Late as usual, but I will have my say. I've been reading the posts written as part of the Blank Noise blog-a-thon and I am enraged all over again. It all sounds so distressingly familiar - the groping, the leering, the pinching. I've been away from it for nearly a decade now, and you would think that time would have obliterated the details. But no, I remember each incident like it happened this morning. I remember how it happened, when it happened and what I did, or rather didn't do, for in many of the instances, I was too shocked and too confused to react. I'd like to think I would react differently today, that I would kick harder, scream louder, but I don't know for sure.
The night journeys from Bangalore to Mangalore started off as enjoyable trips with friends, talking away the night, softly humming our favorite songs, discussing movies, books, classes, looking forward to the new adventures that the coming semester would bring. Until, that is, on one of those trips, I felt hands groping me through the narrow gap between the seat back and bottom. With the naivete that we are all lamenting now, I dismissed it as an accident. Maybe the guy had rested his foot on my seat and hadn't realized that he was encroaching. Then, it happened again. This time, I stood up and looked back at the men in the seats behind mine. Of course, they were fast asleep. I whispered to my friend who was in the seat next to me, and I knew then that I wasn't imagining things - she had felt it too. I settled back into my own seat, nervous and edgy. I couldn't sleep now, of course, so I waited for what I knew would happen. A few minutes later, I felt lecherous fingers prying again. This time, I yanked. There was a yelp from the seat behind us, a little hustle and then silence. I was not done, though. I walked up to the conductor woke him up and told him what was happening. I hadn't expected him to do much. He certainly wasn't going to throw those animals off the bus. All I asked him to do was move those men to a different seat at the back of the bus, so I wouldn't have to stay up all night, tense and afraid to fall asleep. Not only did the conductor refuse to do anything, he actually tried to make me feel guilty that I had made a big deal of nothing and had woken up a bus full of people with my complaining. After a while, I gave up and went back to my seat ready to raise a real hue and cry if anything was tried again. Nothing happened - I guess the beastly are also cowardly.
Like so many of the women who have written in with their stories, I had not told anyone about this incident, or any of the others. Different places, different times, different perpetrators - the common thread is the emotions they evoked in me then (paranoia, distrust, disgust, anger) - and the reaction it evokes in me now - I want to reach back in time and slap, kick and scream. The worst part, always, was seeing the perp walk away, leering, grinning, knowing that he had gotten away. But, isn't that why we are all here now, to see that he doesn't get away? Not again. The first step towards solving a problem is recognizing that there is a problem. And speaking out. Not hiding. Not mincing words. Saying it like it is. Here's to the Blank Noise Project and all the courageous women out there who are trying to make a difference. We deserve better, and we have to stand up and demand it.
- Action Hero Gayathri Raghavendra