It’s winter in Bhutan and I am on break, though not a traditional one. I’ve been angry the past few days, probably due to the current COVID situation but also for personal reasons. One of them being that I wasn’t able to decorate my house, that I wasn’t able to buy that rug for the living room. But oh well, let’s get straight to the point. Recently there’s been some dialogue online and in real life about rape, especially of girls below 18 by older men. Some even argue that some of these cases are sometimes consensual. To that I say that the fault will always be the man’s, as he is the ‘adult.’ These stories remind me of my own childhood.
During the winter, while on break in Thimphu, I had way too much free time. I used to roam town as much as I could, usually helping my cousin carry bags of rice, or go meet her boyfriend, or pretend to be a reporter on the streets, asking questions to strangers. Sometimes, selling scraps of metal and glass for change. This one winter, this boy, who supposedly had a thing for me was in town as well. He was from Paro, the same village as my dad. We had already met in Paro, him holding my hand, squeezing it in the dark, as we left someone’s house. I liked it. The thrill and forcefulness of it. We didn’t kiss or anything. We were about 12–13 at the time.
In Thimphu, I met him near our house, where his brother owned a store, I think. His brother teased me as I walked past them, with the boy’s head bandaged. Fast forward, I land up in the boy’s house, very close to Punjab Bank, where my mom currently lives. The place was on rent, and it was the top floor of a traditional two storied building. Both him and his elder brother were there, not the one who owned the store. The next thing I know I am kicking both the boys, (his elder brother must have been a few years older than us) and one of them nonchalantly smiles. One of them praises that I must be in taekwondo or something. I run. I am out of that place. I don’t think about it. I especially don’t think about what could have happened to me that evening, given that they mentioned (I don’t know if they made it up) seeing a women in the woods, who was raped, while they had gone to fetch the cattle. I imagined a thin faceless mid-twenties woman sleeping on the grass, back facing towards me, unconscious.
Here’s the scary thing, I think privilege protected me that day. They knew which house I came from; he had seen me drive away by my grandfather.
It shocks me that those boys relished (their faces) seeing a lady who was raped. It is possible that they didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation, while extracting only the mis-guided sexual aspect from it. It is also possible that they were simply participating in the culture, which I think still remains so, for the large part. The truth is I grew up with many boys like that who did unto those less privileged and behind ‘closed doors.’
One of them is an athlete now. I met him a couple of years ago, on the streets of Thimphu. I had hoped that maybe he would speak to me. He didn’t.