Non-fiction writer Siddharth Dube, known for his work on poverty and public health, is a vocal activist for the decriminalisation of same-sex relations and of adult, consensual sex work. Born in Calcutta in 1961, Dube studied at the Doon School and at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi University, and then at universities abroad. He is currently a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute in New York City, and a contributing editor at The Caravan. In his latest book, No One Else: A Personal History of Outlawed Love and Sex, he writes about his life as a gay man as well as “another criminalised and reviled set of sexual outlaws”: women sex workers.
In the following excerpt from No One Else, Dube recalls his harrowing years at Doon, a boys-only boarding school, “a place out of time, a place out of place.”
It was in this warped atmosphere of endless hierarchies and domination that I first became the target of male desire manifested as sexual abuse. Nothing in my short life had prepared me for dealing with the terror I felt during these episodes, or the shock at realizing that desire—the glorious thing I had instinctively responded to in reading Barbara Cartland romances—could take on as vile a form as predation and violence.
In my second year at Doon, a huge prefect called Nutty began tormenting me. He had looked at me with unsettling intensity ever since I had joined school, but now that he was in the senior-most batch, he felt emboldened to act as he wished. Nutty was notoriously crazy, hence his nickname. Even his classmates gave him a wide berth.
Though I did my utmost to avoid Nutty, there was no escaping him in the second half of the day, after classes ended and we returned to our common residential house. Unfailingly, several nights a week, instead of studying after dinner like my other classmates, I would do an unending series of somersaults on Nutty’s orders.
One after another, I did the somersaults virtually in the same spot of a study room I shared with a dozen other students, as there was just enough space for me to do two somersaults before I banged into the wall or furniture. Nutty stood right by me, staring down with a strange mix of lust and hatred writ large on his face.
Each time I paused out of exhaustion, half hoping that he’d relent, he yelled, “Who told you to stop, you pansy!” He’s insane, I’d tell myself angrily and return to the somersaults, even though my head was burning from forehead to nape from chafing against the stone floor.
No one ever interceded. My classmates kept their eyes studiously trained on their homework, fearing that they would otherwise be made to share my predicament. The senior-most prefects charged with running our house would sometimes drop by to look at me somersaulting, crack a joke or two with Nutty, and then continue on their way. They did not intervene even when Nutty, a star hockey player, “putted” me repeatedly with all his strength—transferring his frustrated lust into agonizing blows of the hockey stick on my upturned buttocks. (I never really expected any of the other prefects to intervene, as some of them occasionally partnered with Nutty in abusing me. They would together corner a terrified civet—a wild catlike animal often found on Doon’s verdant grounds—in one of the study rooms and begin beating it to a pulp with hockey sticks and cricket bats, stopping only to fondle and slap me around as I angrily tried to stop them from killing the hapless beast.)
I even gave up any hope of our housemaster putting an end to any of my torture. When on his evening rounds, he would simply pass by our study room with his gaze averted. Sometimes, he would stop to chat affably with the seniors, his golden Labrador staying obediently at heel.
Ever so often, Nutty would make an offer. If I did just one naked somersault in the privacy of his dressing room, he’d stop punishing me. I asked Bharat, whose watchful presence had kept me from being subjected to even worse treatment, if I should comply with his wishes. But he yelled at me, anxiety evident in his voice, saying that Nutty would rape me if he got such a chance. So, I kept silent whenever my tormentor made his offer.
The episodes I hated even more than the somersault sessions were when Nutty had me sent to him in the early evening, after we’d bathed and dressed for dinner, to the open square adjacent to our residential house. He would hold court here over a motley crew of hangers-on. I hated these sessions most because there was always a new addition to his gang to egg him on.
“Oaay, do you know what a pansy is?” Nutty once asked in his rough voice. I kept my eyes down. “Yes.”
“Are you a pansy?”
I said softly but defiantly, “No, I’m not a pansy.”
“You’re a pansy, you madarchod, and you want me to chodo you,” Nutty yelled. “You want to give me a blow job, you pansy! Here, come here, suck it!”
This time there were guffaws from his admiring audience.
I felt utter hatred for him. I wanted to kill him.
But I hid my feelings. I stood there silently. I forced my eyes downward. Whenever he or one of the others touched me, stroked my hair, or tried to put their arm around me, I just edged away.