HYDERABAD: ‘His cold disgusting hands (inside my shirt) woke me up and I pushed him and slapped him – I lost count of how many slaps. I screamed and I yelled and hit him again.. and then took out my camera and I took his pictures, I couldn’t let him get away. But he kept covering his face and uttered the word, ‘sister’ and with such disregard..” wrote Vishnupriya Bhandaram, currently a social anthropology and sociology student at Central European University, Budapest, on Facebook. Two years after the incident, with 1,217 likes and 828 shares, the city girl says she continues to get personal messages from people saying that her actions have inspired them.
“Many women said that they will make a hue and cry. A child abuse victim said that he would finally confront his demon,” she shares and adds, “It is great that people have avenues to raise their concerns and voices. It’s one way of taking the power back.”
But Vishnupriya clarifies that writing about the incident was not planned to elicit a reaction – it was her anger that such misbehaviour is common and both men and women come to think of it as a normal experience. “When I am upset, I write,” she says.
Gang raped at the age of 15, a survivor and currently a saviour for trafficked women, Sunita Krishnan has been on both ends of the spectrum. Krishnan agrees that things have changed in 26 years with people accepting abused and harassed women as survivors. “Such issues are coming into the open due to change in public perception. Today anyone who comes out and says that she has been violated, is supported and not blamed. This has given people a sense of comfort and freedom to speak up,” she asserts.
But not everyone who speaks up, gets support. Gauthami Challagulla a self-proclaimed “outspoken women who often comes across as stubborn”, tells us how she suffered for being vocal. “One day when I went to enquire why the the society management had locked the elevator, I was abused and told, ‘don’t teach us work we know what you do in the name of work.’ They take liberty to assassinate my character because my business partner is a guy with whom I hang out a lot. I walk my dog at night, where I stay, in Pragathi Nagar, Kukatpally, talk to strangers and voice my opinion in matters that concern me – all things that the society puts under the ‘indecent’ label,” she explains.
While Gauthami’s family and friends have stood by her, being verbally abused and being called names by your neighbours too is a harassment. “We are brought up to behave and act in certain manner but I am not ashamed of doing things that I do only because I am a woman and that society expects me to behave in a certain way,” she says. Her FB inbox is often filled with slanderous messages from unknown people. Though it disturbs her, it has not stopped her from being vocal. “These people know I have a point and that I am right which is why they resort to cheap tactics like to bullying me and maligning my character.”
While Krishnan believes that the society is increasingly accepting and applauding those who recount their personal stories of horror – like celebrity hairstylist Sapna Moti Bhavnani(photo courtesy: Humans of Bombay, Facebook), who recently revealed that she was gang raped 20 years ago – the trend is still very much urbane. “Families still associate such abuse with loss of honour and shame. And we still haven’t reached the ideal stage where all women and girls have the confidence to speak, disclose and report the matter,” she says.
And the activist is right. 25-year-old Neha (name changed), who was sexually abused by her tutor for years, then by two older cousins and finally ended up being raped by her boyfriend says she fights her demons everyday. While she shared her agony with a few friends and fiancé, she is still not confident about naming the family members.
“Sharing my story, and getting support from people who matter has been a boon. But I am still waiting for the day when I can walk up to my family and tell them that this is what happened to me,” she says for the fear of being judged.
But Vishnupriya feels, “The constant use of the word ‘judged’ makes it sounds like retaliation and standing up for yourself deserves judgement and you might rectify the beliefs,” she asserts and continues, “No, I didn’t think about them. When I know that it was wrong and an egregious reach into my private space, uninvited by a stranger, I had nothing to be ashamed about.”