kind, that he could have grabbed me, punished me for my impertinence, that even if I had yelled and attracted attention, it would have evoked nothing but apathetic stares- from men and women alike. And yet, on an impulse, I ran the risk. I have, of course-since, and before- kneed, and elbowed several hands jostling my behind, grabbing my breasts, but it was always in passive defence- to protect myself, to get away from the situation.

My parents, perhaps, were justified in telling me to “be safe” and not my brother- because they spoke the risk-averse language of parents who’d rather see me safe than brave; but how was I justified – young, hot-blooded feminist that I’d deluded myself into thinking I am- in never reacting with such violent anger as I felt on every occasion, never telling the men that they could not get away with it? I did not walk up to the obscene creep at the bus stop and ask him to put it back in or suffer. I did not ask the disgusting man who followed me what he wanted and whether he would like for me to report him to the police.  I am the victim, and I am beginning to wonder, maybe, I should blame myself.

Here I am, fighting petty battles against the insidious patriarchy of language, rebelling against a matrilineal heritage that expects my womb to produce a thoroughbred Nair girl to keep the family lineage alive, and protesting the callous use of words like ‘rape’ to describe a bad interview. And there she was, fighting rape itself, fighting off six men who thought it was well within their right to taunt her because she was out and about in her city, fighting off a rusty iron rod that was repeatedly used to sexually assault her, until her insides were twisted beyond redemption, simply because they were drunk and they were men and it amused them to destroy a woman, a weaker human being, with such heinous design. Girl X has made me see the error of my ways. In staying alive and in wanting to know “if they’ve been caught”, she inspired a fearless confidence in me, and in death, she has made me realize that it will be too late, far too late, if I wait for things to change. 

It would be, I know, unfair to claim that women do not react out of cowardice- because that is not true. I do realise that the battles I have fought are not entirely insignificant, that these lonely battles every one of us women fight today are very necessary to bring the attitudinal shift that this nation needs today. Girl X, however, has made me realize that this is simply not enough. Misogyny and its various manifestations, most particularly rape, is- at its core- a power trip.  A power trip rooted in the knowledge, cultivated by generations of men and mostly women, that they can get away with it, because the woman will bear the burden of her "shame" silently. The most urgently necessary solution to this problem is, of course, reform of the criminal justice system and sensitization of the police force.  Discourses on the punishment adequate for rape are also, obviously, an integral part of this narrative against harassment of women. Attitudes may or may not change, but I do not want to be at the mercy of the mere shadow of a hope. And maybe, the first step I can take as a woman is to react against what they believe are the little things- a grope here, a leer there- which builds up to this pervasive culture of misogyny.

I realize that I may be advocating recklessness, but somehow, it seems to me that the time has come to become reckless.  To reclaim the night, the day and our streets. When the country has been gripped with such fervent indignation, when the cause is being championed by people who have thus far preferred to pretend that nothing was wrong- now IS the time to be reckless, to revolt, to tell every damned asshole exactly what I think about him when he chooses to undress me with his eyes. I may run a risk, but never has the Indian situation been more amenable to such a risk, and I intend to take full advantage of it. I am an angry woman, and I must, I need to, and I will express this anger. I am a victim, but I shall not bear any responsibility for being victimized again.

33 Comment(s):

Laksh January 4, 2013 at 2:26 PM  

Hi, hopped over here from IHM's blog. Very powerful piece and definitely something that needs to reach a wider audience.

Deepa January 4, 2013 at 9:20 PM  

:( That's where it hurts more - with all the education, with all the right upbringing - if all we have to do when out in the world is fear for ourselves, then sometimes all of that seems so worthless. All our efforts to define an identity for ourselves seems so futile. It just seems so hopeless :(

PS: On another note, as a reader, captcha moderation is really a turn off. No offense. If possible, do switch that to complete moderation or remove Anonymous commenting. Just a thought.

Pratik January 4, 2013 at 10:52 PM  

I got reference of it from twitter. Such a convincing piece and thorough account of troubles a girl faces, being a girl, and her tiny battles, she wages to confront them, but still with insecurity. Definitely an awesome read.

Igirit January 5, 2013 at 4:19 AM  

@Laksh - Thanks for reading! Do circulate it among your friends. I honestly feel every woman needs to act and react now.

