I was 12 when a stranger came and grabbed me and tried to fondle me from behind at the New Delhi Railway Station. He did it twice or thrice till my cousin sister, elder to me by two years, kicked him and pushed him away.
I was 13 when a guy started making prank calls to our home phone. He'd hang up if anyone else picked up, but if I picked up, he'd ask me a question in Hindi. The same question every time. It carried on for several weeks till one day the father picked up the extension and gave him a blasting. Till today, I've never told anyone what exactly he would ask me.
I know that a large part of my outrage over rape and sexual abuse come from these two experiences. That when the guys in the next car pass comments, I get upset and aggressive because I know it can get worse, no matter what the mother may say about it being no big deal.
But do these incidents classify as child sexual abuse? I've never really thought of them as such. Not even abuse really. Harassment, probably. But not abuse. But then, I was lucky no? These were fleeting incidents in an otherwise very secure childhood, and my family took care of me. They may not have taken the impact these incidents had on me very seriously, but they took care of me.
One of the hardest things about being a Peer Educator with RAHI was hearing disclosures. As girls in our college became aware of our campaigns, some of them began to approach us to tell us their stories, stories they had never shared with anyone else. There were times we spent hours sitting outside the canteen, listening to a girl we had never spoken to before, a girl we never spoke to again after that. Just - listening. Some were convinced to go to Anuja for formal counselling, for others, just that one conversation was enough. So many others never came to speak at all.
When the second batch of Peer Educators was formed, RAHI helped some 8-10 girls from the two batches to form a group - a group of survivors. The rest of us, in the larger group, knew the group had been formed, knew they would meet more often, but we didn't know who all were part of the group. Some of the members were close friends, and had told me they were part of it, but the others chose to keep their counsel.
Even though I had stopped working with RAHI by this time, I continued to run the mailing group on Yahoo for the Peer Educators those days. One night, I got a frantic call from a fellow Peer Educator, asking if she could recall a mail sent to the group. When I checked my mail later, I realised why - she had sent a mail intended for the survivors' group, confirming the time of their next meeting, out to the larger group. Everyone would now know she was a survivor, and she was not ready to tell the world.
The group naturally discussed this incident in their next meeting, because over the next few days, 3-4 of them wrote to the larger group, saying that they too, were survivors. Some were surprises, some not so much. Many of them remained silent.
At the end of that year, the Peer Educators again organised a seminar to talk about child sexual abuse. This time, from the survivors' perspective. They had created a movie where the survivors spoke about their experiences, even the panellists of the seminar were survivors this time. I wasn't able to attend the seminar, but I saw the movie a year later, when I went to help Anuja with a workshop. And I heard the voices of my friends, friends I hadn't realised or even suspected were survivors, talking about some of their worst memories.
Over the past month, I've been reading posts by survivors, talking about what they went through, and how they dealt with it. And I am in awe of how strong and brave these men and women are. To be able to put out your worst memories, and your emotions, out there, so that people become aware of something they otherwise refuse to acknowledge even exists - it really is incredibly brave.