Delhi Says, Welcome Back To Street Harassment And Moral Policing!

Posted: April 18, 2014

Since I came back from Germany after a five-months long research stay, I have been considerably happy and somewhat comfortable with life around here. I have been hogging on all those missed food items like crazy and my Punjabi family is just contributing to it with their extensive breakfasts and dinners. I re-visited all my favorite places in Delhi which I missed much.

But life back home also means I have to reluctantly bring some changes in my lifestyle. Things that I could care about least are now top priority.

The first and most important change that I made as soon as I was back was to put some ‘extra’ things in my bag. These ‘extra’ things are my self-defense weapons whom I also fondly call “mere do anmol ratan” (okay, I’m just humouring myself).

These are: one, a pepper spray which I have since December last year for obvious reasons.  Second, a Swiss knife that I recently bought which is pretty handy. I occasionally also carry a  scarf with me because I don’t drive (read: I can’t drive) and therefore travel a lot via public  transport.

I have the scarf because you see, exposing your neck, arms and shoulders can be  too  provocative for some and after all as we have recently learned, “It’s our fault”, it is better to  be safe than sorry.

There are two incidences which happened shortly after I came back. One was of street  harassment and the other moral policing. I would like to describe these two in detail, I hope  you will bear with me.

As mentioned above I usually carry my defense weapons in my bag whenever I go out, but this time as I was only walking in my own locality, I didn’t bother to take my bag or my weapons. But, you see, as soon as you step out of your Lakshman Rekha, danger hovers over you like a fly hovers over a box of Haldiram’s sweets.

…as soon as you step out of your Lakshman Rekha, danger hovers over you like a fly hovers over a box of Haldiram’s sweets.

So it was daytime, I was walking in my locality and there came this big white car (sorry, don’t know which one, it can be a City or an Accent, I’m really bad at this and I hardly care) with three young guys and drove past me. They were really young must be between 18-21. At least they looked younger than me. The driver slowed down the car and ogled at me through his side-view mirror.

I ignored them for the first time. I walked further peacefully. As I was on foot and they in a car, they drove past me twice and repeated the entire procedure again. I ignored them again.  But this didn’t deter their high spirit of scoring and they tried their luck for the third time. They drove past me again and stopped their car nearly a meter ahead of me. I lost my cool and showed the driver the ‘middle finger’ through his side-view mirror. As expected his big inflated hot air balloon male ego deflated as if someone has pinched it with a pin. He stopped the car, got out and waited for me. By this time, even I was very furious and decided to take on the rage. The conversation went on something like this:

He: Why did you show me the middle finger?
I: Why the f&%^ were you ogling at me and driving your car past me after every two minutes?
He: I did not stare at you and I was waiting for my friend.
I: In that case, I did not abuse you. I was motioning to some stranger on the street.

Before he could conjure up any other accusations at me, I walked away and the entire drama ended there and then. Also, I guess because it was day time, there were people on the streets, the guys didn’t dare to take any action against their recently hurt ego. Now imagine the same incident at night. A woman walking down the street, three young guys in a car, dark, and fewer people around. They would have very easily pushed me into the car, silenced my wails and took me away. Further what would have happened, I will not dwell into as we all very well know.

The next morning’s newspapers would have flashy headlines and my family would supposedly go into shame. I would be blamed for walking alone at night and ruining those young boys’ future.

I would be blamed for walking alone at night and ruining those young boys’ future.

The other incident which is on a more lighter note left me both angry as well as laughing.  So I was in a mall wearing a top which had a deep cut at the back. I was looking for some stuff in the women’s section when this middle-aged woman in a sari comes up to me from behind and touches me right at the open slit of my top (creepy).

Woman: Ye aapka top yaha se fata hua hai kya? (Is your top torn from here?)
I (with a stern face): Nahi, ye aisa hi hai. (No, it is like that.)
Woman (shocked and amused): Aisa hai? Par isme to peeche se dikh raha hai.. (Like that? But your back is visible.)
I (furious): Aapka bhi to pet dikha raha hai saree mein se (Even your tummy is visible from the saree.)

