My Dear Family Members…

My Dear Family Members…
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One of the most difficult yet crucial decisions I have made is to write this intensely personal essay. That’s because, after decades, I have decided to finally bare my soul. I don’t know why I feel the way I do --- nervous, guilty and embarrassed given that I did nothing wrong. The unfair truth is that we live in a society, whether it is the East or the West, which makes us unjustly feel that it is somehow the victim’s fault.

I grew up in India in an affluent, educated, respectable family. My parents were the most generous, protective and loving folks who valued family above everything else. Our home was a warm and hospitable place where the door was always wide open and welcomed an incessant flow of visitors.

One such visitor was my uncle Subash. I first met him at about five years of age when my favorite aunt Lucky, my mom’s younger sister, was dating him. The happy couple was in medical school -- young, good-looking and brilliant. She was shy, reserved and soft-spoken; he- loud, outgoing and unabashed which we celebrated as being refreshingly confident. He was always over at my grandmother’s house and he always had a way with the kids. He was a bit of a rebel who sang popular Bollywood songs, rode a motorcycle yet could discuss Shakespeare and the Human Anatomy with equal ease. I think all the little girls in the family had a childish crush on him and he reciprocated by treating each one of us like princesses; the young, impressionable boys were his buddies. He was funny, caring, generous and always very appropriate; no wonder we all flocked around him, and doted on him. When the two decided to marry, we were thrilled! And why not? Subash uncle, as we called him, had already gained our trust and had become an inseparable part of the family.

For the next few years both my uncle and aunt frequented our home when not making hospital rounds. Over the years they gradually made a name for themselves as reputable doctors. My uncle became a renowned surgeon and my aunt, a gynecologist. Eventually when they both were transferred to a hospital in the suburbs of Calcutta, the visits got less frequent but sleepovers became more common. I looked forward to these visits mostly because he was so fun to be around. The conversations were always lively, humorous and intelligent. My mom worshipped the ground he walked on but my dad seemed a bit distant sometimes. I did not understand why but wonder now if he sensed something that only another man could.

My uncle and aunt, although desperately wanting to be parents, were never able to conceive. When finally they came to terms with the reality that they would be childless, they “adopted” me and treated me like I was their own; their lives became closely entwined with mine. I remember hearing from everyone that I was going to continue their legacy and become a doctor; they had already taken me under their wings. I was the child that they never had; my mom, who loved her sister dearly, heart-broken for her emptiness, was happy to share me with them. Their friends and colleagues came to know me well as I started spending more and more time with them; they loved me, as I was somewhat rambunctious-- sort of like my surrogate dad.

When I was about 11, I remember feeling uncomfortable for the first time around my uncle. Suddenly, he was saying things that were odd and made me feel a little uneasy. I don’t recall exactly how it started but I remember him making a remark about my developing breasts. I dismissed his remark as a passing comment because as I had gotten older I had come to accept his candor and unrestrained sense of humor as part of his outgoing personality.

Gradually things started getting more and more uncomfortable. The seemingly innocent comments became more rampant. Once as I walked into the room where he was resting, with a tray of refreshments at the request of my aunt and set it next to him, he lightly touched my chest. In hind’s sight, I should have told him to stop right then and there, but I was in complete shock and in utter denial that my childhood hero could be falling from grace and so I pretended that it simply did not happen. That was the biggest mistake of my young life for this lack of protest only emboldened the monster. And unfortunately, incidents such as this became commonplace.

Things got progressively worse. The respectable Dr. Banerjee mistook my silence for compliance; he knew I loved him like a father and he also knew that I loved my aunt more than anything else and would never do anything to hurt her. And unfortunately, he was right. In my young, immature mind, I thought if I pretended that nothing was happening, it was going to stop. Now when I look back, I can honestly say that my parents had no clue as to what was going on but I am certain that my aunt knew what her husband was up to. There were troubled interactions between the two, which would stop, as I would walk in; things were tense between them but everything was miraculously wonderful when they were around others. After all, they were the handsome, brilliant and now the immensely successful power couple in the family that everyone looked up to.

As I got older I heard rumblings of my uncle’s reputation; I cannot remember clearly but I recall hearing that he was inappropriate towards nurses, patients and colleagues; I overheard some older cousins gossip about his misdoings and how he had attempted to touch and fondle them on occasions. I was young and weak and therefore did not have the gumption to reveal what I already knew because I thought that this would hurt my family. Even though I was angry I was powerless because his discretions were humorously dismissed by everyone as-- “Subash’s nature- you know how he is but he means no harm!” Yet I swallowed my anger, chose to do nothing day after day and pretended that everything was rosy.

Now as I look back I get so mad at myself for trying to protect the bastard. Even as a young adult, and although I knew what he tried to do to me, I pretended that he did not do any of that because he was not capable of such heinous act, I sought his approval constantly, thinking I could change him.

