(Note: I have this post tucked away for more than a month now. I know I tread on hot coals by writing this post. But despite all the flack and the stones I expected to be thrown my way, I know where I stand. Though my test may be relatively diminutive, I realized my set of principles are something no one should or could take away from me.)
I haven't been sleeping well for more than two months now. Yes, research has a part to play in it. But most importantly, it was the horrific news I heard on a Sunday evening almost two months ago. A friend of mine sent me a link to Shillong Post where the headlines read. "Reverend arrested on charges of rape and molestation of minors". The contents were more ghastly. Another headlines read, "Six Children rescued from New Life Home". It was a good hour before I realized I was sitting in my dark room peering at my phone. I was shaking the whole hour.
New Life Home has been my home for three years. I have often told people that I met the Lord during my stay in New Life Home. And Reverend Miller, the man charged with rape and molestation had been my father-figure and my spiritual mentor for the happy years I spend at New Life Home. And now to read this after 6 years, I don't even know how to have a reaction.
I stayed at New Life Home for three years during graduation, two out of which I was a Girl's Prefect. I was part of the worship team in the church headed by Uncle Miller and I taught in Sunday School all those three years. Brought up in a traditional Mizo Baptist church, there were a lot of issues and questions I had during my spiritual infant years. It was Uncle who guided me with passages from the Bible and I wouldn't be lying if I say it was Uncle Miller who taught me to always go back to the scriptures rather than what 'this evangelist or that evangelist' said. Uncle saw a leader in me even when I didn't see it in myself. He polished it and helped me shape and structure it and it was he who taught me how built my principles on the foundations of truth and justice.
I respected Uncle Miller enormously, but we also had our differences. I was famous for one thing in New Life Home - my fights with Uncle Miller. And I was the Prefect. Well, there were a lot of things I didn't like about the way he handled the mess, the mess workers and drinking water issues. And when it comes to issues regarding the welfare of the girls, I very often put my foot down and take a stand against him. When I'm ignored, I just get fiercer in my fight.
I also admit I'm hot-headed and stubborn too. The fight I had with him when I was admitted to Bethany Hospital is one fight that my friends (who were present there) still laugh about it till today. I had complaints of breathing problem and Uncle had ignored me. I went to the hospital by myself and when the doctors found out that I had fluid in my lungs, I was already just too angry with him. So when he came to visit me in the evening, the volcano erupted. I was later diagnosed with TB when my dad decided I should be home until I'm cured. But then again, it was Uncle who stood by me, telling my dad that he'll take care of all my needs and convinced him to let me stay instead of losing a year of college. I fondly remembered Uncle Miller dutifully dropping me to the shared cab station to Guwahati, for my monthly medical trips which lasted for almost a year.
My fights with him weren't always personal though. Once I sprinted up to his kitchen, when one of the junior girls cried after Uncle scolded her for getting a phonecall from a boy. Kakuli, between her sniffles, told me that Uncle asked her what her family will say if she 'gets pregnant' from such 'misconducts'. I specifically remembered me lifting a finger and shouting down the stairs as I left the kitchen after a heated argument,
"Getting a phonecall from a boy is not a misconduct, Uncle. It is biblically proven. And you cannot get pregnant from a phonecall with a boy. It is technologically proven. Alexander Graham Bell didn’t invent the telephone for that purpose. Ahoy! Ahoy! Uncle Miller. Don't fill my girls' heads with stupid ideas".
I made sure I had my voice selected on pulpit mode. Well, I always had a flare for drama, and I was close enough with Uncle to irritate his face with my imaginative feather boa; which I often did on many occasions.
In fact, once he called me "Prefect Phunchiar ber", but then again he never removed me from my position and kept me in-charge up to the day I graduated. I have very fond memories of him and I'm friends with his children. I'm also very fond of Aunty Nimri who took it as her personal duty to take care of my diet while I was undergoing treatment from TB.
A couple of days after I got the news, I met up with Athungo, a dear friend and a senior from New Life Home who also stays here in campus. We were both hurt and shocked by the news and we needed to talk and console each other. We laughed through our tears, talked about our days in New Life Home and tried to figure if the allegations could be true. Were there any signs during our stay? If there were, what could we have done? There were a lot of regrets and a lot of questions asked that evening. Most of them, unanswered...
Since that evening I have been unsuccessfully trying to contact New Life Home and Uncle Miller. It felt awkward when people here ask me about 'the news from Shillong' and all I know is what I read from the papers. What the papers say and what the New Life Alumni say are totally different. Some say Uncle Miller was framed and that the children were smuggled out and were forced to say that. But then again, how could seven year olds frame a 65 year-old well connected, well established pastor?? It just doesn't make sense. And to think of Uncle Miller being a rapist doesn't make sense either. Again, maybe I'm in denial. I can't be sure, I'm torn here!
