NCRB (1) data shows that 93 women are raped in India everyday. 90% of them go unreported. 2015 saw more than 34,000 rapes in the whole country.
It was 5 am in the morning. Pratheeksha (2) dragged herself off the metha (3) and looked out the window. It was dark, as always. She took her toothbrush and water mug, went outside to the tap and washed up. Pratheeksha had to finish all the chores before she could leave for school at 8. It was the same routine everyday; wash the dishes, make breakfast, clean the house and bring her father his medicine. Today, she was feeling particularly tired, more so than usual; or, it was probably just that she had not eaten yet. She brushed these thoughts away, and went on to work. It was her final year, she was going to college after this. Her teachers told her that she is going to get a scholarship. School was a burden to the family, but college won’t be. “Dr. Pratheeksha Eswaran”, she said to herself while the thick aroma of puttu (4) spread through the house. It was 7.30, she needed to get ready for school.
A few blocks away, an old woman started tapping at a sleeping Jeevan. (5)
“Wake up Jeevan it’s time for school.”
“Go away chechi (6), I’m too tired.”
“Jeevan, it is 7.30, your bus will come any minute now. You’re in 12th grade, just a few more months of this.”
Tired and unhappy, Jeevan got off the bed. He went to his bathroom, took a shower and brushed his teeth. He went to the dining table and it was puttu.
“Puttu again, chechi?! I don’t want this. Bring me some cornflakes.”
The old woman scuttered back into the kitchen and hurriedly brought out a bowl of cereal and milk. Jeevan ate his breakfast and ran out to catch the bus.
The school bell for the first period rang. Pratheeksha sat in front, by herself, ready to learn. It was biology, her favourite subject, and she was excited to hear what Ms. Das had to teach today. Jeevan plopped himself down on a desk at the back with his friends, Dulquer and Nivin.
“Look at Dhanya macha (7), she’s looking hotter than ever da.”
“I see it, but I think Malvika is even sexier. Look at how short her skirt is. If i could juuust-”
“Don’t say that bro, her appa (8) will send his goons after you.”
Jeevan fixed his gaze on Pratheeksha. She was wearing an ankle-length skirt with a tattered, brown blouse.
“Jeevan, why are you staring at her, da?! Are your standards dropping lower than your grades?” Nivin burst out into laughter.
“Oh shut up, haven’t you ever wondered what lies under those disgusting clothes?”
“If you want it so bad, go get it. I’m sure she could use the money.”
The trio laughed as the teacher entered class.
The bell marking the end of the last period rang. Pratheeksha was the last one left in class. Everyday, she stays back for an hour or so; she sits in her classroom and finishes her school work. She knew when she gets back home she will be made to do more chores. Kristhu-Jayente Public School is filled with deafening silence at this time. Pratheeksha reveled in this peace that she can never experience at home. Her father’s exorbitant illness coupled with her mother’s exhaustion and stress paved way for too many fights. She was staring at her book and wondering when integration will ever come to use when the silence she was enjoying all the while, broke. Startled, she stood up to see who or what it was. In walked Jeevan.
“What are you doing here?”, he asked.
“I should be asking you the same question. I sit here and do my work before going home.”
Jeevan was someone she had always avoided. He was not a good person and she knew better. They were not friends. What does this guy want from me?, she thought to herself.
He continued the conversation;
“How are things at home? Are you having money troubles?”, he said with the devil’s smirk on his face. Pratheeksha always knew he was strange, but this was such a direct, unexpected question.
“Yeah, my father’s lymphoma is taking a toll on all of us; his medication is too expensive; my mother’s working three-
He placed his finger on her lips.
“I didn’t want to know that much. I just wanted to know if you could use the extra cash, because I have a really good idea..”
He edged closer and closer, as she stepped back, until her back reached the wall.
“What are you doing?”, she murmured under her breath.
“Only what you wanted, baby. I’m helping you with your thanda’s (9) problems. You’ll get paid, I promise.”
He grabbed her hands and held it against the wall. She tried to scream for help but only whimpers managed to force itself out of her mouth. The feeling of numbness slowly engulfed her body.
“Try and enjoy it.”, he says as he unhooks her blouse…
She woke up with a throbbing headache. Her insides felt a staggering pain. Lying next to her was a 500 rupee note. She looked down at it and started sobbing to herself, praying this was all just a nightmare. She closed her eyes and pinched herself, hoping for the best. She woke up to the same disheveled classroom, her clothes strewn in all directions. She slowly picked herself up, put her tattered clothes on, and ran home with the last ounce of strength she retained.
“Pratheeksha, why are you so late? I had to do all the work and feed your father. Between you and me, I sometimes wish he would pass away and take his horrible sickness with him… Pratheeksha, what happened, why are you crying so much?”
She tried to explain what happened, to her mother, who with each passing word had tears trickling down her cheek. She then proceeded to show her mother the rupee note, to which her mother started to bawl. Mrs. Eswaran ran to her wheelchair-bound husband. He rolled towards Pratheeksha with bloodshot eyes.
“Meenakshi, I’ve been telling you since 10th grade to take her out of school, you refused- now see what happened. We send you to school and now you become a prostitute. Is this the way we raised you?”
“Appa, but I-”
“He’s a rich man’s son. He wouldn’t want anything to do with you, you must have provoked him. This is a shame!”
At this point, Pratheeksha did not know what hurt more, Jeevan’s unsolicited touch or her father’s stinging words.
“You have brought dishonour upon our family. Our first and only daughter, now impure. How are we going to get you married? You’re going to be a burden for the rest of our miserable lives. There’s no way I can expect that rich boy to feel sorry for you and take you in as his own. We’re doomed Meenakshi. What are we going to do with her?”
Pratheeksha’s mother started to weep hysterically. Her nightmare was coming to life.
“This is it. This is the last straw. NO MORE SCHOOL. NO COLLEGE. Meenakshi, start looking for suitors before the news can spread. If God wills someone will be willing to take our azhaku (10) daughter. Pratheeksha, you’re going to stay at home from now on; until we can find you a husband. You will not tell a soul about this, or I swear to God, I will kill you.”
Pratheeksha felt it again, that same numbness taking over her body. Her mind was spiralling out of control; too much was happening too fast. She knew revenge was not an option, her penniless self could not cause as much as a scratch on Jeevan’s armour of wealth and power. There was no point in thinking about all this anyway, the harm had already been done, she cannot turn back time. All her hopes were burning to the ground, and there was nothing she could do about it. She knew what she had to do.
She ran out of the house. Across the road, a sharp left, down the winding path. She could hear Chalakudi crashing on the rocks; frustrated. Today, she understood that anger. The anger that takes over you when other people decide the direction of your flow, when people use you to dispose of their waste, when they flow down you at their will, not yours. But there was one difference between Pratheeksha and Chalakudi– no matter what happened, Chalakudi could still flow freely. She watched the blue-green waters flow due west, she could hear the freedom beckoning to her. She knew she could find solace in there. She jumped over; the first decision she had taken for herself, by herself- in her mind, a step towards liberation.
Meanwhile, Nivin’s phone buzzed with a Whatsapp notification.
‘500 ruba (11) – I tapped dat macha ;-)’
Sent a minute ago
(1) National Crime Records Bureau
(2) Prateeksha means hope
(3) Sleeping mat
(4) Breakfast dish eaten in South Indian states
(5) Jeevan means life
(6) Word to respectfully address his maid
(7) Slang word to address friends
(9) Disrespectful word for father