To the women that have been, and are scared of becoming. Happy Independence Day.

While everyone is celebrating Independence of our country, I want to celebrate the hope that one day, we will all live in a society where I, You, can be independent within ourselves and be proud of it. Not ashamed of it. I hope we are headed towards a future where I can be me, without being judged for what I wear or how I look — because that doesn’t define me. My past, my attire, my hurdles and how I tie my hair, doesn’t define me… and you don’t get to label me, or tag me with names on the basis of how I carry myself.

This post is a tribute to women. Women that have unfortunately set an example for the rest of the country. Women that deserved better. Women that are shy but do not show it, women that are bold and strong, but carry their hearts on their sleeves, women that love love, and women that love lust. Women that have had a damaging past, yet women that are setting an example. Women that were themselves, yet were punished for being so. Women that didn’t deserve it. Women that inspire me. Women, all over the country, and all over the world — should be independent as who they are, without shame. This is for you.

I am a Virgin. I may not look like one, so what? What’s a virgin girl suppose to look like anyway? Am I not suppose to dye my hair, just because I’m a virgin? Should I not open my legs, or smoke a Cigarette? Sure, smoking is injurious to your health, but don’t say it like it’s injurious to only “women’s health”. I am sick and tired of being judged. You see me walking by, and you think i’m the kind of girl that’ll flirt with you, or i’m high on drugs, or that I’m a lesbian (which is none of your business), just because of the way I look. So I like making a fucking loud statement, what has sex got to do with it? Yeah I’m a virgin, and maybe I will lose my virginity tomorrow, or maybe I won’t for the next 5 years. But i’ll dress the way I like, and I don’t give you the right to judge me for it.

I hate pants. I hate bra’s too. I am so much more comfortable when I throw on a pair of shorts and a tshirt and walk out of my house to buy my groceries, instead of having to wear a bra, put on a pair of jeans — I hate it. I like my body just the way it is, i’m more than comfortable in it. But clearly, you have a problem with my comfort. You want me to cover myself up all the time. Even though your mumma’s got the same things I do, but why is it that when you see me you get aroused without reason? Do you feel weird seeing me in my underwear? Would a bikini be okay for you? Why is it that you assume, when you see a girl like me, in clothes too small (but one’s she’s happy to be in) you automatically assume that I’m a slut. You assume that it’s okay to touch me, and tease me. You want to teach me a lesson. You call me characterless, a slut, or a whore. Firstly, no girl, even if she does do the things you disapprove of, is a slut or a whore. It’s her body and her choice. Secondly, my clothes don’t define me. I am an introvert. I am shy as fuck. I can’t start a conversation with a stranger at a party… that’s not me. And it bothers me, that you think I have no character, just because you can see my underpants. They cover my ass, and they sure as hell cover my vagina. The problem lies within you, not me. I do have character. I just may not be able to ever say this out loud to you — because that’s not who I am. I am not that bold, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t hold the right to be respected in this society.

All my life, they told me what to do. I was raised very well with all necessary etiquettes that a wife should have. I can cook, clean, stitch, feed, lift and provide pleasure, as and when needed. I am well aware, that I am not suppose to have a sexual drive of my own. That’s not what I am here for. But what if, that is all I want to discover right now? My own sexuality? Because I like sex. There are still places where I could be killed for saying that out loud. Definitely be looked down upon. But why is it okay for me to have sex just to please him, but not want to do it when I am aroused or horny? What if I am not this body of mine? I don’t even know if it is men, or women I desire. Because I’ve always been petrified to find out. I am too scared to ask. Who am I? What if all I want to do is travel the world, work in villages and help people, and explore my sexuality as I go? I don’t think I want kids, or to ever cook again. I do not want to lie down under him for the three and a half minutes that I do, I want to moan and scream. I want someone to explore not just my body, but my mind and my soul. I want to be touched, without being entered. I want to learn everything there is to learn, outside of what I know. I don’t want to be his trophy, or his slave. I want to be me. And I don’t want to be ashamed of telling you that I want to have orgasms. This is who I am. My culture, or my history will not change that. If The Kama Sutra can emerge from our Culture and History, then why can’t I? Give me the freedom… to be me.