My ultimate heartbreak came when pictures of Uncle Miller taken to court surfaced. His head was covered, his frame frail, old and thinner than the way I remembered, as he was escorted on his way to court by gun trotting security personnels. Just like the way terrorists and murderers are escorted to court. And to think that he will be police custody for 10 days for interrogation? I realized I don't want even my most hated enemy to go through what he went through. It broke my heart to see him end up like that at such an old age.
But then again, if you ask me my honest truth. I’m torn. Because I don't think children lie in such issues. And when they do talk of such incidences, I think society should lend a ear and act quickly on it. I am no social activist, I'm not a social worker either, but I say this from the heart because I am a victim of childhood molestation. There, I said it! Only a couple of my best and most trusted friends knew about it untill now. Oh!! Seni revealing her ‘painful secret’ in a blog?? Yes, a couple of times, I’ve talked about it with girls who went through the same thing I did. But it was always a confidential thing. But now I have a reason to talk about it from such a platform, because I want to make a point, and I cannot rest easy until I do so. Sometimes I'm grateful that my mother went to her grave without knowing about it. I've managed to keep it from my dad and my brothers till now. But since my brother and some of my cousins read my blog, I know it'll just be a matter of time until my phone rings with the question “Who?”. I can't, even in my worst nightmare, even pretend to comprehend even a glimpse of what a raped victim would go through. I think it'll be like having your soul murdered.
Our society takes molestation too lightly. When it comes to rape, the issue may be a bit different, but childhood molestation is more often, than not, neatly swept under the rug. I guess people think that the children will grow out of it; parents hope that the children will forget and whispers are quickly hushed into silence. And more often, than not, the offenders are families and relatives.
A couple of years ago, when I revealed my painful secret to someone I have been dating for a few years, he told me, "A lot of girls go through this. You should not take it too seriously". I stopped then and there. I've never talked about it with him (or anyone) again until today. Sometimes, I like to tell myself that he has forgotten all about our short conversation because I felt foolish that I've let him in on such a painful secret only to be treated with indifference. I’ve never convinced myself yet. If the educated youth of our generation have such an attitude, then no wonder the generation before us hushed everything into silence. But then I wonder, what will the same man say if the victim is not a girl he dated but his very own daughter??
Well, no! How can I not 'take 'it' seriously' when I've lived in denial, shame and guilt for 16 years of my life? Even till now, in weak moments, pangs of shame, helplessness and desperation still overcome me. For many years, I realized, my young mind blocked it away. But to be honest, it was a closed wound; hardly a scar on the surface but the insides infected and festering with worms. I was so ashamed of myself that sometimes I tried convincing myself that it was all a very horrible nightmare which never really happened.
I couldn't reconcile with myself until I have the strength to assure myself that I wasn't the one at fault. I couldn't heal until I had the strength to truly forgive the person who stole my innocence. It's not easy to do so.
My ultimate test came when I met him in person. Even after 20 long years, I shook while I handed him his cup of tea, looked into his eyes and wondered if he ever realized how much he took from me. He is old and frail now, his eyes empty and his hands shaking, giving away his years of alcoholic lifestyle. All those years, I lived my life in shame and helplessness because of this person. But now, I realized, I'm big and strong and I do not need an apology from him to have closure and start living a life free of shame, guilt and denial. I sat there, forgiving him silently in God's name. In the end, healing, redemption and reconciliation comes only with forgiveness.
But then again, it is a tragedy that many girls never had the chance or the conviction to take that road of redemption towards freedom.
By now, I hope I give you a gist of why despite my relationship with Uncle Miller, I believe the girls. A seven year old girl cannot make up stories on such offense.
So my final stand is this:
I may not know the truth. Yet. But even then, I will stand up for truth and justice irrespective of my personal relations. I know a lot of people back home and especially New Life Alumnis will hate me for saying this.
If any of the allegations are indeed true in this fallen world, I pray that Uncle Miller will have the strength to admit, repent and face the consequences of all the wrongs that he had done. I pray he'll have the strength to apologize to the girls and their families. I pray the girls will get help and I pray they'll come out of this situation with the least scars possible.
If the allegations are untrue, I pray God will restore and deliver Uncle Miller from all the hurt, dishonour and humiliation he has gone through, and most importantly clear his name from such allegations.
I will stand up for Justice irrespective of my personal relationship with Uncle Miller. I proudly call myself a 'New Life graduate' and if there's one thing I've learnt in New Life Home, it is to make a stand for truth and justice against your sentiments, emotions and personal relationships.
Praying for the Miller family and the girls!