An Open Letter To A Much Younger Friend And Colleague Talking About Sexual Harassment

Posted: December 8, 2015

A woman writes a letter to her younger colleague opening up about the sexual harassment she faced in the streets, which she kept buried deep within her.

#ShareYourStory is an initiative by Breakthrough to bring the conversation around sexual harassment into families; to get women talking about the harassment they have experienced with their family members, especially sons (or other boys and young men.)

 If you would like to be a part of the #ShareYourStory initiative and create more changemakers, share your letter to your son (or young friends, nephews etc.). You can write a post or send us a short video at community@womensweb.in.




Dear Sujit,

Thank you very much for inviting me to the invisible theatre yesterday. It was a new experience for me as it must have been for so many present there, some knowingly, like me but most of them unknowingly witnessed a performance which affects all of us, as the victim (I do not like the word but I am using it in the absence of a better phrase) or the her family, friend or even passive bystanders. Biswajit and Diksha were absolutely true to their respective main roles and so were the other boys and girls. Please congratulate them for me.

I was observing the reactions of the people present in the mall from a distance. Most of them were apathetic. They just didn’t care what is happening. Some, specially some women were watching the episode as non-participant observers and their expressions were really something to watch circumspectly and analyze. I could sense a feeling of déjà vu in their eyes but they were too meek to protest, some remained as if they were just turned into stone.

As I was watching the entire ‘theatre’ from the balcony of the mall, a force of molten rock was about to explode from me. Lava of wrath, hurt, fury, helplessness, hateful reminiscences, guilt. It was a very very complex feeling and I realized that I was once again living a Diksha, whom I thought I had been able to let go four decades back. I realized that I was still carrying the seventeen year old disgraced teenager along with my spotless image of a strong, independent and feisty woman. The ‘theatre’ was a catharsis and as I went home the volcano just erupted.

I am now flooded with memories or nightmarish memories from my young days. Back then we did not have the guts to tell people of all this. Not even to our mothers fearing chastising and insensitive comments, like, “You must have been inviting” or “Good girls do not have to face all this” to “I have told you not to go alone, you should have taken your brother along with you”, “ You are to be blamed” and so on and so forth.

So whenever, we used to face all this we would shut our mouths to avoid such adverse comments from one and all. Now times are changing. Girls are coming out and protesting, they are being much more out spoken and they are taking situations in their own hands. I personally feel that speaking out and discussing such matters with our younger generation of boys will definitely go a long way in curbing this menace. We need to understand each other, empathize with each other. There will always be perverted people who will go on misbehaving (and the law is there for them) but the rest may stop a while before indulging in any such activities. Probably you have never heard your mother complaining of the misbehavior or misdemeanor she may have faced when she was growing up or even later because it is a tabooed subject in Indian household or society. We need to break the stereotypes and speak out openly.

Yes I have been a victim of sexual harassment on the streets, not once but several times. How did it feel?

Yes I have been a victim of sexual harassment on the streets, not once but several times. How did it feel? It felt like gutter. As I was watching Diksha today, I remembered this particular incident I had faced many years back. I lived in Kolkata then and Kolkata is still supposed to be one of the safest cities for women. I had gone out to the New Market (a major shopping complex in the city before the mall culture crept in) to buy a few things. I had gone alone while returning from college. Those days, we used to wear saris only and not skirts or jeans (I am mentioning this because some idiots put the blame on skirts and jeans). Now these two young men were following me as soon as I got inside the Market premises. I did not particularly take any notice of them. But after a while when their following became stalking I had
no choice but to notice them, but I kept on ignoring them till a point when I got scared and went inside a shop and told the salesman about this. He laughed away, “No didi, they are just admiring the shops, doing some window shopping. Ha ha ha…don’t worry.” I got some solace but then when I went out of the shop those two again started stalking me and this time they had become bolder and their body language had become more aggressive and their looks more anxious. The distance maintained by them with me was also becoming lesser and I was almost running to escape their attention.

The climax was reached when I got out of the Market building to get my bus from the bus stand. They just came close to me as I was waiting for the bus and started making indecent comments. I tried looking the other side. But when they brushed past me I shouted and told them what they were doing. Then they started showing their true colours by calling me vilest of names and by that time there were some curious passer bys who were watching the fun. It is very easy, specially in our society to stamp a woman bad. And these two goons, when they felt that they were in a tight corner, they did just that.
Humiliated, battered, and exhausted, I just sat on the steps of a nearby building thinking to myself what had I done wrong, where did I go wrong? Was it my fault that I was subjected such a humiliation? Till today I have not got a reply to these questions. And believe me, this was not the only incident that had happened to me. In a way most women, and me included, have come to come to take this as an inevitable part of being a woman in a patriarchy.

I am sure the sensitization process that has started now will go a long way to prevent such incidents,
if not overnight but over a period of time. After all, things can get better by dialogues only.
I once again thank you for inviting me to the theatre and I am also glad to share my experience with
you, which I am sure you will understand.
Warm regards,
Mahua di

Cover image via Shutterstock

Mahua Maharana, Bhubaneswar

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