dhobi by profession. The family income was just enough to support my younger brothers’ education and my beautician course. As I was growing up, I was aware of the male gaze that would pierce through my clothes, making me squirm. My mother told me to dismiss the attention and live with it. I had my family, my father – my life support. Then one day, he came back home coughing uncontrollably. He had been unwell for a very long time. Doctors diagnosed him with tuberculosis. Within the next few months, his body became very frail and he passed away. My support system was gone.
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To run the household, my unlettered mother started working as a domestic help. My beautician’s course had almost come to an end, so I started looking for a job to assist my mother. What I didn’t realise then was that my father’s death had made us vulnerable to the vultures waiting to prey on our desperate condition. A distant relative approached my mother and offered to get me a job with a friend who was looking for a saleswoman. ‘Your daughter is good-looking. She will get a job easily,’ he said. This man turned out to be a pimp. He referred me to his friend, who ran a travel agency, and part of his business was to sell holiday packages. I was trained for barely a week after which he said I had mastered the art of persuasion. My employer then asked me to accompany him to what he called ‘client meetings’. I trusted him and eager to help his business prospects, went with him during office hours. After a few months, he called me late in the evening one day to accompany him to a ‘big client’. This was the first time I ventured out this late with him. But since I had been working with him for a while, my mother too did not find anything odd in the timing of the meeting. He took me to a shady hotel. I followed him into a room reeking of alcohol and smoke. Two men were sitting inside drinking and laughing. A sudden silence ensued as I entered the room. I sensed they were scanning me from head to toe. Something was not right. I sat on the edge of a chair, looking for an opportune moment to take leave of the room. They offered me a drink. I refused. The men then insisted I took a soft drink instead. More to ease my dry throat, like a fool, I gulped it down. Then it got dark, a blackout. When I woke up, I was alone in the room. There were bruises all over my body and my clothes were strewn across the room. I felt a sharp pain in my private parts. What happened that night became clear to me. Those three men had taken turns to rape me, violate my body and crush my soul. It was still dark outside, maybe three or four in the morning. I rushed home; my mother was waiting for me, worried sick. When I narrated the incident to my mother, she went numb. This vegetative state continued for a couple of days and then we decided to contact the relative but all in vain. Meanwhile, my ‘boss’ kept calling me incessantly, but I kept rejecting his calls. A few days later, we gathered the courage to approach the police. As we reached the police station, the word about our decision to file an FIR reached my employer. Several of my relatives suddenly reached the station and asked us to review our decision. One of them made an offer: accept ₹50,000 and keep our mouths shut and honour intact, he said. Meanwhile, my erstwhile employer used all kinds of pressure tactics from threats to my life to kidnapping my brothers. My mother, an illiterate woman who was intimidated by foul-mouth policemen, gave in. She was still coping with the passing away of my father, so I was not surprised that she buckled under the pressure. My mother and I cried ourselves to sleep every single night thereafter for a week. For the next few months, I could not muster the courage to go out of my house. My sudden ‘house arrest’ made my neighbours suspicious. They started questioning my mother. So, I finally decided to venture out and look for a fresh job. For the past couple of years, I have been working with a beauty parlour as a sales executive. But my past still haunts me and the scars left on my soul will never fade away for the rest of my life. I find myself unable to deal with menfolk and avoid taking up home assignments. Meanwhile, life goes on.