Many many years ago. A hot summer's day. First day of the academic year. I was walking back from school with a new friend. We reached an intersection, and she and I had to go different ways.
"Bye! It was good to meet you!" I called out to her.
There were a group of guys in a car parked close to us.
"Bye to her... now meet ussssss", they called out, with wolf-whistles.
I was being eve-teased. For the first time in my life. I was horrified, and nearly struck dumb. But I desperately wanted to impress my new friend.
"Mind your own business, Mister, or I will tell the police", I hollered, in true Bollywood style.
"Oye!" said one, and opened one door of the car.
That was it. All my bravado vanished and I ran home as fast as my skinny ten-year-old legs could carry me. I reached home and half-proud, half-scared, poured it all out to my mother. She listened, eyes widening.
"Where was that car parked?"
"In front of the bar!", said I, nonchalantly.
"Shruthi! Those guys could have been drunk! They could have done anything! Do not, I repeat, DO NOT answer back to them! Just ignore them!"

After this incident, I did ignore verbal harrassment for a long time. But many times, more in recent years when my confidence has grown, I respond with what I think is a withering look. I don't know if it cows them down or not... but I feel that I have fought back in my own little way.

But those eve-teasers who brush against me in crowded streets? I always answer with a jab of my elbow, or I lash out at them - it is an instinct. Else, if the street is not too crowded and if the guy in question has not got lost in the crowd, I even turn around and shout "Heeeeeyyyy!" People turn around, and look at him and he slinks away. I have no idea about eve-teaser mentality, but I like to think that he was embarrassed and will think twice before indulging in eve-teasing again. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but I hope not.

I haven't needed to use public transport on a regular basis, but on those occasions that I have travelled in buses, and have observed a man with a propensity to stand or sit too close, I used my elbows to jab hard at him, or I have pressed down my foot very hard on his feet (this has been good fun - I can direct all my anger at his foot - but I don't wear heels, a pity)... or I have looked him in the eye and said sarcastically, "Yenu, jaaga saalada?" (What's the matter, don't have enough space?"). It works. They always move away. And sometimes, if a particularly garrulous lady is around and has viewed the entire episode, she does her bit by proclaiming loudly, "These men - they see a young girl and all they want to do is paw her"... and more in that vein. That is very satisfying indeed. It catches the attention of the whole bus, and its great to see the discomfort of the perpetrator.

I feel that any little act of fighting back or a defensive attitude, makes me feel that I have got the better of the eve-teaser. And that's what matters. The confidence to walk on the streets with my head held high.

Posted 22nd March 2007