I was in class 7 when I got groped for the first time. I was standing at a crowded shop when I felt a hand gliding up my waist. I immediately turned around to see who it was but couldn't catch anyone. Quite obviously a serial offender, the person had vanished. It took me a while to understand what had happened. Seething in anger and disgust, I wanted to find him and throw him under a train. Yes, nothing less for that's how much it impacted me as a kid.
And then it happened again. I knew the culprit this time, he was a neighbour and it kept happening until I became absolutely aversive to touch and ended up pushing him one day. That actually made him a little scared. After harassing and molesting me for years, it was the first time that it hit him that I could go ahead and complain to my family if it continued. Sadly, I was too ashamed to speak up, something that haunts me to date. I often wonder, why was the shame mine? Had I done something wrong?
Let me tell you a thing about predators: they smell your fear. I suspect that they know about their prey’s history of countless scarring encounters and how they chose to stay quiet through it all. No other way of explaining why I had to face these unsolicited advances time and again. And it was so confusing as a child. I didn't care about my modesty 'coz I didn't even have a concept of it. I was just sacred. Scared and ashamed.
And that’s not just me. That’s how my cousin felt when another cousin tried forcing himself upon her. That’s how my best friend felt when a school teacher groped her. That’s how every woman who has ever been sexually assaulted has felt.
Needless to say, every single time, it was an assault. Also, for someone who has faced it, I'd want to see all these men getting punished. And that’s exactly why both the woman and child in me are highly disappointed after a recent judgment by Justice Pushpa Ganediwala of the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High Court thinks differently. As per the judgment, groping a minor's breasts without "skin to skin contact" can't really be considered sexual assault as defined under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
She further insists that there needs to be clear proof of "skin to skin contact with sexual intent" for an act of abuse to be considered as sexual assault. Instead of sexual assault she thus sees groping without stripping as an act of outraging a woman's modesty. And while the Supreme Court might have later stayed the judgment, the Bombay High Court is in no mood of stopping. As per a new judgment, “the act of holding a girl’s hands and opening the zip of pants will not come under the definition of sexual assault” anymore.
Now, here's a question: how does the Bombay High Court account for the haunting implications that such incidents have over children under their brilliant "skin to skin” logic? Also, pretty delusional of them to consider that a 12-year-old would be more worried about her "modesty" than her safety and personal space. How patriarchal and regressive!
Honestly, as a woman, I am very very scared to live in this country. But worst of all, I feel extremely wronged as someone who had had her share of groping horrors as a child. Touching someone inappropriately, with or without clothes IS sexual assault and hope the judicial bodies in Indian understand this ASAP.
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