The Touch: 5 Indian women share their stories of sexual assault
In light of the Bombay HC verdict, Asiaville reached out to five women from different parts of India, who shared with us their harrowing experiences of sexual harassment. In all these cases, there has been no ‘skin-to-skin’ contact, but as a survivor said, their lives have never been the same.
Trigger Warning: Sexual Assault
The Bombay High Court, in a judgment passed on January 19, held that groping a minor's breast without "skin-to-skin contact" cannot be termed as sexual assault as defined under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
According to Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court, mere groping will not fall under the definition of sexual assault. In her verdict, the judge said that there must be "skin-to-skin contact with sexual intent" for an act to be considered as a sexual assault.
“Considering the stringent nature of punishment provided for the offence(under POCSO), in the opinion of this Court, a stricter proof and serious allegations are required. The act of pressing of breast of the child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside top and pressed her breast, would not fall in the definition of 'sexual assault',” the court held, as per a Live Law report.
Needless to say, the judgement led to outrage from various quarters. The National Commission for Women, on Monday, said it will challenge the ruling in the Supreme Court.
Asiaville reached out to five women from different parts of India, who shared with us their harrowing experiences of sexual harassment. In all these cases, there has been no ‘skin-to-skin’ contact, but as a survivor said, their lives have never been the same.
(Names of some survivors have been changed on request to protect their identities.)
N, Interior Designer, Hyderabad, 23
I always wanted to play professional cricket. In 2009, my brother finally agreed to take me to the stadium for the first time. I was elated. I was going to finally catch a glimpse of my heroes. We were playing against Australia and Sachin Tendulkar was in his element. The crowd was celebrating as he was on the brink of a century. As luck would have it, I needed to visit the restroom. I thought I would make a dash for it as there were still some 20-odd runs till the century-mark. I told my brother I would be back in a minute, but was caught between a bunch of people who were making a beeline to the restroom. Then it happened. A hand came out of nowhere and squeezed my breasts. I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t even turn to look back. Maybe I should have screamed. Maybe someone ought to have noticed. The way he grabbed and squeezed me caused immense pain. I remember he had one long nail on his pinky finger. It left a bruise.
I peed in my pants. I rushed to the bathroom and cleaned myself up as much as I could. I joined my brother who asked me if I had peed on myself. I said it was the stench of the bathroom.
Sachin scored 175 and I never picked up the cricket bat again.
A, Grandmother, Pala, 76
I was 14 and it was just two weeks before my wedding. My husband was 29. I was very excited. The preparations were in full swing but there was an issue. My ear lobe was infected and the local doctor was called to examine it. He arrived and my grandmother and I sat down with him. If I remember correctly, just then a worker came around the kitchen asking for water. They were not allowed to touch the well, you see. So my grandmother left.
It happened then. I was sitting cross-legged and suddenly his hands were between my legs. I still remember how much it hurt. He asked me to stay silent and it went on for a while. I think he knew my grandmother would take a long time to move through the big house. When tears started rolling down my face, he told me that if I opened my mouth my fiance would not marry me. When my grandmother returned, she asked me why I was crying. I said it was the ear.
I don’t think I did the wrong thing. He was well-respected and I, myself, did not know what had happened. No one would have believed me. I know this because when I told my mother, she pretended like she didn’t hear me. I don’t blame her. Later on, when my daughter said she was groped on her way to college, I pretended like I didn’t hear it too. But, I gave her a safety pin and taught her how to poke a man standing behind her without turning around.
Swati, Designer, Jaipur, 32
I was home alone and reading by the window when I felt something tug at my hair. It was him. He was my neighbour and had professed his ‘love’ for me. I had politely declined. Seeing him that day sent shivers down my spine. I shut the door and pushed my sofa against it. I managed to squeeze his hand out and shut the window. He didn’t leave. He stood there and masturbated for what felt like an eternity. I didn’t tell my parents because I knew they would blame me.
I was 16 and he was 30.
V, Engineer, Chennai, 27
I am the first girl in my family to receive a college education. My parents worked two jobs to put me through college. At the age of 17, I was returning home late after entrance coaching classes and had boarded the local train at around 9. I missed the ladies compartment and entered a compartment with a sole occupant-- an elderly man in his 60s or 70s. I thought it would be safe. I sat opposite him and once the train started moving he began to get fidgety. Before I knew it, he took his penis out and began to masturbate looking at me. I sat there, frozen. I couldn’t move to another compartment as there were dividers. I looked away and prayed he wouldn’t assault me. It was already late and I knew that I could probably not even get down at the next stop. Thankfully, he did. I broke down after he left. Never told a soul.
S, Journalist, Delhi, 22
I was 11 and at the Air Force canteen in Delhi. I was standing amid a few people and a man groped me. I was all of 11 and I had not even developed breasts. Air force stations are supposed to be safe environments. Everyone who enters the station goes through a rigorous search. Can you see the irony?
I couldn’t even understand the concept of groping at the time because sex education was non-existent, in families and schools. Several years later, in Chennai, a man standing behind me in a bus kept rubbing his penis against me. I asked the man to back off thrice, but he kept at it. Once the bus cleared up a little, I moved away. Air force stations or public transport, our girls and women are unsafe. And that is a reality we can’t escape.
(As told to Meghana Kurup)