It wasn’t easy to think about it…I was afraid to write about this; perhaps that’s the very reason that I should.
**Trigger Warning** – This post is about sexual assault & gender-based violence.
Perhaps in the 5th or 6th grade- I remember one Saturday, I was late to the mosque for a weekly session. That day, for some reason, no one else was in attendance. A Hujur (religious leader/teacher) tickled my foot under the low bench- I was uncomfortable but I didn’t know what to do. When I went home, I confided in my mother…she said I didn’t have to go to that mosque again. I have not set a foot in a mosque in Queens since then. I didn’t talk to my mother about it again. I thought to myself “maybe I shouldn’t have been late,” “why did I go at all?.”
In middle school- my behind was slapped…many times…and I thought to myself “my shirt isn’t longer,” “maybe these pants are too tight,” “is it these sweatpants ?.”
On the 6 train, on my way to high school early one morning, someone flashed me their penis. I thought to myself-“why am I on this empty car,” “did I look interested?.”
When I was stalked, I never told anyone out of fear- I thought to myself “did I look at him some way?”, “if I tell mom she will never let me go out alone again,” “I probably shouldn’t have worn this tight outfit.”
In college, I was told by my family that parties were dangerous. I knew what they meant; I was too informed for anything like that to happen to me…but I heard about it too many times. (Me v. Them)
After college, someone whom I trusted all my life tried to creep into bed while I was asleep…later he tried to convince me “It’s not what you think.” And I told myself “Attempted assault? No, it’s not what you think; it can’t be!” And I thought to myself “why didn’t you cover yourself more?” “Why were you sleeping, to begin with?”
I tried to fix myself to prevent something from happening again, I still do. I had all these thoughts: I tried to avoid my feelings, I tried to avoid people, I shamed myself, I blamed myself. Because after all, I was the only person I had control over. I forgave people, the majority of whom I didn’t even know, so it was easy…but I even forgave the difficult one. Because holding on would mean suffering longer. I have sought professional help, I am no longer afraid to admit it…I am still learning to forgive myself and how my experiences shape my being, my passion, and my drive.
I am not writing this for me; it isn’t about me. I am writing this for us.
The most difficult person for survivors of GBV and sexual assault to forgive is themselves. However, the issue is deeper than individuals surviving and suffering…it isn’t an “us” versus “them” issue, gender-based violence and mental health are issues that we are all responsible for; they are public health issues!
The issues are rooted in our South Asian (and other immigrant) communities and our upbringing when our parents have double standards for our brothers than our sisters and when we constantly have to ask for forgiveness even when it’s not our fault, just because someone is older and we can’t be disrespectful to elders.
How many times do we hear only women talking about their sufferings but no men’s voice in a mosque, in our community, in our own homes even, admitting that they are wrong to stay silent? Admitting that sexual assault has taken place, does take place, and that our male-dominated community perpetuates the silence, the pain, the angst, and the resentment ultimately and how very, unfortunately, leads to lost lives. How long will our mothers, sisters, and friends be forced to stay silent? How long will our brothers and friends watch and stay silent because it’s a “private matter” ?
I understand the topic of any type of assault, sex, mental health, isn’t easy to talk about at home…but that is where it all starts. It isn’t easy to de-stigmatize accessing mental health (remember, there is a difference between mental health and mental illness). Even if you have experienced some form of assault and you think “you’re okay” now, it is okay to seek help. Our experiences shape our lives, cumulatively. Quit staying silent, speak up against any assault or violence that you experience or anyone you know when someone else is experiencing.
Why hasn’t this come up in any Bangladeshi newspaper yet? (Think about it…) Those of you who are posting on social media to bring awareness to Samiha Khan’s death, I challenge you to try talking to our families (our parents, brothers, and sisters) about the truth behind her death.
The change has to come with our generation; we need to bridge this communication gap between us and the generation that have a voice in our communities, our parents in Bangladeshi social gathering sites, mosques, and other public spaces.
Am I going too far if I call this an honor killing/death?
Thank you to my network of friends on social media back home and Women’s Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE) for bringing my attention to Samiha’s tragic death. My condolences to everyone who ever knew her…I hope we will pay our respect to her legacy by trying to make a difference in our communities (or our families, the very least).
“Women do not need to suffer alone. There are safe zones for people to speak up in. There are resources for immediate and long term help. If you or someone you know is facing the types of aforementioned violence, check out these important resources for support:
^ These are New York/South Asian/Immigrant population-specific
Here are some additional resources; I hope you will utilize and share:
- Every school/college has a Center for Counseling & Psychological Services
- Depending on your state – New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault
- Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence
- New York Asian Women’s Center
- Love is Respect (I highly recommend to take a look at healthy/unhealthy relationships; there are also educational toolkits for those working with specific populations such as teens)
- Cultures of Consent
DC-Maryland-Virginia area Services/Resources:
- National Sexual Assault Hotline – Call 800.656.HOPE (4673) to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.
- RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network)
- Please comment if you have more location specific or additional resources. 🙂
Thank you for reading. Please share as you see appropriate.
Interested in getting involved with South Asian adaptation of the Vagina Monologues in NYC? (Sharing on behalf of the inspiring, Shahana Hanif) —
“Yoni Ki Raat, an updated spin on the South Asian adaptation of the Vagina Monologues, Yoni ki Baat, is a transformative performance project by cis women, trans people and gender-nonconforming artists who identify as South Asian and Indo-Caribbean. Yoni Ki Raat seeks to create a strong community and an open space for us to name our truths, share our profound and powerful stories, touch every taboo topic especially about our bodies, sexuality, relationships, and surrender to a process of transformation. This is a space where every silenced and ignored story from our lives are valued, seen and heard.
The Yoni Ki Raat show is as much about building community as it is about performing. We will collaboratively explore and share our stories, and create a performance together. If you don’t feel like a writer, or a performer, please audition anyway because our community aims to nurture these skills in everyone. The community exists long after the performance does.
YKR has had an incredibly two years in New York City and we are thrilled to be bringing it back for it’s third year in 2017! We invite you to audition for this year’s show:
Midtown Manhattan, Wed Nov 30 or Thurs Dec 1, between 6 – 8 pm (this location is pet-free)
To learn more about the auditions and the experience, please visit our website: http://yonikiraat.wixsite.com/yonikiraat/ykr-2017 Questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org“