She decided to talk about it because she could not talk about issues of violence against women while silent on her own experience

Barkha Dutt opens up about sexual abuse she faced as a child Wikipedia
news Gender violence Sunday, April 10, 2016 - 16:16

Speaking at the seventh annual Women in the World Summit in New York, journalist Barkha Dutt opened up about being sexually abused as a child, and later experiencing violence at the hands of a man she was dating in college.  

Describing the continued weight that the childhood event of sexual abuse exerted on her mind, she said, “It feels like yesterday. And even sitting here today, I am 44 years old, but I feel like I am eight years old again. I can see that man’s face in my head every time I talk about it.”

Dutt had previously written about her experience of childhood sexual abuse in her 2015 book This Unquiet Land. She said that the decision to write about the experience was difficult firstly because she had doubts about inserting her personal experience in a book that was not autobiographical: “I did not want to be the story, I wanted to tell the story.”

But it was also difficult for her, she said, because, “when something like this happens and when you’re a child — I was younger than 10 years old— you bury it. You bury it and you try and forget it.” When one has to write about such an experience, she added, one had to excavate it from somewhere deep within oneself.

She said that she finally decided to publicly talk about the incident because she could not claim to be a feminist and publicly talk about issues of violence against women while remaining silent on her own experience of violence. “I cannot with any honesty… call myself a feminist, talk about the need to lift the veil of silence and the conspiracy of silence around sexual violence and abuse, if I am not ready to break the silence in my own life.

Dutt further spoke about a second experience of violence by a man she was in a relationship with in college. This time around, she said, she tried to come forward since she had decided that she was not going to be silent. “I can understand the silence as a child. But less so as an adult,” she said.

Narrating parts of that experience, she said that she had been hit hard enough to have bruises across her face. “When my father and my sister asked me what happened, I said I walked into a door. I, with all my awareness, still felt that sense of shame. I felt that the embarrassment was mine, and I wanted to fight that feeling.”  

However, when she consulted lawyers in order to take the man to court, the lawyers discouraged her from legal action. “The lawyers told me, ‘You’re going to waste your time. You’re going to be in court for the next 25 years. Nobody is going to believe you. You were dating this guy. They’re not going to even punish him. Just forget about it’.”

She said, however, that she regretted the decision to listen to the lawyers to the current day. “I feel I should not have been defeatist and I feel I should have gone to court. So what if it takes 20 years, it’s important.”

Dutt was appearing in a panel with Menaka Guruswamy, a Supreme Court laywer, to discuss gender and violence in contemporary India with the summit host, Tina Brown.

Dutt placed emphasis on the entrenched inequities in India in her responses to the discussion, pointing out the contradiction of a country that boasted of a fair number of women in positions of power failing to pass a law on marital rape, not once but twice. “Parties that are headed by women have sent it back as if to suggest that marriage is a license to rape,” she said.

Guruswamy, while agreeing with Dutt on the contradictions facing India, added that the diversity of its people, coupled with its significant demographic youth (“an extraordinary proportion of our population is below the age of 30”), should give us cause for optimism. 

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