I was excited to watch “Caravan”.”It’ll be an amazing day tomorrow,” I thought to myself. We were transported to the cinema from school -classmates, best friends and the most serious teachers. Going for a cinema was not the most common thing 12 years ago; we had a few cinema halls back then, and even fewer opportunities to get there, almost impossible to imagine the ways one can get entertained in today’s world. I was too big to be squeezed into a seat that could comfortably hold three thinner girls or boys. At 12, I was the tallest. I managed to find a spot perfect for me – the corner of the bus. That was also my favorite spot. The top of my head touching the bus ceiling, my feet of course on the bottom; I was fixed there, exactly like a tree, with a strong grip on myself. There hardly was any space to take a long deep breath, leave alone finding another.

I never liked the feeling of being watched, especially by “ugly men” who had a different way of looking at you, something your gut feeling always warned you of. On the contrary I wanted to be seen, noticed and appreciated, even taken care of just like any teenager girl would, but only by the people who attracted me and those my eyes found beautiful.

The beauty contest in my life had begun even before the thought of losing body weight came to my mind for the first time. Body image is a big issue – at least it became for me later. I’m still not sure about the physics in my beauty. But they said everything has beauty, not everyone can see it. So, I grew up confused – If everything is beautiful, how am I not or why do I not see beauty in me? As a teenager, I had too much to handle and too many questions in my head already.

One of those dreaded “ugly men” was present in the cinema cafeteria that day, invisible to me. He penetrated through the crowd, like a cobra hissing and destroying everything that came his way. “BAM!” I was paralyzed – the man smiling at me while trying to nudge me and my breast and my blood freezing in my veins happened at once.

I had aroused yet another man, probably with the way I fluttered my eyelashes or the way I wore my shirt. He could have also been one of those strangers I smiled at while waiting for my bus to school. I would be dressed in my school uniform, just the way I was expected to as a “good girl”. What went wrong then? Why did the man try to touch me? Where did I go immoral? I knew I did not feel good about this incident but I also knew that I had crossed one of those lines that I was not supposed to.

“Oh Dear lord! I am not pure anymore.”

To date, I think of that day, still not sure what was it that he tried grabbing. But he confiscated a big part of my confidence, self-esteem, and the humanity I foolishly had believed existed. The cobra had already bit me but I was still debating if my soul was poisoned. He had not left any marks of his attack on my body; also, his face didn’t show any sign of shame, which made me surer of my fault, of crossing my boundary. I was to be punished for entering the predator’s territory.

I was only 14 or 15; I honestly didn’t know what patriarchy really meant until that day. It’s not surprising how these incidents hardly ever get out in the open or is gathered into an energy that could work as a fighting force against these follies. Social shame, guilt, remorse, misconceptions about sexuality definitely shield the “coming out” of the victims and issues. The hidden nature of the issue is what keeps it alive and thriving. It is noteworthy how most of the times, an expensive and imported car hit by a reckless driver is likely to get better footage, attention and justice than a victim who is verbally teased, molested, denied of his/her sexual rights or even raped.

This is just another story that helped me become an individual, a “strong independent woman” that I am today. But the question is if such incidents are necessary for a person’s growth? Or, do they remain with the victim as “traumas” and serve as negative catalyst slowing down his/her growth? Should we also rethink our understanding of sex, sexuality and all other aspects surrounding the tabooed subject? Preferential treatments, unexplained taboos and paradoxes make half of our culture, where a woman is revered as a goddess but treated as a slave in real life where her aspirations, dreams and potentials do not matter. What matters is the presence of the goddess that they grew up hearing about – purity of body in a wife; obedience and discipline in a daughter; and, endless care, service and sacrifices of a mother. To imagine a life full of possibilities, dignity, security and bravery for them is difficult.

Was my soul not injured that day in the cinema? Did I ever heal? Was I a victim or a moral criminal? The real issue is not with a preferred social system; the question is if the system works in line with the demands of the outrageously competitive world that we live in today. Knowing that women are the generator and nurturer of lives and that they do not just pull a family together, but also never ask for the most basic rights, I sometimes wonder if the state of the nation would be better if the decision-making powers were in their hands. The qualities and possibilities are countless but I do not want to think like a “privileged man”. Rather, I choose to think like an individual. I choose to respect individuality and human rights, because I believe each life is precious and we all deserve an environment which is safe and promising.

The physical, mental and sexual harassment put scars on many women’s lives not just for a moment but for life. Many women live with the pain of knowing that the beautiful child she has in her womb might get killed if it is a daughter before or after her birth; and there are those who spend a big part of their life understanding the social standards they are expected to keep up.  Given these circumstances, we obviously need reforms in the system.

Having said this, I do think if it would ever be acceptable to talk to children and women about sexual abuse – to tell them that it’s not ok to get exploited, that victims are not social criminals, and that speaking about the crime is not shameful. Would it also be ok if I choose to speak up about sex, sexuality and taboos and not worry about being viewed as an outcast?

I worry if my daughter will be safe in such an environment; my bigger worry is if I’ll tell them to live like a fighter, not like a victim, or I’ll choose to say, “This too shall pass honey. It happened to me as well. Life goes on.”

Will she be safe in the cinemas, the vehicle she rides on, the person she chooses to be with or the country she lives in?