I’m writing this post almost after a month, as I was on a break.
However, what also urged me to write today is that I realize it took me almost 8 years to be able to go to Mecca (holy site for Muslims) and pray in hateem (semi-circular wall adjacent to the Kaaba).
The year 2008 was the first time that I had come to Saudi Arabia as my father took up a job in this country. I completed my Grade 11 and 12 from Jeddah then moved back to Delhi for higher education.
The first time I went to Mecca, as a Muslim, the whole experience of performing Umrah was very enriching. I was a kid in school at that time.
It was in that very year, my family decided to perform Hajj, so naturally I was a part of it too.
I don’t remember many details because for me it was more like do-what-you-see kind of a situation where I was imitating everything I saw my parents do.
But yes, there is one thing that stays in my mind till date with every wretched detail as intact as possible. And that was how I had been molested publically.
But just for background, first let me try and explain to you what Hajj really is.
In simple words its a 5 day pilgrimage for Muslims. And between the 3rd-5th day, performing the tawaf (i.e. going around the Kaaba in Mecca 7 times in counter clockwise direction) is necessary.
On the 3rd day, I had taken ill and was burning in fever so I could not perform it then or on the 4th day. On the 5th day, it is necessary to finish the tawaf before Maghrib prayer (just after sunset) in order to complete the rituals of Hajj.
As my parents had already performed, I remember going with my younger sister for tawaf on the 5th day. The Kaaba is always crowded but that day trying to do tawaf felt like air being pushed out of my lungs due the pressure of people all around.
The first round was like moving with the crowd without making an effort, and since we couldn’t walk hand in hand it was more like she glued in the front.
In the second round I felt something pressing into my buttocks. It made me uncomfortable and I felt so uneasy that I was choking. What was worse is that I could do nothing because there were a thousand people moving on my right and a thousand people moving on my left.(Maybe the image here will make it more clear)
I turned back to stare at the man clad in Ihram (is, in Islam, a sacred state which a Muslim must enter in order to perform the pilgrimage, marked by wearing the traditional white cloth) and gave a threatening look to discourage him from what he was doing.I tried pushing, hitting and shouting in my own language (Hindi/Urdu) and English but it did not work because for the remaining 5 rounds I was doing tawaf with a man’s d**k pressing into my derrière.
With each step, my voice died in the resonating cries of pilgrims reading/reciting emphatically the verses of Quran.
I finished the Tawaf with tears in my eyes, not because I was overcome with intense spritual emotions, but because my very being felt raped in the process.
Yesterday, after 8 years since that incident, I mustered the courage to go close to Kaaba. Living in Delhi one trip to Saudi Arabia is mandatory every year for renewal of residential permit, and in that trip so was Umrah. But in all these years after that incident, I just could not bring myself to go close because it brought back memories from that day. Memories that I did not share with anyone because what I underwent was something I felt uncomfortable to share.
Yesterday, I tried once again to go close to pray, and I felt attached and detached simultaneously with being present in the Kaaba at that moment. I don’t know if I can explain this paradoxical feeling of contentment and utter loss of emotions at the same time. Because it’s surprising how religious places are associated with piousness and yet I’m sure women all over the world can relate to such incidents, all in the name of God.
It still angers me when I see a man in Ihram coming too close to me, maybe because that day scarred me for life.
Being a woman in general, I have been groped, molested and touched in ways that have resulted in me hitting, screaming at men in public places because no matter how tough I am, my soul aches when I think of such moments.
This didn’t happen just to me, it happened to the girl I knew all those years back in school, it happened to the girl sitting next to me on that bus, it happened to the girl who was selling me ice cream, it happened to the woman sipping coffee in the subway, it happened to the girl sitting alone at the bar, it happened to my best friend, it happened to every girl I have ever known, and it happened to you, the one whose reading this right now.
Please take care and if you ever need to share, trust me, I’m there.
Another woman who survived it.