We need to tell ourselves that it’s okay to walk away. We are not going to fail. We are not going to collapse. We are going to be okay.
When someone is treating you badly, manipulating you, making you feel less-than, they rely on a prevailing and toxic narrative that there will be dire consequences to you choosing your freedom. This is called Coercion.
The hashtag #MeToo is proving that the number of women who have been harassed, abused and manipulated is near to ubiquitous. And it’s proving that the deafening silence around the culture of sexual harassment and abuse has everything to do with this toxic narrative – this coerciveness.
Those of us who grew up in 3HO Sikh Dharma and the boarding schools in India have experienced and witnessed harassment since we were pre-pubescent. This isn’t counting the Patriarchal structure, and strict gender roles within the cult even. We experienced crass street harassment. We were harassed and objectified by our classmates at co-ed GRD. Then we were blamed for being ogled by our male classmates. Some of us were harassed by our teachers. Some of our male teachers conducted themselves lewdly in class. We made jokes to minimize the disgusting reality that one of our teachers was probably, well… gratifying himself right there in front of the entire class.
One year, at G.R.D. Academy, I was suspended. I was suspended for confronting one of the teachers’ children who had been stealing. I was sent to wait out the end of the school year at the Chancellor’s house in New Delhi. With me was one of my classmates – who was a very beautiful girl. We stayed in a unit at the rear of the main house. We had no way of preparing food, no access to restaurants, no transportation, and hardly any money. We were in a residential neighborhood with nothing to do, nothing to eat and no legal guardian or parent to talk to. The Chancellor was rarely around, but his staff was always present. They did not speak to us. They did not ask us if we needed anything, or allow us to use the kitchen. Meal time was at their deciding. The drudgery and boredom became brutally oppressive. We spent all of our Rupees taking expensive taxis into downtown so that we could just eat something, or walk around. It was hot. So unbelievably hot. The chancellor had a pool, but it was empty. One day we thought no one was around, so we tried to fill it with a garden hose. It didn’t fill, and someone was around.
That night after dark, my friend left to use the bathroom. She returned in a terrible state. She told me that a man snuck up from behind, wrapped his arms around her and attempted to grab her. She used her elbows to fight him off and he fled the scene. Right away, we barricaded ourselves in our room. We called Siri Akal Singh and Hari Kaur and we told them what happened and that we did not feel safe there. They told us they would do something about it. Nothing happened. And they questioned the believability of our story. Were we to be believed at all? I remember feeling like we were totally on our own. We were not afraid. We were furious and ready to fight. We looked out for ourselves like we had already been trained to do since the age of eight. We were even prepared to run away. I know that in that situation, the hyper-vigilance that had been developing inside ourselves had protected us from far, far worse.
I’m not sure why I am reminded of that incident. Because, well here I am saying “Walk Away”, and at the same time re-telling a time when we were physically trapped, a predator man was lurking outside our door, and those who were supposed to be looking out for us wouldn’t do anything.
Maybe it’s because this was just one incident from an entire upbringing in 3HO Sikh Dharma that was oppressive, coercive and abusive. So when it was time to truly walk away from 3HO Sikh Dharma // Kundalini Yoga, I did not need to go through the motions of weighing the pros and cons.
They expected us, after all what we had been through, to simply stay and accept the drudgery. And they used the toxic narrative – the threat of dire consequences – to scare us into silence. They didn’t consider the hyper-vigilance that had been developing while they failed to do their job to raise us. Yogi Bhajan told me, “If you leave you will end up a prostitute lying in the gutter”. You don’t hesitate when someone says something like that to you. You GTFO.
When I left I lost almost my whole family. I lost any financial support I might have gotten from family. I lost the whole community’s support and I gave up the employment that I had when I was part of that community. Aside from the communal support from some of my Indiakids alumni friends and my siblings, I was definitively on my own from the time I walked out the door. But no. I did not “suffer” any of those “negative consequences” that we were told to be afraid of. No, I did not end up a “prostitute in the gutter”. Furthermore, if I, or any of my fellow indiakids had ended up in the gutter, it wasn’t because god decided to punish them for their sins. It was a result of unfair conditions being imposed on them. It was a result of any sort of familial support network dropping them like a hot-potato soon as things got tough. The failure rests squarely on those who were supposed to show care and love and who didn’t.
Despite the tough times… I am here to say that walking away is still a net gain. If you stay, you suffer inside. Even if you get to keep your family, or get to make advances in your career, or climb the social ladder, the psychic pain of living under the umbrella of abuse is too detrimental a cost. When you say “No More”, you get that you will gain your freedom just by saying “No More”. And it will undoubtedly open the door to new growth and fresh opportunities.
To every survivor of harassment, coercion and abuse who says #MeToo: Know that I am not blaming you. I am super angry that this toxic narrative persists – that some mysterious and spooky fate that will befall you if you speak out, come forward or leave. I am super angry that it gets inside us and eats away at our autonomy and free will. I am super angry that this toxic narrative keeps enabling the creeps, the perverts, the abusers and the harassers.
And to every 2nd generation person, male or female, who was a victim of abuse, and who held it inside, and figured you could just deal with it on your own: If you need to talk, I am here for you. You have a friend in me.
And finally, to every 2nd generation adult born and raised and who then remained in 3HO Sikh Dharma // Kundalini Yoga: It’s time to accept the truth about your spiritual leader. He abused his power in every possible way. If you have insulated yourself from the horror stories, it’s time to rectify that mistake.