By Esha Kulkarni & Priyanka Santhapuram
It was a hot summer day in rural West Lafayette, and we had just taken what seemed like a thousand graduation pictures. After making a necessary stop at our favorite ramen place, we jumped in the car and started our road trip to Ohio for the week. It felt both nostalgic and routine as we started jamming to our favorite Bhangra mixes from our three years on the Purdue team.
Priyanka had graduated the year before, so our time together had dwindled since then to weekend trips and late-night FaceTimes. Yet, we were still inseparable. After an hour on the road and much laughter, our music was interrupted by both of our phones buzzing. Thinking it was from a group chat we were both in, we decided to turn the volume down and check.
Far from a funny Tik Tok, however, it was a warning from campus that read “ALERT: Molester reported in E. Main St. Garage. Police are responding. Please avoid the area if possible.” Suddenly the dynamic in the car morphed into a much more serious type of reflection, the joys of our college adventures now tinged with the harsh reality of our experiences and clearly the ones of many other women.
[Read More: Brown Girls, Sexual Assault and How Our Cultures Contribute to Sexual Pain]
Although these alerts were not out of the ordinary, that day we reflected on just how many more incidences are never reported or acknowledged. Without the prospect of a looming exam, it was harder than ever to ignore. We both came from traditional Indian backgrounds where the topic of sexual misconduct was often swept under the rug; yet, we ourselves carried our own sickening experiences of sexual objectification, sexual harassment, and even assault.
Early on in our friendship, we focused our conversations on Bhangra practice, our mutual love for “New Girl,” and planning game nights with our friends. However, behind closed doors, we were both grappling with the invisible scars from violating encounters. One night at a party when a guy was too close for comfort, we remember looking at each other with a scared look, and without saying a word, it was clear that we were on the same page. Over the following weeks, months, and years, we opened up to each other about our past and grew stronger from this dialogue.
What was even more alarming to realize was that both of our stories and those of many of our friends all stemmed from the same community. At every desi gathering on campus, our guy friends had to be our fake “boyfriends” in front of strangers, and we had to dance in strategic groupings to avoid someone coming and grinding on us.
It became second nature to move in groups, always be on guard, and protect newcomers from guys we knew were bad news. Being able to lean on each other about our experiences with sexual misconduct helped give the two of us closure, but we found that there were many people who did not have that opportunity. Especially for young desi girls who came to believe this behavior was acceptable or who were taught to push down their feelings of being violated, we knew they were suffering from being silent.
[Read More: Post-Aziz Ansari: The Need to Broaden Our Understanding of Sexual Assault]
For the entirety of the car ride, we found our passion for this issue growing, and by the time we reached our destination, we knew we had to take action. That night, rather than unpacking and watching movies as planned, we researched existing resources for this cause and decided to launch Dialogues of Desi Women, an Instagram account and Facebook page for South Asian women to anonymously share their struggles with sexual misconduct of any degree and learn about recovery and coping methods.
Our goal for this platform is to join a community of survivors and allies. Providing an outlet for reflecting on past experiences is healing, but we want DDW to not only be a space to look back, but also to look forward. We are working toward collaborations with professionals in a wide range of disciplines related to this issue because although we all have this common thread, each person’s story and challenges are unique.
We, as a generation, have the power to create change in the desi community on a completely preventable problem. To our desi women, know that you are not alone, you are not overreacting, and your feelings are valid. Together, our voices will not be ignored.
Email Dialogues of Desi Women at firstname.lastname@example.org or find them on Instagram or Facebook.