Mumbai: “I am 44 years old and I feel like I’m eight years old again. I can see that man’s face every time I talk about it”.
It’s not easy to talk about being sexually violated as a child. It’s perhaps harder, in some ways, to come forward when you are in the public eye for most part of your life. But when journalist Barkha Dutt, a survivor or sexual abuse and violence, once as a child and then as an adult, decided to break her silence, she became an inspiration for millions of women worldwide forced by society to keep quiet about rape and molestation.
At the Women in the World Summit in New York, Dutt, the author of the book ‘This Unquiet Land’, said she regretted not taking her abuser to court.
“It was a difficult decision. I was writing a book on India, I wanted to tell the story and not be the story,” she said.
Dutt was molested as a child by a family member and she did not speak about it to anyone for many years. She was not even 10 when the incident happened.
“Little did I imagine that this much-older, family figure – someone who would take the kids for piggy-back rides and twirl us around in the air – could be such a monster. Worse still, as a child unable to process the magnitude of what had happened – I was the one who felt grotesque and dirty,” according to an excerpt from her book.
“It was the loneliest and most frightened I had felt as a child and the fear lurked in the shadows, following me into adulthood. I discovered that I was often wary, even scared, of sexual relations – a familiar consequence for those who had experienced abuse as children,” she wrote.
Then in her days as a postgraduate student at Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University, she was briefly in a relationship with a man at the university’s mass communication centre, she wrote. She was assaulted by the man and even though she discussed the situation with a team of lawyers to bring the aggressor to justice, Dutt was dissuaded.
The lawyers told her she was just going to waste her time, “they’re not going to punish him”, “nobody is going to believe you” and to “just forget about it”. He was in the same profession as her and when she applied for a job at a company, she set only condition.
If they hired this guy, she would not work there, a request the company decided to respect.
But she regrets her decision not to legally pursue the case.
“I do regret it today, I should not have been defeatist. I should have gone to court. So what if it takes 20 years? It’s important,” she told the panel.
Why break the silence now?
“I cannot with any honesty write about feminism, call myself a feminist, or talk about the need to lift the veil of silence and the conspiracy of silence around sexual violence and abuse, if I’m not ready to break the silence in my own life. That was the reason.”