Even though I was not strong enough to expose his sick nature and his dirty deeds, I was strong enough to stop him from physically violating me the way he wanted to. I remember vividly what he tried to do and would’ve done to me one night pleading with me how “it would make me feel so good” but I pleaded with him in return, and when that didn’t work, fought back and managed to get away. I was not brave enough to tell a single soul what he was about to do to me that night because, again, I was afraid that I was going to ruin our family and its immaculate reputation. The attempts to get me to be on his side continued but I was headstrong; I resisted his advances but unfortunately, remained silent. This is my greatest regret because I will never know how many more women and children the respectable Dr. Subash Banerjee violated. But this much I know for sure- that if he tried to take advantage of an innocent child who worshipped the ground he walked on, there were many more he must have victimized.

As I got older, I remember he hated my guy friends and eventually my serious boyfriend who he continued to despise even after we got married. And even though I shared every little secret with my husband, I would not divulge the dark secrets that surrounded Subash uncle. In fact, I went out of my way to make the two men like each other but the likely jealousy that my uncle harbored towards my man was apparent through his comments and actions. This broke my heart yet I never said a word and tried even harder to make the two like each other. I was not successful; my husband would never grow fond of him but it wasn’t until after 20 years that he would know why. That’s when I could hold it no more and that’s also when my loving aunt Lucky and those close to her ostracized me for “spreading lies”. My aunt, still in denial, took out years of obvious frustrations toward her husband and the pain of a loveless marriage on me. It broke my heart but I knew I was partly to be blamed-- I had waited too long.

Today Dr. Banerjee is enjoying his retirement, traveling the world with his “beloved” wife and his devoted family. In spite of his dirty secrets, he’s had a successful career and a good life. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about what he did to me and how he tried to strip away the innocence of an otherwise magical childhood. I shudder to think that the man who I trusted and revered more than anybody else, is probably the most deplorable and criminal of all the people I have known. And even though he was not able to harm me the way he wanted to, the truth remains that he has hurt me in ways only I can feel even after all these years. And that’s why I decided to write about respectable Dr. Banerjee, the charismatic gentleman who turned out to be anything but and nothing more than a sleazy, cold-hearted, sick monster in disguise that preyed upon innocence and trust.

It took me years to come to terms with the cold, hard fact that I had been a victim of sexual abuse. As an adult, as I watched T.V. shows on the same subject, I would have a strange, almost out-of-body experience, denying even to myself that I had been in a similar situation for years. In fact, until fairly recently, I vehemently denied ever being violated in any way when a kind, perceptive Physician’s Assistant brought it up during a routine visit & examination; she obviously sensed something but I was not ready to divulge this sad part of my life where my trust had been betrayed.

And even though his dirty plans with me failed to take off, I did not deserve any part of this-- I did not deserve to be violated in any way and I certainly did not deserve to live in fear of ever being alone with him.

Today my hope is that if you are experiencing anything like I did, don’t be like me. Miserable human beings like Subash do not change their immoral, grisly nature, which is why they need to be stopped immediately and forcefully. A sex offender is not just one who has been convicted and registered; upstanding members of the community and loved members of one’s family who secretly prey upon those who trust them are just as dangerous and reprehensible if not more.

I realize now after all these years that was happening to me was not my fault; I did nothing wrong except to be silent for by remaining silent I emboldened and empowered the pedophile. So whatever you do, do not protect a monster like I did. Remember that no non-consensual sexual act, however small, is ever small. Your body is yours unless YOU decide to share.


Footnote: For years, I was torn about this dark family secret. When I shared my writing with a dear friend who has known my uncle for years, she advised me not to publish it. The following is an excerpt from her email: “Rumni, your brain only works sporadically. You always think with your heart hence issues always tend to become overly emotional for you. I can well understand that as an 11-yr. old, and later as well, you could not oppose Subash; however do you think by posting this for all family members to see, things will change? Encountering Subash is still understandable... As a woman I would like to say that most of us have faced such abuses in our childhood... I too cannot deny but I don't feel guilty primarily because I had no role to play and was too innocent….”

To that I say, I wish we all have the strength to become “overly emotional” the minute we feel violated instead of suffering silently. We all have a “role to play” viz. throttling the monster’s dirty plans and exposing his devious identity. Let’s remember to NEVER become complacent for it is NEVER the victim’s fault no matter what you have been made to believe.

Here’s what another friend had to say: “So just because most girls growing up in India (and if I may add- here in the United States) go through this, it makes it right to perpetuate sexual abuse of children by not drawing attention to it? Welcome to a distorted version of the Stockholm Syndrome! I clearly don't agree with your friend. Publish it- raising awareness is the only way we can fight this.” …. Well said Sudarshana.

On this day in April, which also happens to be Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM), here’s wishing all of you going through unnecessary and needless anxiety, the courage to do the right thing. And remember -- it is NEVER the victim’s fault.

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