Tag Archives: #sexualassault

Mira Had to Fight Back: A Common Woman’s Story

This story is inspired by a true incident. The names of the characters have been changed.

Mira was barely 16. Excited about life. She had dreams. She was vulnerable. She was impressionable.

A young, bubbly teenager with a big dimpled infectious smile, she was a happy child. She had dreams, Cinderella fantasies; her prince charming would come one day on a well-bred groomed horse and take her away to the land full of pots of gold. She was a hard-working girl, full of grit; however, she was a daydreamer, stargazing and moonstruck with all the hues of the rainbow in her small world.

Mira was enveloped by immense love and support from her family. With her parents living out of the country, she had to settle in a boarding school for her high school years. Routines were very different, but no complaints as she managed to sail through them every single day. Jubilant moments were accompanied by melancholy ones when she would long for one warm hug.

Going to her maternal Aunt Krishna’s house every weekend was the highlight for her. She eagerly waited by the school gate every Friday afternoon when her Uncle Hari would pick her up. The late-night chit-chatting and sharing her innermost secrets with her cousin Simrin was something she looked forward to week after week. Summer vacation was right at the corner, and Mira was super excited to travel and spend time with her family. As always, her favorite Uncle Hari picked her up from school around 6:00 pm that Friday. Mira could not stop talking to him while they drove back home.

It was getting dark at 7:00 pm, the traffic jam was at its peak, and Uncle Hari took a detour with the intention to reach home on time. Mira started feeling a bit distressed and cramped in the car. Her gut was not too happy and was sending signals to her brain, ”Mira, something is not right. Even though there is traffic, it should still not take that much time”.

Uncle Hari came to a halt near an office building and said, “Mira, I need to meet an office colleague for a few minutes. Please wait for me in the car, I will be back soon.”

The few minutes turned into an hour, and Mira was nervous and getting jittery; she wanted to be home as soon as possible. Finally, Uncle Hari made his way back to the car, but in a different form. Mira felt uneasy and was afraid of her Uncle, who was in an inebriated state. His alcoholic breath made her uncomfortable, and she wanted to dash out of the car.

She was numb when she felt her Uncle’s awkward gestures as he tried to get close to her physically. She felt paralyzed as though someone had handcuffed her. What was happening? Mira felt trapped and powerless till some unknown power took over her.

She assertively requested, “Please behave, Uncle. You are not in your right senses, just drive me back home.”

The man who she idealized all her life turned into a villain, and Mira felt betrayed. It was like a bomb had blasted with full speed. The respect came crashing down, and in her full senses, she slapped the man sitting next to her—the man whom she had put on a pedestal and had glorified all these years.

Uncle Hari was shocked and dumbfounded. A timid man who tried to take advantage of his niece was stunned and felt impotent at Mira’s undaunted behavior. He was baffled at her militant and lion heartedness act. Quietly, he started driving back home in awkward silence.

That night onward, all changed for Mira. She had this unseen cloud of tension between her cousin Simrin and Aunt Krishna. It was not their fault. However, the gap widened.

She detested her Uncle; there was intense repugnance towards him, and she wanted to punish him for his misdoing. She tried a few times to confide in Simrin but held back with a feeling of shame and guilt. She started chastising herself internally as though it was her fault. Her house visits reduced and came to a stop when Mira decided to take their name off the list as her local guardian. It was a tough decision and hard to explain to her parents, but they abided by it.

The secret got buried in her heart with no mention to anyone. She often questioned herself, “Did I do anything wrong?”

She never got a concrete answer to her question and let it go by. She embalmed her innermost feelings and mummified them. The point of contact with her aunt Krishna and Simrin was all gone. The gap widened till there was no communication between the families. Mira’s mother once asked her, “Please tell me what happened, let me help you.”

” No, mom, I am fine. I have grown apart from Simrin. Leave it.”

That was the last time they ever spoke about this topic.

Years passed by, Mira was in a happy place in her life. Actively chasing her dreams, attaining her life goals, she was married and had a fulfilling family life. One evening her phone rang and she heard the news that her Aunt Krishna had passed away in a horrific accident. Mira was dismayed, and a colossal teardrop rolled down her cheek. Her most loving Aunt was no more and she had not spoken to her for almost two decades. Her mind flashbacked to all the priceless memories of their times together.

The phone rings again after a few years, with Mira’s mother on the other line, ”Your Uncle Hari is on life support. He is dying alone with no one by his side.”

Mira felt a sigh of relief and said to herself, finally, he will be gone forever. Her anger and detest seemed to vanish away suddenly in the air. It was as though a gargantuan burden had been lifted off her chest.

Uncle Hari passed away. He was in physical pain during the last few days of his life. However, Mira always wondered, did he have any remorse or shame? Did he ever want to redeem himself for what he had done? Did he have any realization of his hideous act? Was she right in her thought process? Should she forgive him?

