This piece is about Vanshika Sharan's personal experience of reporting sexual harassment in my debating society at Hansraj College, Delhi University back in February this year. Vanshika says: "It was my first time reporting, that too against a 3rd year student, as a 1st year student. Unfortunately, after 2 months of my society council trying to 'handle' the situation, the man I reported on left the society of his own accord, facing next to no consequences. I'm still incredibly disappointed that no one really knows what he did and what I had to go through to report, but change requires a personal cost from us all and I still think it's worth it. I have tried to capture how I felt in that moment and for the months that followed."
When I was younger, I’d spend hours at the pool in my apartment complex, relishing in the cool water against my skin on a particularly sunny day. I rarely went to the deep end of the pool, and if I ever did, I’d rush back. Once, I ended up at the deep end without even realizing it. I could swim, but for just one single moment, I began to drown. I waved my arms above my head, unable to anchor myself to anything, losing balance entirely. I felt so utterly helpless. That’s what reporting felt like.
My palms were sweaty; I had told my closest friends this story before, but it felt different to tell this to an authority. We were in an ice cream parlor opposite my college. My friend sat beside me – and was my only source of comfort. As I launched into the incident I made sure to keep my voice steady and even. I didn’t want them to think I was overreacting. I had told myself for months that this wasn’t a big deal and I didn’t want to make it one. I just wanted an apology and for him to stay away from me.
I told it to the best of my ability, afraid that maybe it sounded like I was lying. I looked at the two faces that sat in front of me. Both were looking back at me reassuringly. I hadn’t done this before. This incident and worse incidents had happened before, but like everyone else, I had never told anyone. I was taught not to tell, to trust that men have good intentions and that I’m just reading too much into it. Anger spurred me to action. My friend and I were angry at the misogyny around us. College was meant to be a safe space for us, but it never had been. When you’re angry, you feel powerful and invincible, so I pulled myself together to report. But sitting in that chair, the power dissipated and was replaced with self-doubt and fear.
He was a good guy. He told me so himself. He was older and a man, and so he needed to protect me, he had said to me. I told him I didn’t want or need that… but maybe I wasn’t articulate enough. Maybe I just let him; how could he have known he was making me uncomfortable? He probably didn’t know what he was doing, he is a good guy, after all. Yeah, I’m sure he didn’t mean for me to feel the way I did. He didn’t mean to do anything, maybe I’m overreacting. No, I don’t want to ruin his life and his reputation, that’s just not fair to him. It’s not like he attacked me. It could’ve been far worse. He was just being friendly or maybe he misread the situation – doesn’t everyone do that? Yeah, it wasn’t a big deal since he is such a good guy.
I had to tell the story again. A few more times after that. Each time, I felt the urgency fade. I knew I wouldn’t get the apology I asked for. He didn’t believe he did anything wrong. I watched as the outcome I’d been hoping for became less and less likely. No one knew what he did; he never had to answer for it, but I had to live with it. The trauma of that moment, the months of disappointment watching my emotional labor go wasted; I had to live with it, he didn’t.
I heard other stories from other women about him. They were all kind and generous and wonderful young women. I told them and myself, he is not a nice guy. We are not responsible for his behavior. It is not our responsibility to worry about his life and his reputation. He may think he’s a nice guy, but that night and many nights like that, he was a bad man.
In the pool that day many years ago, I stopped thrashing. In a moment of clarity I felt my instincts kick in. I began to swim upward until my head broke past the surface of the water. After what had felt like hours, I blinked the chlorine out of my eyes and took a deep breath of relief. That’s what finally standing up for myself felt like.
I'm a 2nd year undergraduate student studying Anthropology at Hansraj College, Delhi University from Bombay. I'm passionate about intersectional feminism, social justice, and pop culture. In my free time, I'm either reading a book or listening to Kendrick Lamar.