I was 16 when he molested me. My abuser was my uncle’s son, two years younger than me. It left me shell-shocked and broken. My self-confidence took a beating, especially since my family didn’t support me (to safeguard their ‘reputation’, I continued tying rakhi on his wrist for the next couple of years). Deep down, I felt like a stinking piece of cloth, carelessly left to rot in a dark, maggot-infested hole. Barring my real brother, a year younger than me, no one in the family stepped forward to speak about the issue: my mother didn’t tell anyone for years (not even my father). By the time she did, years had passed, I had already distanced myself from my cousin and everyone kept quiet.
I have no idea how the episode changed me, but it did. My relationships in later years would get complicated; my mood swings erratic; my state of mind, hyperactive. I still ask myself why I so badly wanted people to know: was I trying to gain sympathy? Had my rage not ebbed towards my family, my cousin? I don’t have answers.
What I do understand is that when he died a few weeks ago, my heart ached and felt incredibly heavy. Even now my mind is a whirlpool of confusion, my stomach, a bundle of tortured knots. The only way I can set myself free is to cry out loud, scream from the bottom of my heart. I feel hysterical with images of the sexual assault flashing in front of my eyes, frame by frame, as it happened, after all these years.
They say that when an abuser is dying, he repents what he did. A close friend, who was abused by his uncle as a child, told me that in his old age his uncle begged forgiveness. “The frail man looked so pathetic, so weak, I forgave him from my heart,” my friend had said.
I never got a chance to forgive my 33-year-old abuser who died, unexpectedly, with his body being discovered only five days later in his West Delhi flat. Living all alone in a filthy flat — dunes of dust, bed bugs, a musty smell permeating the paint-peeled walls, bundles of dirty clothes, piles of unwashed utensils — he was, as one of the policemen investigating the scene said, “a third-degree depression case”. Coming from a broken family, there was a growing rift (due to property-related issues, aggressive behaviour and disagreements) between him, his father and his sister. His mother, who still doesn’t know about her son’s death, has been mentally unstable for several years. His sister lives in Gurgaon, but barely kept in touch with him. In the past few years, neighbours had distanced themselves, given his acute drinking habit and aggressive nature. No wonder then, that while complaining of a “strange” smell they kept spraying air fresheners in their homes, and a human body decomposed slowly inside an apartment in a well-populated Delhi colony.
His body had become bloated and for a man who was so handsome in his living days, his death was very ugly. He was covered in a plastic sheet and we didn’t see his face before he was cremated (the doctor conducting the postmortem warned us not to, as did my brother, the only one in the family to have seen the body when it was discovered). Foul play had been ruled out and it was established after the post-mortem that he died due to a highly damaged liver and gall bladder stones. He fainted due to acute pain, fell head-down, got internal head injuries, smashed his nose and couldn’t breathe.
I think what killed him was a lethal mix of depression, substance abuse, the urge to succeed professionally, erratic lifestyle issues, and acute loneliness. Many in the family feel that he deserved better — a steady relationship, love, marriage, kids and a healthy long life. I feel he deserved a better death, with far more grace and dignity.