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Street harassment in India is so common that all of us have experienced it in some form or the other; yet, why are we told not to make a fuss?
Type, erase, type.
I had never felt this wordless when I was thinking of writing down my experiences on the streets of India. I had never felt this claustrophobic. I had in the past, at every instance made it clear that all I wished was to forget these stories, take a lesson and move on. Not because I wanted to dismiss the incident but because I knew that these stories made me emotional and weaker about the situation, about the idea of freedom.
And there I was, lying in a pool of such experiences, trying to pick which ones to reveal and what to let go. Wordless, because they choked me, they choked me to numbness.
For one can say, “Toh kya? Rape toh nahi hua!” (So what, it isn’t rape after all!)
For I may be told I am making a big thing out of nothing. But to me, all these stories are instances of those lucky times I escaped a worse situation; sometimes because I was bold enough to create a scene, at other times, because the man didn’t take it further.
What did they do to me?
They did make me lose a little faith in men.
But here I am. Healing myself.
Clouds above my head
Or shadows from the past
It’s all a memory; it’s all so vast
I sit here with a look so choked
And you say I get emotional about patriarchy!
We were walking down the street from school to home that day. ‘We’ are my close gal pal and I, just 15 years old. As young girls transforming into women, the trauma of sudden bodily changes, change in the way our hair grew on our body, the sprouting of acne and the movement from a sports bra to a beginner bra were enough for us to be conscious of ourselves.
More so, the teachers and boys at school made it our changing lives even more obvious, leaving questions unanswered at most instances. That day, while we walked down that secluded street, in the ten minute walk from school to home, little did we know what we were up for.
Owing to the tiring day we had, we looked out for a tricycle rickshaw. With our regular school talk going on, as we were about to board it, a man on a scooter with his helmet on came out of nowhere and punched me hard on my breasts. I shouted and tried to kick him hard. He sped away. We were speechless; unaware of why it had happened, and even, what exactly had happened. From that day onwards, we always kept our bags close to our chests, hiding them from the lecherous men walking on the streets as we came back from school.
I wasn’t aware back then that from then onwards, men would not talk to my face but to my breasts, always.
I look at myself in the mirror
A piece of art am I to all?
Or a human who lives, emotions
Waiting for the invisible veil to fall?
And you say I am breaking the foundations.
In the chaos of Delhi and my life in a college, I had started developing wings of fire; wings that were giving me hope to fly. Coming back from the college I had often been instructed by my mother to take care of myself as the distance to my home was long and at times, late classes meant coming back late in the evenings. I didn’t realize the value of her advice until one fine day, I experienced it first hand.
Five drunken men came out from a car as I walked down to the nearby bus stop, and approached me throwing kisses and making lewd remarks at me. They were compelling me to get into the car with them. As I ran for my life, I realized fear yet again. It wasn’t a secluded street. This time it was in broad daylight on a busy main road that I had felt shivers down my spine. It did become a regular affair for me from then on.
I often saw men masturbating in the metro looking at our group of girls, cars stopping next to us on the pretext of asking for the route, men following me as I ran for my life. From that first day onwards, I never went too near a car driving by me. Ten years down the line, I still feel the jitters as I see a car approaching me.
They look around with dirty eyes,
Waiting to catch her
I don’t hate men, I say yet again
But the faith seems to die
As I see another woman tortured by a man
And you say, I am too much of a feminist.
I sat down in a shared auto ride in Patna to reach the paying guest house where I was living while working on a project. The weather had suddenly turned dull and clouds were gathering up. I didn’t realize that I was the only woman in that auto. While getting out of the auto, a man punched me groping the front of my body. While the auto raced on, I stood there on the street shouting and protesting to deaf ears. Nobody heard me. Nobody cared. I realized how at every incident I had men talking to my breasts instead of my face. That just reinforced my pain towards my self as a woman; I felt violated again.
As a girl, a woman, the more I have seen, the more stories I have to share of experiencing something as hard-hitting on my mind as on my body. Men are sensible human beings, if they consider women as human beings in the first place. Women are sensible too, if they consider themselves human. I have no gyan to share, no to-do’s; neither will I say that she is also a sister, a mother. Just think of her a human first.
The pain of each and every woman
Who looks around with eyes wide open
To save herself from any trouble
To run away from those stripping eyes
To fight back those violating hands
Is she alone? Am I alone?
To that man in the metro who ‘relieved’ himself by looking at me. To that guy in that car who showed me his ‘thing’ on the pretext of asking for the route. To that office colleague who ‘spoke’ to my breasts every single time we talked. To that man in that lane who chuckled and flashed his ‘thing’ as he peed in the open.
These acts don’t make you strong. You are weak. So weak. Because – you are scared of a woman’s sexuality.
First published at this 16 days of activism campaign
pic used under a CC license credit woollydear
A Development Communication & Social Work professional working in the field of gender, health and technology
I will take me a while to respond to this post as well. Wordless right now. Bravo sharing those pages here!
WOWWWWW…..! Precisely what every woman (Indian, shall I say) has experienced.
I seriously wish boys’ parents would veil themselves and just see what their ‘dear sons’ are doing once they step out of the house. It will enlighten them to far superior knowledge about their ‘merits’.
I wish Indian parents would start demanding their grooms, to be a tee-totaller, have sound value system and knows the sanskar of respecting elders, and also has the ability to bring up children into good citizens. The salary of these guys should not matter at all.
You have shared your deepest pain here, and all of ours. I read and relived each traumatic moment of growing up years in Delhi, this might as well have been written by me. It was a nightmare that no one understood, and I mean None. Bus travel was nothing short of gruesome. The scars are so deep that till date I prefer to wear loose fitting clothes that hide me, dupatta for summers and shawl for winters. I feel your pain sister.
We Indian women face such cheap and terrifying situations at some point of our lives or the other. And ironically fingers always point at us at the end.
The sad thing is that I could relate to each of these incidents and I am sure most other women readers could as well. Such incidents happen with all of us at regular intervals… on busy streets with people looking but none wanting to get involved. Being a Mumbai citizen I had to fight off gropers practically everyday on crowded stations. So much so that I stopped traveling in trains. I started taking the longer route by road for peace of my mind.
It is truly courageous of you to share this.
I believe 100% of Indian women above the age of twelve must have had to go through this torment, then keep quiet about it because….. because it is humiliating to discuss when either the reply is “ignore it- what else could you do” or “why didn’t you do anything”. The first reply angers me cause that was most elders had to suggest… and the more women have ignored instances, the worse the situation has become, strengthening the perverts’ belief that they could get away with anything. The second reply angered me more because it made me face the uncomfortable truth that yes there were situations where I could have done something more. Yes I’ve shouted at harassers, yes I’ve made at least one flasher zip up in shame… but then I did not get them the public beating they deserved. The ?impunity to stare back at starers till they lower their eyes has come late- and I have to thank my husband for egging me on to do that. The challenging part is to teach our daughters how best to react to such situations before they are forced to learn by themselves, and our sons that ‘eve-teasing’ is a perversion, a malady affecting wimps.
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