Mira never got her answers. She decided to forgive herself for having held on to the feelings for so long. She gathered her guts, opened up the skeletons from the closet, and confided in her sister Ahana. She bawled her eyes out, cried for hours, and finally escaped from the chrysalis. All these years, she wanted to be heard but evaded the truth, and finally, it happened. Mira was relieved and felt comforted in the arms of her sister Ahana.

The bold and beautiful Mira decided to educate her daughter Sia to be a vocal, balanced and competent woman. She felt she owed it to her, and it was her duty to encourage her sense of autonomy to handle all the trials and tribulations within the circle of life.

Mira’s message is loud and clear, walk like a queen and never take any abuse. Speak up at the right time, take risks, be gentle but not too nice to be taken advantage of, and lastly, you get to decide your worth – not the world around you.


Dr. Monika Chugh is a resident of Fremont and a doctor by profession. She has an undying love for blogging and actively shares her personal experiences with the world on different topics. An active Rotarian, nature lover, coffee-fitness-yoga-hiking enthusiast, domestic violence advocate, in her free time, you will find her reading in her Zen sipping coffee working on her writing. 

“Beti Bachao!” Ask South Asian American Women

Trigger Warning: this article discusses sexual assault, rape, and trauma. 

When 29-year-old Srishti Prabha said she was sexually assaulted by her boss at her first job, she said she did not file a complaint with human resources. She did not find a lawyer and contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. There were no courtroom dramas or scalding accusations.

Why? Because the only story that Prabha, like many other Indian American women who say they’ve suffered sexual harassment, can tell is a story of silence.

“I had to run. I didn’t understand that I could say something. I was uncomfortable,” said Srishti Prabha, Assistant Editor for India Currents, a community news website based in the Bay Area.

“Our generation didn’t have the language. Growing up, my parents didn’t understand the culture, so I had to understand these boundaries by myself,” Prabha said.

Over the past two years, the #MeToo movement has provided survivors of sexual harassment and abuse with a platform to hold their abusers accountable. What began as a grassroots social media movement has brought thousands of sexual assault cases to light, penetrating nearly every sphere of public life.

Within the South Asian community in the U.S., however, women and activists say the #MeToo movement has a long way to go.

Childhood and Cultural Taboos 

Prabha traced her silence about sexual harassment in the workplace to the cultural taboos she encountered as a child. According to Prabha, topics like sexual assault and domestic violence were left unaddressed.

“Indian culture sometimes doesn’t permit …flaws. It’s a culture that wants you to have the perception that everything is perfect, your house is perfect, your children are perfect, to give the perception of prosperity as opposed to honesty,” Prabha said. “Growing up, I didn’t understand what was going on…I didn’t know if someone’s mom was being abused. It was never a topic of conversation.”

Sex is still an unspoken and taboo subject in many Indian American households, agrees Pramila Venkateswaran, a women’s studies professor at Nassau Community College in East Garden City, New York.

“Indian Americans don’t even want to address anything sexuality-related. It’s a sort of a fear,” she said in a Zoom interview. “It’s a taboo they carry from their socialization that they bring here, and that refusal to discuss sexuality is to protect and barricade the family.”

Prabha’s personal experiences point to broader issues within the South Asian community. When dialogue about sexual assault is stifled across gendered and generational boundaries, survivors can become isolated.

“Women often carry the burden of unpacking their traumas alone,” Prabha said.

Public Speech and Private Pain

Unfortunately, laws and public pronouncements often haven’t supported those who’ve taken a stand against sexual abuse.

At a candlelight vigil in Chennai, India, a young girl mourns the death of Jyothi Singh, who was gang-raped and tortured on a private bus in Delhi.

The harrowing 2015 documentary “India’s Daughter,” a response to the infamous 2012 Delhi gang-rape case, was banned by the Indian government for fear of provoking “public disorder.” When that same rape case incited protests across the country, politician Abhijit Mukherjee called the women participating in candlelight vigils “highly painted and dented, no longer students” (“painted” denotes a woman who is sexually promiscuous). His sweeping generalizations about the protestors undermined their outcry against sexual assault.

Meanwhile, producers of the Bollywood film “PINK, which was designed to raise awareness of sexual assault, grappled with India’s Central Board of Film Certification before its release.  This movie’s arguably most pivotal scene, which discusses the kind of language that runs rampant in public discourse about rape, received multiple verbal cuts to block “abusive language against women.”

Although the film was permitted to release with a UA certificate, which means that children ages 12 and below can see the movie with parental permission, Bollywood critics found that the censorship removed impact from a movie dependent on its realism.

“The community feels more progressive than they actually are at times,” Prabha said. “They’ll say something, but their ideologies don’t match the words they speak.”

