This post was supposed to be part of the Blank Noise Project Blogathon but I am a day late so I decided to just write the post anyway. As a woman whose best friend was sexually molested at the age of six by someone was trusted by her parents, this topic is something that bothers me a whole lot. This post is for my dearest friend and all the women who are not safe from lecherous bastards either at home or in public.
I lived most of my life in Thane a city that was originally a suburb of Bombay but now has grown to be a pretty big city in it's own right. Back when I was growing up in the 80's and 90's, it was a very safe city for women. The only real eve teasing I ever experienced was getting whistled at and shouted at by buses filled with blue collar workers who were going home after their shift. It used to be a weird experience of having all these old men, definitely old enough to be my father, some of them even my grandfather, yelling obscenities at me. But travelling by train, even though I travelled by the ladies compartment, exposed me to the world of groping ass%^$&s. The first time I was too bewildered to react but after that every time anyone tried to touch me got beat up. Once I chased a guy down the length of the station intending to hand him over to the cops. And when I stood up for myself, I found support in the crowd. There were usually 2/3 guys willing to help slap the guy around and quite a few women encouraging me.
On a trip to Khandala during the monsoon, with my all-girls school I nearly saw and was part of a gang-rape. That we escaped was due to the fast talking of my teachers and the fact that the would-be rapists were too drunk. We were trekking to the dam in the rain, singing Girl Guiding songs when we realised that there were hundreds of cars, full of drunken guys, ogling us, yelling at us .... You see, this was Independence Day (oh, the irony of it!) and so all the rich louts had driven down from Bombay, Pune, etc. They were sitting in this massive traffic jam and what better way to pass time besides leching at 14-15 year old girls? Since we had come more than half the way from our campsite and half the class were already at the dam, we continued the trek. Albeit in grim silence and with out belts (which had big metal buckles and could hurt when swung hard enough) in our hands. When we got to the dam and met the rest of the class, it was awful. Most of them had been groped and grabbed, they were terrified and crying. We decided to send them back in the van and walk back ourselves. As the van left, we found ourselves (about 60 girls and 2 teachers) surrounded by about 150 "men". They were so drunk that most of them could only leer blearily at us but there was a small but significant minority who were not drunk enough to pass out but just enough to lose their moral compasses and could have incited a mass rape. Getting away, with our teachers begging them - tumhari behene jaisi hain etc etc and that trek back was the scariest 2 hours of my life. But the only thing that I feel proud about is that I gave at least 3/4 guys a sharp knock with my belt buckle when they tried to touch me or the girls around me.
Even in sleepy old Trivandrum, this was in the late 80's, my 8 year old sister was approached by a travelling salesman and shown pornographic books. When she said she didn't want any and tried to go away, he kept trying to ask her to see more until she finally ran home. In Madras, my cousin sister told me she never travelled by public bus or argued with auto-rickshaw drivers and never ever would she report anyone to a cop, because as she put it, the thing they will say would make you want to die.
But of all these experiences, I would rank the 1.5 months I spent at Allahabad as the absolute worst. This is (or at least was in 1997) a city where any woman walking alone was a target. Where you were stripped by men's eyes at every chauraha, where a Professor's wife told me she never travels outside the research institute's colony alone - at the very least she would take her 5 year son along. The fact that she belongs to a man (her mangalsutra & very prominent bindi) and has a son keeps her safe! Where a woman dressed completely from head to toe in a salwar kameez and dupatta can feel unclean and undressed and a man on a motorcycle and bicycle can and will swerve to touch you and no woman will attempt to fightback.
I think to me that is the scariest part - not that men routinely whistle, yell obscenties, lech, grope or grab but that there are several parts of this country where when you fight back, you will not get any support. You will not be allowed to fight back. Where the patriarchy reigns supreme and women are chattel who will mouth lines like "woh toh ladka hai, lekin tum toh samajhdaar ho, tumko salika aana chahiye" (transalated " boys will be boys, but women should be sensible & behave modestly).
I dedicate this post to the hope of a day when women will rountinely fight back and dress as they like and not give in to these creeps. And for the day when the men AND other women around them stand up for the victim. No one will ever ask the question that is the title of this blog.
Action Hero Bombayite