So it happened to me. Was it easy? No it wasn’t. Did I suffer? You don’t know the scratch of what I went through. You don’t even know what rape is. It isn’t physical. It wouldn’t be painful if it was. As women, we are capable of producing a child out of our vagina’s — a penis can’t hurt me. But it did. Because I shut down. My mind shut down, and so did my body. I cried for weeks, months. I couldn’t get out of my room. I couldn’t look anybody in the eye. I couldn’t trust anyone. At first I didn’t talk about it… but when I did, my family suffered the consequences. The shame, the disgust. As though I had committed the crime. No one cared who did it. The neighbours didn’t care about my pain, they wondered what was I wearing? Nobody looked at me the same way again. My colleagues, my teachers, my friends. Overnight, I went from being the girl with big dreams, to the girl that had been raped. Did you know there are more chances of adolescent girls being raped within the family, than there are of it happening outside? Many girls all over the world get raped from someone within their family, before they even reach puberty. Go figure.

But you know what? I am sick and tired of being ‘That Girl’. Who will marry That Girl? Who will drop That Girl home? What about That Girl? Yes! It fucking happened. Yes, it was traumatising. But my rape doesn’t fucking define who I am. I am way beyond that. I am more than just that act. I am fucking wonderful. I love strangers because they don’t look at me as the girl who got raped. They look at me and they see my smile. They see my shining eyes and the glow on my face. They see me flick my hair, and they hear me laugh. They ask me about my dreams and goals in life. I tell them how many countries I have visited. There is much more to me than just that one night… I am not ashamed of being a rape victim, I am not scared, and on most days, I am not sad either. Why should I be? I’m not the one who did it! I am going to live my life to the fullest, and enjoy every moment like it’s the last, because I deserve the best. And one day, I want to be able to walk into a crowded place, and admit that I have been raped, without being judged or labeled.

Yes. I am That Girl. I’m that girl who still doesn’t forget to smile.

I wanted to be a teacher, and an astronaut. I wanted to become a dancer. I wanted to plant trees and have kids. I was the girl who ordered coffee right before you at the Starbucks this morning. The girl that broke the traffic light last night at 10 pm. I was travelling in the auto next to yours, three nights ago. You tried to chat me up last week at the bar down the street. You also almost sold me a credit card this afternoon, but I was running around at work and I hung up before you could. I am the girl with the parents that live far away, in Amritsar. I am the girl who grew up with six siblings. And I am also her, who has nobody. I could be somebody’s sister, wife, daughter, mother — but what if I am not? Do I only not deserve to be raped and abused by the relationships I have? Is my relation to a man the only thing that defines me? What if I am not a daughter, a sister, a mother or a wife? What if I am just… me? Yes, I am that virgin who likes to make a statement with her attire. I am the shy girl, comfortable in her skin. I am dying to explore my sexuality and yes, I have been sexually abused in the past. I am not just that… I am many more. I am studying for my exams. I am travelling back drunk at 3 am from a party. I am standing outside a bar, crying over a bad break up. I am working in a call centre, to support my younger brothers education. I have been in love. I have dreams and goals and ambitions. I am an individual. I am strong. I am every girl that has ever been touched, teased, slapped, abused or raped. I am also every girl that is scared of being alone on the streets, because I am scared of being objectified. I am a goddess, you say. Then why am I so scared of your presence around me? Why am I not safe? Why am I not… Independent?

Today, on the 70th year of our country’s Independence, this is all I ask of you. My freedom to breathe. To live. To be Me. To not be ashamed of who I am. Because I did not, do not, and never will deserve this.

Happy Independence Day.

Saloni Chopra