@Deepa- It's not hopeless- I know it's extremely frustrating, but maybe it'll be less frustrating in a few years (I am also unbelievably optimistic). Also, thanks for the tip- no more looking vague lettering to capture now!

@Pratik - Thanks for reading. Do please circulate among your friends etc.

the housewife January 5, 2013 at 6:33 AM  

caught the link from IHM's blog. the whole thing felt as if it was my story. actually it is in probability what almost every indian girl or woman goes through.i so identified with it. been through almost all that you mentioned including one protest in a public bus for a similar incident. i was barely 15 at that time and all i could do was yell and mercifully everyone around pushed that guy away and he was made to get down.

yes we all fight the small battles and feel to scared to handle the battles. wish my daughters were old enough to share this blog with them and tell them be strong be brave.

thankyou for putting into words what most of us feel.

Anonymous,  January 5, 2013 at 1:07 PM  

Oh wow, a friend shared this. This made me cry. :(
You are so correct. I have fought for similar things at home- and reacted in similar ways and felt just like you. :(

This is a brilliant, heartfelt piece. She indeed was a brave, brave woman. And I have also gained inspiration from her.

When I walk the streets now- I am still afraid of being raped, hurt- but now it is with a "so what" attitude.. If I am raped, I will live and continue to fight- just like that brave woman. We continue to fight, because that is all we can do.

Never, ever lose hope. Ever. Never give in to what the world wants. Never. Be brave and confident and your feminist self forver. <3 <3 <3

Anonymous,  January 5, 2013 at 9:18 PM  

Excellent piece. This is the story many girls I know will tell too.

Sharing this with everyone I know :)

Anonymous,  January 6, 2013 at 8:45 PM  

Very powerful piece and i agree with the writer. We women have to realize a war is being waged against us, and unfortunately this is not the kind of war in which you can hide in a bomb shelter till the enemy recedes. The only way to survive this war -- if not individually but as a group -- is to fight it tooth and nail, every day, all the time. I am the mom of a 17 month old son and have not been in the workforce for over two years now. After this incident though, I have decided to join office again, travel on the roads of this city, return home at 11 every night. My husband has been quailing at the very idea and while I do not condemn him for his fear -- after all love makes you afraid for those you love -- I have told him I have no choice. I have always thought Indian women are among the bravest people in this world -- look at our plucky daughters, look at the soul-destroying stuff they face every step and still decide to go on. Look at Girl X. Let us fight to honor our women.

Igirit January 6, 2013 at 11:10 PM  

@The Housewife: Thanks for reading. As a woman who has experienced the daily struggle of being one in public life and a mother, it must be doubly hard for you. Do read a post by my friend's mother - http://confessionsofanambitiousmother.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/the-hyenas.html?m=1 - it speaks of a mother's sadness in her reluctant limiting of her daughter's life.

@Anonymous - A "so what" attitude is exactly what I think women should display more. Do take care, though - it's still a terrible world!

@Suheil- Thanks for reading. Please do share. Would love for as many women as possible to read and realise they need to react.

@Anonynous - Let us, indeed, fight to honour our women. It's the little individual steps we'll take-- such as you're doing- that will slowly crush this culture of misogyny. Good luck! :)

Megha Hegde,  January 7, 2013 at 4:37 PM  

You echoed my sentiments in every small detail. Especially the mask of fearlessness when travelling in public. after many years of travelling in Karnataka's regional buses (the red and white bus as it is commonly known) I developed what Icall my fierce mask. After feeling absolutely helpless and violated every time I board a bus, I decided to accumulate all the anger and the next guy who thinks he can grope me with impunity is going to get the brunt of all that anger. Where I look at any man who glasces my way with a "I dare you to make an advance towards me". And it worked.

Sukanya January 7, 2013 at 11:24 PM  

A friend of mine posted the link to this piece on my status after I couldn't control my rage over how our politicians are reacting to the idea of keeping women and girls "safe". I could relate to SO much, including the irony behind the Nair ways. I've been subject to keeping my mouth shut and my opinions ridiculed because "I read too much" by my own grandmother so often, that I've come to realize that change needs to start at home. BRILLIANT read. I've already shared this on facebook. Will tweet about it now. Once, again, absolutely brilliant.

