Recently I had the most prestigious opportunity of meeting a man, only about a year younger than me. We had a lot in a common, which is rare. He had lost his mother recently as I have and he also suffered from frequent panic attacks. So we got along very well and texted often which progressed to speaking on the phone during his breaks at office. Amidst one such conversation, he told me about how he hated Tamilians. How they were pseudo because they listened to Justin Timberlake. And in this conversation as he went on to demean an entire race, he mentioned how Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Rihanna and Lady Gaga should all be put in one room and bombed. Since I hate music fanaticism, I was left flabbergasted and went on to pose the question,
“What about the men who were responsible for the Delhi gang-rape?”
“Oh I don’t give a shit about that!”
I gasped on this end of the phone line and we went on to discuss many many other things. Rape, homosexuality, racism and sexism.
I’d love to give you a transcript of what that conversation went like and I by no means intend to quote this man out of context. I continued to rationally interpret what it was that this man meant.
“I don’t care about rape. It doesn’t affect me. But listening to Justin Timberlake does, so yes, I want to see that end.”
“Gay people are so unnatural. They don’t need to do that. Why should they do that when women are around?’
“Any man who listens to Justin Bieber is not a man, he is a woman”
“Tamilians are just assholes”
The slurs continued. At his end he continued to laugh every time I revolted against everything he said. The conversation ended when I frustratingly hung up the receiver when he said,
“Gays should stay away from society. They should be banished…”
I met this individual in a pub and I really thought I connected with him. He studied in the best of schools in the city, had knowledge of every rave in Goa and was quite the brand-whore. He had no dirth of access to knowledge. But yet, in our first conversation he thought that I was just kidding about the Shiva lingam being a phallic symbolism. He called it blasphemy. This brings me to the most infuriating thing he said,
“You are a blasphemer, and that’s worse than being a rapist or a murderer”
I couldn’t believe what I was listening to. How can renouncing a religion be worse than forcing one to have sex without their consent, taking a life or being so judgemental of one’s choices that you’d rather have them leave society than change your uninformed opinion.
In our following arguments, he went on to say that
“Gays should be quarantined and if they try to leave, they should be shot on sight”
We argued until my throat went bad, until I was left alone in the dark crying and wondering how I ever encountered such a heartless individual. In all of that chaos, he very plainly asked,
“Why do you care? I think people have problems that they should deal with. I am not gay. I have not been raped and will never be raped. I don’t think anyone will abuse me. Why should I care? You should only worry about yourself. People should worry about themselves. You shouldn’t care about these gays or rape victims, how does it matter to your life?”
It does. I have been silent for long. And I know this silence has bought me much pain and misery. Some of it, I still struggle to digest.
Five years ago, it was a regular night in the university town I studied in. I was out with some friends and was looking forward to the barbecue party at home. There was this one guy, Vinay (name changed), a friend who I bumped into at the pub I was out at. I invited him and his friend to the barbecue.
The barbecue was great. The chicken was tangy and tender and music was live and peaceful. Vinay and I bonded over our love for music and I invited him over to my room to see the posters. And within minutes the tension unfolded and we kissed. Things got heated.
It had only been fifteen minutes since it had begun and I realised I wasn’t ready for where this was headed. I told him that I wasn’t ready and in response he pulled out a condom. I told him I didn’t mean protection, I just wasn’t ready to do anything more. My memory after this seems to be missing a few frames. I remember being slapped and his hand against my mouth. I remember his other hand clasp on to my neck as I tried to bite his hand off my mouth. I felt powerless and angry. But as a skinny tiny person, I couldn’t do anything to let go. I couldn’t stop this monster from overtaking me and putting on the damn protection. The last thing I remember is being slapped really hard across the face.
I woke up some time later naked next to him. I ran to the several corners of the room looking for my clothes. I could still hear the loud jam outside and the laughter. I asked him to get out of my room. I could feel pain in several places. I thought of the short story I wrote when I was seventeen years old about a woman who was raped by her husband on her wedding night. The veins pulled together. Things burned. I was not a virgin but I could feel something was lost that night. I put on my t shirt and sat in the corner of the room in the darkness and saw his silhouette leave with the little source of light from the living room. I cried for hours into the morning.
The next morning, I texted him saying I remembered what happened and that what he did wasn’t right and that I was going to tell.
“Complain if you want. My dad’s a high powered lawyer. Nothing will happen.”
I called a couple of my closest friends and told them what happened. One said, I deserved it for inviting him to the party and one, that I deserved it for kissing him. My roommate asked me the same afternoon, suggestively,
“How was last night?”
“It was kind of rough”
I couldn’t bring myself to tell anyone what had happened. I blamed myself for a long time. My thighs hurt for weeks. I couldn’t go to the toilet without it burning for almost two months. I had visible cuts around my vagina and bite marks on my stomach. I tried to tell some people but they never believed me. A year later, it came back to hit me when I saw him again. And I had a meltdown and told people. My sister, my friends, everyone. They all wondered why I of all people chose to be silent about this. They were angry with me for being silent and I was too.
I still am. I can’t see the current me walking away from this in silence and taking defeat. I’ve met him on a few occasions after that, some of which ended with me violently punching him. I thought with every punch, I’d let go. I thought when I’d write this, I’d feel better. And I just realised I don’t.
So mister, it does matter to me. I know how it is to choose silence. I know how it is to be blamed for something that I will carry for the rest of my life. I am that woman who has been raped or that homosexual who has been ridiculed – they are not all in the newspapers. They are not in cities far away, they are not in villages in secluded farms. They are you and me. They are next to you on the bus. They are in the table next to you drinking coffee. They are having a drink in the bar with you. They are voting with you. They are talking to you. And all in the silence of the shame you contributed to.