If you want to know what sexual harassment feels like, wear a salwar kameez and travel in a crowded Chennai PTC bus. You can be guarenteed to be groped, poked at, bumped upon, squeezed - in body parts that you don't even have names for in your language. In every rush hour bus, there is a pack of wolves that wait near the exits, their tongues hanging in anticipation, for the females to pass by them.
There are several painful incidents that I was subject to as a naive teenager who didn't know better. I didn't know I could fight back, scream, kick, or even acknowledge it. I only knew to rush home, feeling dirty, sore and violated, and keep the matter deeply buried.
But one time, I actually did something.
It was in the late 90s...I had been to the US and back and somehow that strengthened my self-confidence.
My mom and I were traveling by the PTC. It was past 8pm and the bus was not crowded at all - maybe a dozen passengers in all. We were seated in the ladies section. A little while later, a scruffly dressed wolf in his mid-20s slid into the empty seat behind us. He put his hand on the handle in front of him, pretending to hold on when the bus shook.
Every so often, he would take his index finger and graze my neck and shoulder.
First couple of times, I thought it was unintentional and let it pass. Then the next few times, I turned and glared at him. He pretended to be looking out the window. Then it happened again. This time, I turned right around and faced him.
me: Enna venum? (what do you want?)
...[blank look. feigning innocence]
me: en kayyai vekkarai? (why did you touch me?)
...naana...inga daan kayye vachuttirunden madam. (who? me? my hands are right here , madam(!))
me: en ladies seatla okkandurukke? nee enna pombalaya? anga idam irukkillai? (why are you sitting in the ladies section? are you a woman? isn't there room elsewhere?)
...enga okkanda enna? ( why do you care where I sit?)
me: enda kayye vaikkare?? (why did you put your hand on me?)
...illa madam....naan decent-aana aalu madam (no madam, I am a very decent guy)
(I raised my volume now)
me: nee inga kayye vaikkale? enna paathu sollu...vaikkale? (did you not touch me here? look at me and tell me? did you not?)
...naan onnum pannala madam, summa katthadeenga (I didnt do anything madam, don't shout unnecessarily)
me: poi vera solriya...rascal (you're lying too! rascal!)
...madam, enna romba pesareenga... (madam, you're talking too much)
me: poda. poyi un akka thangacchi kitte sollu nee enna pandrennu. sandoshappaduvaanga (get lost!...go and tell your sisters what you did -they'll be very happy)
Shortly after that, the bus stopped at the next stop. He got down hurriedly, and walked away without turning back.
That is all it took - a simple confrontation... If only I had known this earlier in my life...What is worse is that not one passenger, not even the bus conductor so much as cared to look in our direction. I have not taken public transportation in Chennai ever since, but for the sake of all the women, I can only hope things have improved.
Posted 8th March 2007 by J