Rituparna Chatterjee,  January 8, 2013 at 1:50 AM  

Salut. Is all I can say.

Anonymous,  January 8, 2013 at 1:52 AM  

Indian males when in groups transform into a pack of Hyenas,be it wage earning laborers or spoiled rich brats. They are on prowl for prey be it a lone female or a male, though males are only threatened with physical violence

Barns January 8, 2013 at 2:20 AM  

Outstanding piece of writing. Another articulate and passionate voice joins the chorus for change.

Godhuli January 8, 2013 at 2:35 AM  

Any girl will relate to the everyday fights, which we are made to believe a part and parcel of being the fairer sex....

Prithvi January 8, 2013 at 2:52 AM  

This is a wonderfully well written article, thought provoking and real. Venal structures of decaying chauvinism have no place in the 21st century. Everyone worthwhile stand with the women of this world against this stupidly archaic perception of gender status quo. Kudos Sowmya!

kavana January 8, 2013 at 2:53 AM  

As I read through your post, I felt like my emotions were being arranged into words.
In the end, I feel that no amount of standing up to these perverts will make a big change in our lives.
There are more than a billion people in India, more than 7 billion in the world. Its the law of probability for a lot of those to remain as assholes.
One fact consoles me. That this start by us, can yield results for future generations to have a better place to live than we do. Just like the situation is a tiny bit better for us now compared to 50 years ago.

Please keep writing. It connects with a lot more people than you can imagine :)

Anonymous,  January 8, 2013 at 4:49 AM  

A very sad and a true post. But this concept of thorn and leaf would change only when premarital sex wouldn't be considered as a taboo. If such incidents happen it is considered that the girl has become impure and the society treats her as if it was her crime to be in that place at that time, instead of kicking the culprits. And they come with the solution that since she has become impure the person committing rape will marry her. What the hell? Is the girl a defective good - that goods once damaged cannot be returned? Because of such attitudes even educated illiterates have the guts to say whatever they wish. The revolution that has started because of such heinous crime done to the Girl X wouldn't and shouldn't and stop here.

Anonymous,  January 8, 2013 at 7:21 AM  

Completely agree. This is the time to take risks. That girl died, but perhaps we wouldn't have been jolted from our sleep, if she hadn't fought so bravely.
I think girls should carry a deadly weapon (a revolver). Be prepared to die, when assaulted or overpowered by a gang of predators. But make sure, at least one animal is KILLED. This would strike more fear in the hearts of such criminals than anything out there today.

Anonymous,  January 8, 2013 at 11:39 PM  

I am a stranger, nonetheless I love the fire in this post. Would you like to wage this battle in a more organized way with brilliant and passionate people across the globe? If so, I would love to talk to you more.

Igirit January 8, 2013 at 11:59 PM  

Thanks for reading, everyone

@Anonymous[7:21 AM]- I know I did advocate recklessness, reaction- confrontation, even- but I'm not sure walking around toting a gun to kill is the solution. We mustn't let our anger and emotions overwhelm us. No doubt, the men who raped Girl X are definitely not human- but let us measure our reactions so that we do not stoop to their levels!

@Lakshmi Dinesh - That has been my biggest fear- that all these protests and the outrage that I do genuinely feel will remain pointless rhetoric. I would love to work with a mobilized team to tackle this issue. Please e-mail me at tellingslant@gmail.com and let me know how I can help! Thanks!

Anonymous,  January 9, 2013 at 7:07 AM  

Not toting guns to kill.
A stealth weapon. Right to self-defense. Right to live. With tighter laws, don't expect gangs to leave the victim alive in future. Until better policing becomes a deterrent, carrying weapons will be a strong deterrent. A temporary solution. Extraordinary situation calls for extraordinary response. There's nothing short of a rape epidemic out there.

Kush January 9, 2013 at 9:28 PM  

Got to read your blog through a link shared by my sis-in-law, a very realistic account of the state of our society, and yes you are right, women need to make use of this perceptive increase in sensitivity towards crime against women and ensure that every such gesture is countered.

They should also not listen to and clap for certain Godmen when they try to justify such acts by putting the blame on the sufferer , would love the day when someone walks up to such people and slap them on their face for uttering such disgusting comments !