The Indian community’s reticence on sex reflects India’s inadequate, underfunded sex education curriculum. According to a 2015 article in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, sex education is banned in six major states, including Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka for fear of aggrieving Indian values. A 2013 study published by the National Library of Medicine reported that less than half of students from Mumbai colleges received sex education from schools or parents.

Unfortunately, lack of education and information leaves room for rampant misinformation about sexual health, reproductive rights, and most notably, consent. Rather than shielding the younger generation from talking about, thinking about, and having sex, these restrictions only reinforce rape culture within the Indian community and its diaspora.

What Works — And How

So what does work to help women?

New York-based nonprofit Sakhi for South Asian Women, which assists South Asian immigrant victims of violence, aims to convert #MeToo outrage into constructive change.

According to Anusha Goossens, Sakhi’s sexual assault program manager, education and intergenerational dialogue are a crucial part of the solution. As someone who works with Indian American survivors on a daily basis, Goossens says abusers use a “lack of knowledge” to gain control over women.

“It’s not something we talk about with our children,” Goossens said. “Without discussing or learning about healthy relationships, these women become vulnerable to sexual assault and ongoing abuse.”

Sakhi offers a 24-hour confidential helpline, where a trained professional can listen to and record their experience. To prevent the continuation of this cycle of abuse, Sakhi crafts a detailed safety plan and connects its clients with external services, such as defense lawyers, financial support, and mental health counselors.

Following #MeToo’s explosion on social media, Sakhi has seen a “modest increase” in the number of sexual assault survivors contacting its hotline. While Goossens conceded that a majority of Sakhi’s clients are newer immigrants who are less aware of the movement, she pointed to what one writer called a “wave” of #MeToo second-generation Indian and Bangladeshi survivors in New York who are discussing rape culture:

In response to the movement, Sakhi is actively working on youth outreach, even creating a text hotline to make young people feel more comfortable sharing their experiences. The text line was positively received by the nonprofit’s clientele and provided a necessary doorway toward intergenerational support –– the kind of support that was not available to Srishti Prabha almost 10 years ago.

The grassroots #MeToo movement has played a major role in dismantling a  power dynamic that protects rapists. Though it can be difficult to use given cultural differences, it’s a platform that allows South Asian American survivors to discuss their experiences and educate the public, a remarkable change.

Recently, the @AdivasiLivesMatter handle used #MeToo to discuss the marginalization and abuse of tribal women, including the suspension of a case of a 13-year-old girl who was reportedly raped by police after she became lost while attending a fair in the eastern Indian state of Odisha.

“(As) someone who works with feminist advocacy groups, I was pretty happy when the #Metoo movement happened,” Venkateswaran said. “It disrupts fear. It disrupts shame. That’s the kind of thing that has to happen all over.”

But #MeToo doesn’t necessarily protect Indian American women after they expose their abusers. When actress Tanushree Dutta accused film veteran Ganesh Acharya of abuse and sexual harassment, she was reportedly blacklisted in the industry, while Acharya continued to produce blockbusters and engage with the Bollywood fraternity.

And Dutta is certainly not alone. In the South Asian community, women are frequently blamed and ostracized for being honest about their experiences.

“What is not happening in (South Asia) is laws that actually help these women,” Venkateswaran said. “If some middle-class woman comes and outs her abuser, she will just be replaced. She becomes dispensable. Does she have a union protecting her? Does she have a support system that holds her job?”

But Prabha sees progress.

“I’m happy that the next generation is so much better off than I am,” Prabha said. “I’m always learning from the people younger than me. Maybe they’ll have the tools to address this. We’re late, but I think we’re really changing for the better.

If you’re struggling with sexual harassment, abuse or violence, please contact:

The Domestic Violence Hotline:                                                                                                                                 Hotline: 1-800-799-7233                                                                                                                                                Website:  https://www.thehotline.org/help/

Sakhi For South Asian Women:                                                                                                                                   Helpline: 1 (212).868.6741 or text 1 (305) 697-2544                                                                                                      Email: [email protected]                                                                                                                                            Website: https://www.sakhi.org/ 

Maitri:                                                                                                                                                                                Helpline: 1-888-8MAITRI or 1-888-862-4874                                                                                                              Email: [email protected]                                                                                                                www.facebook.com/maitribayarea                                                                                                                                   Languages: English, South Asian languages (countries: Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Fiji Islands, amongst others)

 


Kanchan Naik is a rising senior at the Quarry Lane School in Dublin, California. Aside from being the Youth Editor at India Currents, she is also the Director of Media Outreach for youth nonprofit Break the Outbreak, the editor-in-chief of her school newspaper The Roar and the 2019-2020 Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. This year, Kanchan was selected as a semifinalist for the National Student Poets Program. 

The piece was first published here.

Featured Image: Y2krohit / CC-BY-SA-4.0

Photo 1:  Archer Ztudios / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0