The aftermath of an incident of sexual harassment, abuse or assault is often a nightmare for the survivor. Ask any woman, or man, who has faced abuse and they'll tell you that the silence that the ordeal must stay cloaked in is the worst thing to live with. It is ideal if we spoke up after abuse, but the several hypocrisies of the society relentlessly discourages us from doing so.
That's why the sound of this new online project --- titled How Revealing --- may come as a breath of fresh air for several survivors of abuse and harassment. It was started on January 13, yet the idea had been brewing in the mind of its founder, 29-year-old lawyer Urmila since 2014. The format is simple -- you can anonymously share an account of abuse and harassment and in the process take a shot at healing, by being able to talk about it.
She chose the name How Revealing in an attempt to reclaim a common victim-blaming and shaming refrain used to justify molestation and sexual assault.
"The project converted and channelised all the anger and despair I felt every time a survivor was blamed, every time I was made to feel like I was asking for it, every time the sexual history of a complainant was more important than the crime," Urmila told HuffPost India over email.
So far, the project has received accounts of catcalling, child abuse, paedophilia, groping, stalking and partner abuse from men and women in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru and other cities. Together, the stories present the horrific reality sexual assault, and how it can happen to anyone, anywhere.
Here are some gut-wrenching accounts from the site and chances are some of them may feel too close to home.
'I must have been 12 or 13...'
"I must have been 12 or 13. I was at a school picnic, and we were all lining up to go horse-riding. I was surrounded by my classmates and teachers. When it was my turn to go, the man who gave the kids a leg up held me by the chest and squeezed hard -- on breasts that were barely developed. I sat through the ride in silence, shocked by what had just happened, and with no reference of how to react. When my turn was done, he did it again as I dismounted.
To this day, I can't figure out if I'm madder at him or mad at myself for not doing something, or reacting, or reporting him.
But I couldn't/didn't react -- just walked away like a zombie in a daze. To this day, I can't figure out if I'm madder at him or mad at myself for not doing something, or reacting, or reporting him. I have no idea if he did the same thing to any of my other classmates. I was wearing denims and a t-shirt when the incident happened."
'28 years ago...'
"I was 13 years old. I was an insufficiently masculine child, in a boy's boarding school. I was bullied by my classmates and seniors, my towel snatched away, to check if I actually had a penis. One of our teachers took a special interest in me. According to him, I walked like a girl, talked like a girl, sat like a girl, carried my books like a girl (although, to this day, I have no idea what any of that means, especially for a 13-year old child). The teacher said this would happen, unless I "pulled up my socks."
I was bullied by my classmates and seniors, my towel snatched away, to check if I actually had a penis.
"He drew two lines on the ground, about two inches apart, and told me I should walk with my feet on either side of the line. He told me I should sit with my knees apart, rather than pressed together. I practiced, and it was bothersome. He didn't like the progress I was making, and he punished me, by sexually assaulting me in various ways. He said this is what the world would to to me, unless I shaped up. This went on for one whole term. I Googled him recently, 28 years after the fact. He's doing fine. So am I, FINALLY."
'I'm walking with my head down...'
"I was walking back to my apartment from the bus stand about 3 years ago. It was just a 5 minute walk home entirely along a main road. I wasn't taking a shadowy, ominous route home. It was a brightly lit road, with constant traffic on it. I'm walking with my head down, because I've learnt that not making eye contact in public spaces makes you less susceptible to unwanted attention.
I was so petrified in that moment I couldn't even scream.
"I caught a glimpse of this guy walking towards me. He brushed my shoulders with his as he passed me and he grabbed my ass. I was so petrified in that moment I couldn't even scream. He ran away. I reached home, completely shaken, and angry and scared. It happened so fast, I wouldn't even be able to recognise him if I saw him again. I was wearing jeans and a t-shirt when the incident happened."
"I was in 9th grade. 14 or 13. My friend and I were walking back to our homes after tuitions. This is a family friendly, fairly populated area I'm talking about. In close vicinity of our school, several residential societies and a few grocery shops. A man in a parked car asked us for directions to some place. We looked up to point out which road he had to take, and when we looked back at him, his penis was out and he was pointing at it, with a blank look in his face.
We looked up to point out which road he had to take, and when we looked back at him, his penis was out and he was pointing at it, with a blank look in his face.
He was a large, dark, middle aged man in a white car. It took us a moment to realise what it was. We had no idea what a penis looked like. But the location of this unknown object being pointed out gave us a hint. We ran away, and only opened our mouths when we were on the fork where we had to part ways, only to promise each other that we'll never tell anyone. I was wearing T shirt and jeans, most likely when the incident happened."
'I was an intern at that time...'
"I was an intern at that time, very much aware of how the court in our state operates attire wise, for the stories of court attire are legendary tea time stories amongst some of us. For the uninitiated, you are expected to dress in salwar kameez dupatta or a salwar kameez with your black blazer or maybe a saree which is what most of the older women lawyers wear. A fair disclaimer is in order, I speak only with respect to the court in my state and doesn't necessarily refer to all the courts around the country. I was accompanying a senior lawyer to a criminal appeal hearing and as I was not enrolled yet, I sat at the back of the court room where there are designated benches for the others to observe the proceedings.
That was my wake up call in court, I realized that I could be a part of the fraternity, but that will not guarantee me a harassment free pass
I was at that time quite naive, as I come to think of it in retrospect. I sat down eagerly taking down notes and oblivious to the lawyers/interns sitting beside me. I suddenly felt a discomfort as the lawyer sitting next to me was trying to press his legs onto mine. I knew what he was doing and my annoyed/appalled/disbelieving look told him all. As the court proceedings were on, I didn't quite know whether to make a scene or not, much to my regret now, I decided not to make an open confrontation and left the bench to go stand at another spot in the court room. That was my wake up call in court, I realized that I could be a part of the fraternity, but that will not guarantee me a harassment free pass and I decided that I will be on guard even within the premises, irrespective of me being a lawyer or a layman. I was wearing a salwar when the incident happened."