The woman is highly offended and is about to say something but her friend interrupts her, shushes her down and asks her to get away. Fortunately for her, she is saved from my wrath because I sure had some more very interesting and offensive things to say. I look around, there are a few witnesses to the incident who are just staring back at me, in awe or in disgust, I couldn’t tell. With a cold face, I find my mom who is in some other section and narrate her the entire incident. She laughs it off and as compensation, I get treated.

I don’t understand why people can’t mind their own business and how can one just come and touch a random stranger, that too from behind. One can’t give the excuse that you belong to the same gender or that it was for your own well being. I mean, if somebody touches me from behind, the first thought that will come to my mind is that the person is harassing me and my instant reaction would be to turn around and slap the person black and blue in the face.

It is very interesting to know how the keepers of culture have taken their own eccentricities for granted and normalized it. So when it comes to a saree, a lehenga-choli and other such traditional Indian dresses, it is totally normal to expose your tummy, back, cleavage and what not.

It is very interesting to know how the keepers of culture have taken their own eccentricities for granted and normalized it. So when it comes to a saree, a lehenga-choli and other such traditional Indian dresses, it is totally normal to expose your tummy, back, cleavage and what not. But if you’re wearing a “western”  top with a slit at the back, you automatically become a “carrier” of western culture which is infiltrating our very pure and pious Indian culture. Now I think I should have also poked her tummy. It would have been more fun!

What did I learn from these incidents?

1. Carry your self-defense weapons whenever and wherever you go. It doesn’t matter even if you are standing right outside your house.

2. People who don’t mind their own business need a taste of their own medicine.

3. When walking on the street, don’t look down, walk confident, shoulders out. Don’t give the impression that you are scared. Better, if possible, walk with a pissed off expression on your face especially when walking past a group of rogues.

4. No matter what you do, what you wear, how you walk, talk, etc, people are going to say something because that’s their work. So don’t give a damn about “log kya kahenge” and continue to stay amazing!

Pic credit: Nevil Zaveri (Used under a CC license)

I smash the patriarchy for a living! Founder & Editor-in-chief of Feminism in India.

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Comments

20 Comments


  1. Ooooh, how much I love this piece. I really wish you had poked her tummy!

  2. Difuse if you can ! thinking loudly doesn't help ! -

    Sister,,, it seems like you seem to have a tendency to inviting trouble… those who ignore are not fools… there are better ways to fight things you believe in…

  3. Please please next time… If I get a chance to, I will poke the tummy… :d what about those backless blouses that people wear with the saree?

  4. I really likedd ur post. And its so true, our society be it man or woman find the needless urge to dig comments.

  5. hypocrisy well exposed

  6. As always, I loved your post! I wish you had poked her tummy, she wouldn’t have dared moral police anyone ever 😀 I had one such encounter once, when I was went to a neighbourhood park in a kurta and jeans (I live in a neighbourhood where jeans = evil) and had one lady (around the same age as mine) point out, “arey aap jeans kaise pehen rahe ho, isme to poore legs dikhte hain.” And I had to respond, “back aur front dikhne se accha hai ki legs dikhe, hai na” (a reference to her low cut salwar kurta) 🙂

  7. ohh i soo wish u had poked her tummy and said those words aapka ka bhi to dikha raha hai….it wouold have een a million dollar expression from aunty ji….we have such a hypocrite society

  8. That was really unpardonable, coming and poking you from behind. So what if she is of the same gender?! Many women like her do not think anything of the way THEY show acres of THEIR flesh, but have to moral police those that dare show skin in what they deem as modern/Western wear.
    And the young boys who think nothing of ogling and stalking! When will society wake up enough to take its wayward sons into hand rather than keep the daughters forever oppressed!

  9. Awesome observation. Am going to use this the next time someone talks about “indecent” exposure.

  10. You should have poked her tummy 😀 You are right about our society being total hypocrites. I see women all around me wearing the so-called sabhyata waali saree, but worn in a way that leaves nothing, absolutely nothing to the imagination. It just looks fugly!

  11. i hear you. well done and well written japleen.

  12. Now that’s a piece after my own heart ! Loved it 😀

  13. you go girl! great post, especially loved your repartee to that nosy woman 🙂

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