Our bodies, ourselves


For ten years, I wrote on gender issues (in the Kolkata Telegraph and then the International Herald Tribune), without feeling the need to share my story. It was bad journalism to become part of the story, in the first place, and then I’d been silent about my experiences for decades; the silence had become second nature.

But if there was one thing that came up time and time again when I met women on the gender beat, it was the importance of understanding your own history. That was the starting point, whether women were talking about inheritance or rape, about the traditions they found empowering and the ones they found demeaning, about who they were allowed to love and live with, and about the violence they had survived. I found, trying to write about consent and to explain why it was so important to Indian women today, that I couldn’t write about bodies, abuse, consent and sex without turning back to my own story. So here it is, with apologies for breaking the journalism rule about writing something so personal, and with apologies too for friends who knew me well in school and college but who didn’t know this part of my story. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you. I didn’t have the words then; I do now.

From The Hindu:

“If this story saddens you, please think about this: my story is neither new nor rare, nor was the man who abused me a monster, or in any way out of the ordinary….

You own your own body. Everyone has the right to live without their bodies being violated. Everyone has the right to demand that you ask for permission before you touch their bodies.”


(And an uncut version over here, at the International Herald Tribune: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/08/opinion/global/saying-yes-matters-as-much-as-no.html?partner=rssnyt&emc=rss&_r=0)

Someone asked whether writing about this was hard. It wasn’t. Staying silent about this, for over 20 years, living with the necessity of concealing the truth: that was hard. Looking through my old stories, I find I wasn’t very good at shutting up, either–it found its way into the second piece of fiction I wrote. The truth of our lives has a way of leaking out, one way or another, and if the only thing this piece does is make it a little bit easier for one or two children to share their stories and move on with their lives, it’s done the job.


From Little Pig, Little Pig (2006):

She can feel its breath, rank and feral, thick with the blood of its last kill, on her shoulders. And just as she’s about to give up, there it is: the cottage. She sobs as she runs through the door. She is safe here, for now.

Little pig, says the voice in her head. It is sad and sorrowing, hopeful and despairing. Little pig, little pig, let me come in?


3 responses to “Our bodies, ourselves”

  1. inglesidenotes Avatar

    Thank you for sharing your story… It’s incredibly powerful on its own, but even more so when put in the context of all the writing you’ve done on gender issues for years. The timing of this is just right.

  2. Deepak M. Avatar
    Deepak M.

    A consent to the principle of consent.-
    Indian Family System needs to be safeguarded, however, I am in total disagreement with the Standing Committee on Home’s all the three assessments.
    (a) the Indian family system would be disturbed-
    1. At present, Indian family system is in critical situation. For a vast section of the society, Joint- family has become a thing of the past, some year B.C. Almost every women is protesting against the clutches of the historical burden, and almost every youth is violating the norms of the family and hence society. Though, family is still strong but society is at the verse of defaulting. Some of the prominent causes are loss of traditional occupation, immigration whether for employment or due to developmental projects, loss of agriculture, expansion of modern education and the democratic ideas, etc. The traditional notion of the Indian mentality that ‘might is right’ has been broken and almost every person is fighting for it’s just share in the system.
    It is no secret that fairer sex is pivotal to the Indian Family System and thus, it has better understanding of the same. At its core level, this system is woven for the sake of very women and men’s have assumed the role of the protection of the society.
    In the course of the civilization and development, women’s have sacrificed the most, suffered the most and saved the most. In the name of their protection, the society has done every injustice to them and until recently they were deprived of every kind of pleasure, even taking pleasure in sex with her partner is considered as an act of disgrace.
    Again it is the women that can only save the family system and hence their grievances must be redressed.
    (b) there were practical difficulties-
    2. Today, women are demonstrating their talent, skill and ability and in the way they are proactively proving that they are no lessor being than males and their historical role was of no lesser than anyone else in the growth and development of society. They are demanding their just right not only in ethics but in practical day to day life.
    Gender equality, being the one of the first principles of democracy, must be actively pursued. No law and order problem should be made an excuse cause it is the very purpose of the existence of the society.
    The problem is depressing economy. We are very much living in a dependent economy. Still there are more than 70% people are living to serve the others economy. In country like India, a decade long depressing economy may have devastating effect. Lack of employment generating frustration among the youths, they are seeing its reason in various factors and one of them is ‘continued harassment of Indian institutions including family system. Women are being seen as privileged and sometimes corrupt competitor by a vast section of the Indian job-seeking youth. There is a notion that western world has a strategy of making Indian women corrupt, characterless, etc so that they can establish there cultural dominance over Indian society. And rest you know.
    (c) marriage presumes consent.-
    Marriage presumes consent of consensual sex. It presumes that each partner respect the other’s mind, body and soul. We are failing as a society and we are searching scapegoats and in the wake of the call of ‘back to order’ women are safe choice. It is not communal now, it is sexual now.

    Thanks Nilanjana, Regards.

  3. Madhu Avatar

    I can’t help being saddened by your story and of all those others who are mere statistics that our society brushes under the carpet. The standing committee assumptions are shocking and disheartening. Consent in this day and age should be beyond debate. That it isn’t, because of political motivations is even more galling.

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