'Rapes happen because we raise our children inappropriately.'
'Not our daughters, but our sons.'
'Daughters are always conditioned about what to wear, how to behave, how to sit, how to talk; what about the sons?'
Vaishnavi Prasad was 12 when she was raped by a stranger.
Like most girls in India who are not educated about sex at the right age, Vaishnavi did not know she had been raped for the longest time.
Over the years, like most girls in India, she has been groped, abused and molested. Not once, but multiple times.
Like it happens in most cases, most of her tormentors have walked away freely. But some have been taken to task.
Unlike most girls who prefer not to be identified in such a situation or hide under a pseudonym (for no fault of theirs), Vaishnavi chose to openly share her story on Twitter (external link).
She expects no sympathy, just more people to join her cause -- to break the taboo that rape is a girl's fault.
Those of you who think a girl is molested because of the clothes she wears, her attitude, that she stepped out of her house without a male escort, that she chose to work or simply because of the weather, can perhaps stop reading at this point.
But if you'd like to know what it means to be a survivor and continuously fight the stigma attached to such abuse, Vaishnavi's learnings over the years and advice she has to share will inspire you.
Rediff.com's Divya Nair listens in.
Victim or survivor?
I was 12 when I was raped in my hometown, Chennai. But like most kids my age, I was too young and too shocked to react.
When I told my parents exactly what happened, they chose to believe I was molested, not raped. Till date, this is what they believe. I am not going to change their belief, or their perception.
But when, two years later, I realised what had happened to me, I felt terrible.
I am sure there are millions of girls out there who are abused in some form or the other, but are scared to come out and share their story.
This fear gives these molesters the confidence to repeat their crimes.
My advice? Stop feeling victimised.
Why do rapes happen?
The Indian society we live in is not perfect; our girls and women do not have the same kind of independence that our boys and men do.
For example, if a girl is touched inappropriately and she reports it to her parents or an elder, she's asked to forget it and keep quiet, to not tell anyone.
In India, people are still scared of the after-effects of reporting abuse. They worry about its impact on the girl's reputation, her career, her marriage.
This collective attitude of apathy influences the minds of our society and raises rapists.
Rapes happen because we raise our children inappropriately. Not our daughters, but our sons.
Daughters are always conditioned about what to wear, how to behave, how to sit, how to talk; what about the sons?
When will that change? Who will change that?
What can girls/women do?
Stop judging, kill the blame
When you are abused, molested or raped, the first thing to do is stop judging and finding faults.
It is insensitive to trivialise any form of abuse by comparing it to something more traumatic -- like when an inappropriate touch is okay because it is not rape?
Let's understand this clearly -- any form of abuse is uncalled for and is plain and simple WRONG.
As for the survivor, you have to find the courage to tell yourself it wasn't your fault. And believe it.
Your life doesn't end here at this.
Many of you may think it's easy for me to say, 'Let go', but that's the best way to come out of the trauma.
The more you harp on it and reconstruct the incident in your mind, the more you'll end up in a rut.
Acceptance is the first step to recovery.
Report the incident
There are times when you know your tormentor.
When you share your experience, many people will advise you to stay mum and push it under the blanket for your own good.
By all means, do what you feel is right and just for you.
If you can identify your attacker, I'd strongly recommend that you report the incident to a higher authority.
It could be a family member, a senior colleague or someone more powerful.
And stop thinking what people will say and how they'll react.
People who talk behind you will anyway talk ill about you, sooner or later.
By reporting the incident, you have already taken a strong stand against abuse.
Raise your voice
I remember this incident in a village in Hosur, Tamil Nadu. I went to a smoke shop, lit my cigarette and started talking to my friend.
A little distance away, I saw some men clicking our pictures and passing lewd remarks.
I could have easily kept mum and walked away. But I chose to raise my voice.
Some 20 people gathered.
It did not matter whether those men were punished or what happened later. I had made it clear that what they did wasn't okay.
Among the 20 people, if my voice reached and influenced even one, my job was done.
The need of the hour
- In India, it is still considered taboo to discuss sex with parents. The awkwardness must go. Schools and parents must introduce liberal sex education to kids.
- Sex education needs to be started as early as six to eight years. That's the age when kids are vulnerable to attack.
- Parents shouldn't force children to show affection towards anyone. Let the kid decide between a good and bad touch. Give them the option to decline. Tell them it's okay if you don't want to hug that uncle or neighbour.
- This might seem a little extreme, but there has to be a compulsory parenting programme for all couples. Like we need to apply for license to drive or start a business, there should be a license programme to educate and test aspiring parents on raising kids well.
- It takes very little to power a cause and keep it alive. The greatest of revolutions around the world have started with one person saying 'No, I've had enough.' Be that person.
Vaishnavi Prasad, 28 is a freelance media consultant based out of Chennai.
Do you have a similar story to share?
How did you deal with abuse?
Do share your learning with other readers.
Let's try and make India safe for all of us.
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