Reshma January 13, 2013 at 5:09 AM  

This is a brilliant post. Nothing short of sheer brilliance. I couldn't help but read each sentence twice. I'll definitely be sharing this on my FB Wall.

@the writer and @Laxmi Dinesh, if you guys are planning up something, count me in.

Some very good comments by the readers.

Do read my blog post too and let me know what you think.

I agree with the writer about guns not being the solution and that we shouldn't stoop to the level of these losers.

Also, I think we should chronicle our experiences. Not just our own personal ones, even what we witness. Any and every story wherein girls were looked down upon, ill-treated or harassed whether verbally, physically, emotionally - whatever.And at any degree of humiliation and differentiation, even if it was just a gender bias. Probably jointly make another blog and invite all to write in with their stories and publish it. There needs to be a people's record not just what statistics say!

P.S. We start by writing with our names and avoid 'Anonymous' as far as we can. Atleast when we are talking in a generic sense like in this blog post and all the comments under.

Change starts here. With us.

Igirit January 13, 2013 at 7:33 AM  

Thank you so much for reading and commenting!
You're right- there does need to be a record of the harassment women face everyday, in big and small ways, in this country. Towards this end, check out and share http://ibreakmysilence.org/submit-your-story/ - a forum initiated by Charanya Kannan in tandem with HumanFirst. Share your story, and share the link with your friends. Do note that the site is only being developed right now, and bear with any teething troubles!

Thanks, again!

tys February 7, 2013 at 6:22 AM  

i found you through the nri...reading you reminded me of my wife...the same anguish, almost the same experiences that drives home the reality that this is how things are and probably will be because the solution requires the perpetrators to evolve..change their mindset ...shun their culturally and socially bestowed feeling of superiority...; and the helpless is further driven in...

u reminded me how it must be for you as a woman to get through a day without having being reminded of your gender...

apart from being a father to a 4 year old girl and husband to a glorious woman, i have no other way to empathize rather than in a typical male protector way..

my suggestion , as i have given my wife , was to protect herself...get a pepper spray, learn basic self defence, know how to convert anything into a weapon, be alert always... i have also promised her that nothing will ever happen to her on my watch..to her or to anyone...

instead of trying to understand or empathize , i wish the men decide to do what they do best...protect...and pledge that nothing will happen to a woman or a child on their watch...

Anonymous,  March 16, 2013 at 5:22 AM  

You are really a strong women.... & expressing all this really makes a good courage in you.... :)

Anonymous,  March 25, 2013 at 1:17 PM  

I know that we should not fall prey to outrage, no matter how righteous. But I feel uncontrollable anger and sadness when faced with such situations. I once started beating a man who tried to grope me when I was standing in front of him in a queue for a bus. I kept hitting him with my umbrella...I scatched at his face and would have hurt him more if he had'nt pushed me and run away. The crowd around me called me "pagal" etc. It was true that I had behaved like an animal. But that was the only thing I wanted to do at the moment...hurt him as badly as I could. If I had a gun, I'd have killed him before I calmed down. I'm concerned for my safety, but I dont think guns are answer.

Akshat-vishal March 25, 2013 at 1:35 PM  

great article, sharing it totally

Anonymous,  March 26, 2013 at 4:00 AM  

Ironically true. Well written. While on this, pls read my post - Law & Life in "Rageistan" - wp.me/p1dZc2-eo
Feedback welcome

Unknown April 8, 2013 at 9:17 PM  

A BIG SOLUTE from a "young , 20 something , hot-blooded feminist" !

Sandra April 27, 2013 at 4:48 AM  

You just voiced out what an Indian Female be it a child, teenager, wife, mother experience in their day to day lives, as much as I am disgusted by the Patriarchal Society we live in, the more helpless I feel, nobody cares, nobody, nobody listens and everyday some helpless woman is abused somewhere, be it mentally or physically.

tellingitstraight,  May 21, 2014 at 4:35 AM  

helo i benozoglu from turkei again liek po.em no dis piece. i nt unnerstn wht is puberty??? is it hill bcoz u say u stnd on pricipis i gogl pricipis it sy did u mean pricipis liek in turkei we call altanaridgilimbezrobongelin whch mens cliff so i tht u r falling int hill pbuerty??? sory fr bad inglis benozoglu from turkei .bye

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