India Dissents: How People Stood Up to Harassment, Abuse in 2020
“My dad threatened us all, but we didn’t budge.”
The Swaddle asked people across India how they spoke truth to power, found their voices, and stood up for themselves in 2020. In this installment, how six people challenged abuse and harassment.
This year has been tough for all of us. We have gone through so much and we will continue doing so as long as we live. But this year, I had so much time to introspect that I finally understood what toxicity [my friends] were spreading that I was agreeing to. So I confronted them on our mutual WhatsApp group where they were engaging in fat-shaming a girl who had no connection to our group of friends. She had merely posted a picture on her own Facebook story. [They] told me that the girl had no dressing sense (she was wearing a knee-length black dress) because someone who was ‘fat’ should not dress up like that. I left the group thereafter, realizing what a truly toxic group of friends I had.
— S., 19
For as long as I can remember, my father has been abusive. He controlled the finances in our house, even though my mom was working. He made sure none of us ever has a single penny to our name so that we’d be dependent on him.
I finished my college, got a small job, and I moved out of the house. My father was furious, [and eventually] he decided not to send my younger brother to college since the reason I moved out was my job.
In March, my brother couldn’t take it anymore and ran away from home. I helped him find a place and enrolled him in college as well. After he ran off, my dad threatened us all, but we didn’t budge. Soon my mother followed us. So I rented a place not far from where I work. We had to buy everything from scratch, there isn’t proper furniture here even now. But we are safe here. While this year was a catastrophe beyond anything we had all seen, it was a ray of hope. I also enrolled myself for a PG course and even started a blog with my friend.
— A., 25
I filed a sexual harassment complaint against my harasser who also happened to be a very close friend from university 14 months after the incident took place. During the investigation, he victim-blamed and slut-shamed me. The outcome was that he was proven guilty.
He later challenged the verdict, saying that I was being vindictive towards him and that it was a vicious complaint. The second verdict was a two-versus-one split, saying that it was not sexual harassment per se, but it was problematic behavior and he was given a warning. The verdict crushed me, and I fell into depression later and even showed PTSD symptoms. But I’m happy that I looked him in the eyes and made him uncomfortable and that people know what he has done. Because he can no longer harass other girls who are afraid to speak up about their experience.
— M.M.K., 27
This year has taught all of us to raise our voice and to believe in yourself more than before. I came back to my hometown for the weekend to just get away from my personal mess. During lunch [one day],my grandfather very casually started [berating] my mother’s family who lives in another state.
I could see from my mother’s expressions that she wasn’t comfortable with it. Pretty soon, everything got personal and my father who started hushing [my mother]. After watching my father’s reaction and how instead of standing up for his wife or just trying to diffuse the situation he blamed, I couldn’t take it anymore. There was this rage inside of me and I couldn’t tolerate my mother being a victim. I stood up and told my father to stop hushing my mother and let her speak freely and to support his wife in these situations instead of bringing her down.
After a few hours, I felt that I should try to talk to my grandparents about their behavior and make them understand that they need to respect my mother and every woman. I explained to them that they cannot talk about someone’s family in [such] a way. Then I explained how my mother and my aunt (who also lives with us) feel oppressed about expressing their opinions and after being married to their sons for 20 to 25 years, they still feel that they are not a part of this family. After hearing this my grandmother and grandfather got furious, which triggered something in my mind, and I couldn’t control my anger. I started shouting that what they are doing is emotional harassment, and it is not acceptable. My father entered the room and again he started hushing me and physically forcing me to stop speaking by putting his hands on my lips tightly. It didn’t stop me; I cried and shouted at the top of my voice. Everyone was scared; they never thought that I could be so angry.
Things were pretty awkward for at least two to three months at my house. One day, I gathered courage and told my grandparents that whatever happened that day was necessary and we needed to speak about what we stand for — but I apologized for the way I spoke to them. My grandparents agreed with me and apologized for their behavior as well. Now as this year is ending, I know how to use my voice wisely and how it impacts others. This is for all the daughters who make their mothers proud and bring a positive change in this world.
— S.B., 21
I belong to Haryana and my family is conservative and overprotective. So, as a girl, I am expected to be silent and a passive recipient of everything that happens in my joint family.
So once my father got angry over something and started shouting on my grandfather. I live in a joint family so there were a lot of people like my brother, my cousins, my aunt who all were younger than me, but nobody dared to say even a word. My mother tried to intervene and calm my father down. My father did his best to pull my mother to the side, but my mother was adamant in her efforts. Then he started shouting on my mother and gave her a warning that if you won’t move I will beat you.
I was watching all of this standing aside. I was getting angry to see my father behave in such manner. I even clenched my fists, but my conditioning prevented me to say anything. But when my father talked about raising his hand on my mother I completely lost it. Something inside me gave me strength, and I stepped in the middle of my parents, facing my father, and I said to him “Papa ji, haath lagake ke dikhana zara.” (Dad, I dare you to hit her.)
I have no idea why I said what I said or what I would have done if he went ahead. This was completely horrifying to my whole family.
So for some fraction of seconds he looked at me, his lips sealed, forehead frowned, eyes maybe scared or enraged; he and everybody else was in utter shock.
— Manisha, 23
I’m a 15-year-old boy from Dombivli. Growing up, all of us [boys] played within our compound space and were sometimes joined by older guys, most of whom are 20-plus years old, some brothers of my friends and some even married. When we were around 11 or 12, one amongst this bunch was the friendliest — Mr. Apple. He would ask us whether we know anything about dirty stuff, whether we had watched porn yet, and whether we masturbated. He also found it funny to pull down our pants in front of everyone to check whether we were wearing something inside. One day, I too had my pants pulled down by Mr. Apple when I wasn’t wearing any underwear, leaving me standing there with my things exposed. Nothing changed after the incident, and he continued to molest us. He and his friends would randomly touch our penis, butts, sometimes inserting fingers in our butt cracks.
As he was religious, I finally confronted him one day by bringing up how, in Hinduism, people were not taught to be indecent, immoral, and disrespectful to someone by causing discomfort or touching them without their consent. Further, I made him realize the inappropriateness of the acts of him and his friends. I even told him that this was molestation and I could file a case for it. I gave him a warning to not repeat such abusive acts. Although I thought my statement had an impact on him, he and his friends continue doing such stuff to my friends. But every time I see it happen to them, I condemn it and stick to my word.
— C.A.D., 15