It was always a feeling of shame. Shame that when 14, a passing cyclist grabbed me. Shame that in the school bus, the driver always fiddled with the rearview mirror so he could look at my chest. Shame that men leered with smug smiles when I walked past. Or tried to brush up against me. Shame because I felt it happened only to me and only because there was something wrong with the way I looked or dressed or walked or talked or was. Something wrong - terribly, terribly so - with me.
And the only reaction seemed to be silence. Because confrontation might lead to attention being drawn to a dirty experience I wanted to keep secret. Because speaking out meant acknowledging that something was wrong when I could cloak it.
I don't know exactly when silence turned into anger into indignation and then confrontation. Perhaps when I was forced out of my cocooned world of being accompanied and driven around into the rush of public transport, government offices, the streets and the slums. Perhaps when a man pushed his crotch against my back in a crowded bus. Perhaps when I saw that most women sat with their bags held tight against their chests in autos. Or, perhaps when I learnt that a friend, too, was grabbed.
Now, the shame is gone but the scabs remain. I don't pick at them because there is no point. What I can do now is know that I never ask for it. That no woman does. That my body is my space and when you lech or whistle or grope or leer or ogle or grab, you abuse it. And that it's not okay.
So what it takes now is one question - Why are you looking at me?
- Action Hero Chinmayee Manjunath