Awareness about sexual harassment and abuse should start at home
A few days ago I told my mother that I had a headache. When she asked why, I told her: “I do not scream with my mouth — but I am screaming in my head.”
Not a single day goes by without an article or report on harassment, rape, or abuse. One moment you are looking at a friend’s picture at Takeout and the next you are going through the details of an eight-month-old infant getting raped by her uncle.
By this point, we are not even surprised. I asked my sister the other day if she had heard about the story of the schoolgirl and the teacher. “No, I haven’t. But I can accurately guess the story for you,” she responded.
Choose your words wisely
A couple of months ago, the #MeToo trend shook the world.
Nearly all posts and articles associated with the hashtag started with: “I was very young when it happened.” Reading them, I fell into something akin to a crisis of vocabulary. I didn’t want to use words such as “victim,” “humiliation,” or “harassment,” because we had all become rather immune to them.
We have come to see these words used so often that we have forgotten about the raw suffering these words camouflage.
If I replace these words with “blood,” “torn salwar,” “muffled screams,” “bruises on legs and arms,” it paints a clearer picture. Instead of saying, “she went through a lot of pain,” if I tell you, “it hurt when someone pulled her hair, scraped her knees on the floor, hit her head against the wall” it can, possibly, touch a nerve, make you empathize, make an impact.
Instead of saying “she was young,” if I tell you “she was the same age as your sister is now, a 12-year-old kid,” it might make you cry. Because now “she” reminds you of your own sister.
Yes, until it hits very close to home, we try not to think about it.
What if, this time, it happens in your home? With someone you love? What if you don’t understand why your sister is suddenly hiding behind the kitchen door when the driver comes to pick her up for school? What if, like me, you are at a loss for words when you finally recognize the beast she hid the name of, in a #MeToo status, 10 years down the line?
My niece had informed my sister that her Islamic teacher had slipped his hand under her dress and up her back. When she screamed like she was taught to do so, he scolded her relentlessly
It starts at home
A sister of mine thought of all these and did something very brave. She accomplished a very powerful feat with something very simple.
She taught her six-year-old daughter the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch”. Inspired by a show hosted by Amir khan (Sataymev Jayate), she taught her daughter to scream and come to her parents if and when someone touches her lips, breasts, hips, and anywhere between her legs. She was very specific and drew diagrams on a board to help her daughter better understand.
At that time, her mother-in-law entered the room and became visibly upset. She scolded my sister for ruining her child’s happy memories and making her feel dirty with this sort of information. Being rather scared of her in-laws, my sister did not argue but continued teaching her daughter in secrecy.
Meanwhile, word spread among her nonod, debor, bhashur, bhabi, mama-shoshur, mami-shoshur, and even the neighbours. Almost everyone shamed her for being a terrible mother.
She overheard her mother-in-law talking to her sister over the phone: “Ajkaal ki ki TV te dekhe eshob adhunik meye gula, ki ki shikhaitese bacchader!”
A month later, when the whole family was getting ready for a wedding and my sister was about to wear her heels before heading out, my niece came up to my sister and said quite bluntly: “Mamoni amar hujur ajke amar pith er pichone haat dise, jama te haat dhukaise agey. Ami chitkar disi ar hujur amake khub boka dise.”
My niece had informed my sister that her Islamic teacher had slipped his hand under her dress and up her back. When she screamed like she was taught to do so, he scolded her relentlessly.
My sister stopped dead in her tracks. Her daughter kept looking at her, perhaps for a response or an explanation, and stood beside the door, small and adorable. And all my sister managed to do in this moment was hug her daughter tight and cry.
The hujur was fired immediately and a case was filed against him. The whole family apologized to my sister and appreciated her wise parenting. The best part of this story is her mother-in-law’s admission of guilt afterwards, admitting that she was a product of her time, a time when such instances of abuse were considered “normal.”
Our children need to know about the horrors of our time. Just because it’s not happening now, doesn’t guarantee it won’t happen in future. The sooner they can grasp the difference between right and wrong, the lines between harassment and affection, the sooner they will seek for help and the better their lives will be.
Marium Mahzabin recently graduated from IBA.