Editor’s Note: This article is published as a part of the #DigitalHifazat campaign combatting online violence against women and non-binary people. Feminism in India and The High Commission Of Canada are focussing on this issue of online violence against women as a part of the 16 Days of Activism to end gender-based violence against women and girls. If you have a story to contribute, email email@example.com.
Trigger warning: physical and mental abuse, sexual violence, image-based sexual abuse
It was 2012, when my younger brother and I started living on our own in an apartment in Siliguri, as my single mother had shifted to work in Kolkata. I adapted pretty fast to my newly adult life as there was another kid I had to take care of. Fast forward to 2014, I am celebrating 9 months of my relationship with my then boyfriend who would abuse me – physically and mentally. I was finishing up Class 11. The violence had just started.
Initially, it used to be one slap and then a shower of apologies afterwards. As our relationship progressed, so did the violence. It became a series of hair-pulling and simultaneous slaps in sets of three and four. From a perfectly healthy state of mind, I would faint within a span of 10 seconds. He stopped caring that he was slapping me in front of his best friend. I started feeling ashamed of myself. I stopped talking to my friends at school. I would wear concealer to tuition to hide the bruises on my face.
Also read: A Feminist In An Abusive Relationship
His friends knew about what was going on – but they still kept telling me that he loved me. Every time I broke up with him, they convinced me to patch up. The next thing I knew, I was in the vicious cycle of an abusive relationship.
I didn’t tell my mother because she had a lot on her own plate at that time. She had stomachs to feed, and she lived away from us. I didn’t want her to worry. I didn’t tell my friends, as they would blame me for being in an abusive relationship in the first place (yes, they did that, not knowing how tough it is to break up with an abuser). I couldn’t tell his friends, because they were the kind of people who would stick together – even if one of their friends turned out to be an abuser.
I started feeling ashamed of myself. I stopped talking to my friends at school. I would wear concealer to tuition to hide the bruises on my face.
Finally, in mid 2014, I gathered up my courage and called my mother after an evening of abuse. I told her everything, trying to catch my breath as I cried over that call. I told her how he had threatened to kidnap my brother if I tried to break away from him. His father was a powerful figure in the city so nothing could happen to him. My ex would remind me of that fact every time he hit me. I was scared. But then, something happened overnight. My mother booked me a ticket to Kolkata for the next day along with my brother. We literally snuck out of our own house, because my ex-boyfriend used to stay nearby. What other option did we have? He had even paid my maid to report my whereabouts. Yes! He had gone to that extent to control me.
The next morning, I reached Kolkata. My mother spoke to my school principal, and I was excused from attending classes for the next six months (due to poor mental health). I was supposed to go back to school for my pre-boards and boards. I had no idea if I would be able to pass my board exams or anything. I just wanted to breath each day without getting terrorised. I was depressed for months to come after that.
Then, the time came for me to return for my pre-boards exams. It was the December of 2014. I was anxious. The city I loved the most, started haunting me. My hometown was not a place I can return to. I was still having nightmares, but I had to go.
My ex came to know that I had returned to Siliguri. He started sending pictures of me in compromising positions to my own friends and acquaintances over WhatsApp. I found out when people I knew reached out to me – but I had no clue what pictures they were talking about. I called my ex up and asked him what was going on. He told me that he had taken photographs of me naked one day, after he had hit me unconscious. He threatened that he would share them with everyone if I didn’t get back together with him. He said that he would even send it to my mother and post it on social media. I begged him to not do any of these things. I didn’t care about anyone except about my mother finding out – she had only recently started getting in better shape after her separation from my father and some failed business projects.
Also read: Here’s Why It Is Image-Based Sexual Abuse And Not Revenge Porn
But despite my fear, somehow, I had the guts that day to tell him, “Fuck you! Do whatever you want. I am not afraid of you.” In my mind I thought – what could be worse than getting hit by this animal wearing the disguise of a filthy rich human being. I disconnected the call.
Later, I called up his best friend, whose other best friend was in a relationship with my ex at that time. She told me that he wouldn’t do anything like that. This was the same best friend who blamed me for leaving him and going away to another city six months ago. In her words, I should have stuck by him, even though she knew that he used to beat me, slap me, hurt me, rape me and leave me undead for days. His friends however, eventually made sure he deleted everything from every device.
He told me that he had taken photographs of me naked one day, after he had hit me unconscious. He threatened that he would share them with everyone if I didn’t get back together with him.
The entire problem was, his father was a significant personality in that town. He was a filthy rich person who feared nothing. Everyday, I think about taking his name and posting everything on social media. But something stops me and tells me that his chapter in my life is over. I am too exhausted to even look at him or think about him. I still think about those days and get panic attacks.
It’s been five years since I have passed out of school, but I still haven’t gone back to my hometown. His powerful position in the city still scares me. Deep inside, I know he might not even think about me or do anything to me anymore. But the scars he has marked me with have affected me too deeply to explain.
With this story of mine, I want to depict how online and offline violence are connected in life. Many instances of online violence that women face could have their roots in offline violence, as mine did. But I honestly think that one should not be scared of it. An abuser is fuelled by a victim’s fear of compromising on her honour. We women could start to think that it does not matter even if our naked body lies all over the internet – we are still the same women, with that same amount of respect, and the only person who should be ashamed is the person who committed the felony.
Cases of image-based sexual abuse is a kind of abuse where the abuser makes sure that the society reminds the victim that her honour, her worth, her respect lies in preserving her body away from the eyes of strangers. Once her naked skin has been exposed, it is a scandal. It is a reason to look down on the victim.
it does not matter even if our naked body is all over the internet – we are still the same women, with that same amount of respect, and the only person who should be ashamed is the person who committed the felony.
Let’s just say, more power to those women who have survived. Those women who wake up every morning, smile at their reflection in the mirror, splash some colour over themselves and take over the world. In spite of the patriarchy looking down on them each day.
Sairindhri Sengupta weaves magic with words and proves the pen to be mightier than sword. She is the author of ‘The Bitch Of Varanasi’ which is a beautifully woven narrative strongly demystifying the contemporary illusions and exposing to the realities of mindset that people continue to saddle with. You can follow her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Stylist.co.uk