Most women in India suffer sexual exploitation in silence | analysis | Hindustan Times
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Most women in India suffer sexual exploitation in silence

Almost every other Indian woman, ranging from the rich and educated in Delhi to poor ones in villages have been sexually touched against their will. Most have remained silent. Deepa Narayan writes.

analysis Updated: Dec 03, 2013 21:01 IST

Almost every other Indian woman I have interviewed over the last two months, ranging from the rich and educated in Delhi to poor girls and women in villages near Varanasi, Allahabad and Rae Bareli have been sexually touched against their will, molested, and often raped (by the definition today). Most women have remained silent. That includes me.

Almost 99% of girls and women keep quiet, but most also bury the trauma and pretend it has not happened. Perhaps pretending may help make it go away. It may help forget the pain and the terror. It may be post-trauma behaviour or simply a culturally appropriate way of coping. Going dead on the inside. Feeling confused. Acting normal, using bravado, especially when work colleagues and bosses are close by.

Tarun Tejpal's reasoning of evidence against the young journalist, hinting that the 'moments of privacy between two individuals' were consensual and that the sexual assault had clearly not traumatised her, because the young journalist continued functioning; she attended parties, she stayed out late at night and seemed normal. This is normal. It is normal for many women after a sexual molestation by someone who also happens to be a powerful man on whom their job and career depend not to collapse in public. There is often a delayed reaction. It happened to me.

I was molested decades ago when my husband worked for a United Nations agency in the Maldives. On Fridays, the UN and families from international organisations took turns organising an outing to one of the outer islands to spend the day.

I loved snorkelling out to the outer reef where stingrays, sharks and turtles were seen and the untouched reefs were a riot of underwater colour.

I was in a group following the head of a UN agency when he suddenly turned around and pulled off my swimsuit top, grabbed me hard while I started spluttering from the shock and went under water. I asked him to stop. Several times. He treated it like a joke, laughed and continued while I thrashed around. I finally yelled, managed to turn around and headed back. Only then did I realise that we were far out in the sea and at some point the others in the group had turned back.

When we got back on land, I pretended nothing had happened. I continued talking to all our friends and colleagues; I played with my one-year-old daughter and 'partied' sitting in a circle of chairs together with the man.

We all went back together at the end of the evening. He even sat next to me and bantered. I listened. From the outside, I succeeded in appearing normal. Actually I was more hyperactive and friendly than I would normally be. Nobody could have imagined or believed that I had just been sexually molested. I never spoke up.

After the December 16 rape, the outcry from leaders of society from Asaram Bapu to some politicians and sons of politicians was to blame women. After leaving a trail of SMS' and emails, Tejpal has become like the Asarams and the khap panchayats.

Their inexcusable attitudes towards women could perhaps be attributed to their lack of education and sophistication. Tejpal has no such excuses. He has become India's Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the ex-head of the IMF who was accused of raping a maid in a New York hotel.

The young Tehelka journalist deserves all our thanks for breaking the silence at great cost to herself and to her family. Perhaps this tehelka so close to the December 16 gang rape and the victim's death anniversary will change forever India's toying with girls and women, as if they were born only to serve men's pleasures.

Deepa Narayan is former senior adviser at the World Bank

The views expressed by the author are personal