Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for September, 2021 is Parenthood. We invite submissions on the many layers of being parents, having parents and navigating the social norms of parenting throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to firstname.lastname@example.org
Trigger warning: This essay contains mentions of sexual abuse and trauma. Kindly consider this as a trigger warning
All my mother ever wanted for me, was to not end up like her. She was my best friend and primary caregiver in our conservative family. Growing up, I knew the details of her domestic troubles and did not wish to add to it. My sexual abuse at the hands of a distant family friend was my own burden to bear. Besides, at age nine, I did not have the vocabulary in Bengali or English, to explain what happened, or how it haunted me.
Towards the end of my school life, I finally felt I had the words and the stomach for that conversation. I had just come back home from a school trip. A couple of classmates and I were playing “truth or dare” to kill time. To our surprise, that banal game revealed sexual abuse to be our common secret. Bolstered by a newfound sense of solidarity, I decided to confide in my mother. We sat at the ends of our three-seater sofa in the living room, quietly drinking ginger tea on a wintery evening.
I began, “Something happened to me…” I could see her looking at me from the corner of my eye. I continued impassively, “It happened on Ashtami night. When I was in class 4. That’s why I never want to go out during Durga Pujo. I know you and baba think it’s because I’m unsocial and stubborn. I wanted to tell you that’s not the reason. I wanted to tell you.”
After a brief pause, she fired a volley of questions that began with “who,” “what,” “when” and “where,” which I answered coolly. I leaned forward to place my empty cup back on the table hoping it would draw the conversation to a close.
“This happens to all girls,” she declared.
I do not remember if I felt invalidated, but I did not ask my mother if she counted herself among “many girls.” I did recount this dialogue to friends, partners and therapists, over the years, and they showered me with varying degrees of understanding.
“I’m sorry. You deserve better”, my partners asserted.
“I’m sorry. Do you want to talk about how that made you feel?” my therapist asked gently.
“I’m sorry. We are here for you”, my friends nodded reassuringly.
I started outgrowing the friendship I had with my mother, never expecting, let alone asking for support. I thought my wounds were healing because my memories were fading. A few years later when the #MeToo movement ignited in India, my mother’s words came rushing back to me.
“Many girls… You are not alone.”
I think I had buried the second half of her statement because it felt so improbable at the time. My pain, my shame felt too deep and personal to be shared by many others. The ubiquity of #MeToo on all my newsfeeds shattered the remnants of isolation I carried in me. It made me feel connected to survivors I knew, ones I did not, and ones I never would. The #MeToo movement also accelerated my learning of feminism and strengthened the bonds I had with my female friends. I received the mothering I needed from my newly minted feminist solidarities.
Over the years as my understanding of feminism evolved, so did my relationship with my mother. She beams with pride listening to my stories of workplace victories and politics. She says she’s relieved I have a chosen family that nurtures more than the one I was born into.
She encourages me to fall in love fearlessly, because she feels I of all people, would survive the heartache. She once said that in spite of all the things she did wrong, she is glad I turned out all right.
I hope she sees my forgiveness and compassion for her failings as a parent. I understand that my friends and I came of age during the Nirbhaya protests, she did not. I understand that I had professors break down feminist theories in classrooms, she did not. I understand that I get to keep climbing up the corporate ladder and she was never allowed to even step on it.
I hope that she knows she isn’t alone either. The system that failed her, failed me too.
Shreya Roy Choudhury conducts surveys and evaluation studies for education and health programs, in India. She enjoys reading feminist literature and painting when she is not working. She started dabbling in writing during the pandemic. She may be found on Instagram
Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India