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We all are symbols of girl power, says Anupama Dalmia, a power that is often either overestimated or underestimated by our society and is rarely understood in its true essence.
The Indian girl child is told often enough that she doesn’t deserve better. That she’s nothing more than a womb. That she can’t possibly ask for more. Yet, women refuse to give up on the dream of equality, of seizing their place in the sun. Starting 6th October 2018, as part of the conversations we have at Women’s Web for the International Day of the Girl Child on 11th October, we present a special series in which a few of our best authors write about #GirlPower. Some write from their own experience as girls, some about the significant girls in their lives, and some even to future daughters – a rich tapestry of emotions that is woven with love, bravery, inspiration, hope, fear, pain, and so much more.
To flag off this series today, Anupama Dalmia writes about a situation most of us are familiar with – street harassment, which is euphemistically called ‘eve teasing’ by many who should know better.
It was a scorching hot day in the month of April. April 1st 2013, to be precise. Some memories get entrenched in the deepest ravine of our mind. Some memories can make us feel a plethora of emotions in an instant. How can I ever forget that day? A day that took away a little but gave me so much more. A day that was like a practical examination of what I had learnt so far about life and humanity.
I was impatiently awaiting the arrival of my cab in a by-lane. The earlier cab I was travelling in had broken down, much to my dismay. The searing heat seeped in through my every pore, ushering out streams of sweat. My throat was parched and I desperately needed to satiate it. As I looked around, my eyes fell on her. She flashed a warm smile and offered the Bisleri bottle in her hand to me. I smiled back and thanked her for her gracious gesture. As she noticed me gulping down water, she remarked.
“Hey, you can put the bottle in your mouth if you wish to, it’s fine. I have stayed in a hostel for many years and I don’t mind jhootha.”
That one line was enough for me to open up to her, because that is exactly what I tell many of my friends too. We had a little tête-à-tête about ourselves and why we were waiting there. Smita and I discovered that we don’t just share the same sun sign but also the same interests. She was waiting there for her brother who was stuck in a traffic jam in another part of the city. She had come to a nearby residential complex to visit a friend who had to leave for a family function. It was quite a calm and peaceful afternoon with a handful of shops and a few auto-wallahs around.
I took out my mobile to call the cab driver to check up to which point on his route he had reached. Just then, there was an abrupt screeching sound and I saw that a gang of unruly youngsters had crashed into the lane on their pricey bikes. They seemed to be college-goers from affluent families. Their presence itself had changed the entire atmosphere and I just wanted to be out of the place as soon as possible. After being assured by the cab driver that he would arrive in ten minutes, I turned around only to find Smita looking extremely uncomfortable and fidgety. The boys of the gang had almost surrounded her and were passing lewd comments while constantly leering at her. She shot a fiery and angry glance at them but to no effect. I instinctively walked up to her and stood beside her, and she, probably also instinctively, held my hand. Our glares didn’t work. Ignoring didn’t work. The few bystanders and shopkeepers present over there continued to do what they were doing, just like the harassers continued to harass.
One of the boys from the gang, who seemed to be their leader, got more audacious and pulled Smita’s dupatta. And then, there was a loud smacking noise. Smita’s slap had stung his face, leaving him fuming. He held her hand with such a tight grip that both of us together could not make him let go of it. He started dragging her on the road and I was horrified. I ran and tried to stop him, but the other members of the gang had now started attacking me as well. We were two women and they were five men. Could we win in this battle? Worse still, would they kill us, I wondered. But, there was no time to think about all that. Smita and I fought with all our might. We kicked, punched, scratched and screamed our lungs out. In return, we were hit, pushed, dragged and intimidated. We created a huge ruckus and finally managed to bring the people around from their dream world to reality. A shopkeeper brought some of his relatives and overpowered the boys. I requested a man among the tiny crowd that had gathered by then to call the police as I could not find my phone which had fallen down somewhere in the tussle and chaos.
Smita was badly injured. While everyone could see her physical injuries, I could look beyond and feel her pain, angst and fear. She had been groped. She had been fondled. She had been disrespected. I was wounded too but I was concerned about her because she was in a miserable state. Very soon, her brother, my cab driver and the police arrived one after the other, as if it was destiny’s conspiracy to time their arrival after it was all over. Or maybe, it was really a conspiracy.
Her brother was in deep panic while the police got on with their job quite professionally. There were a lot of formalities to be done but in all this, our priority was to get medical assistance for Smita without more ado. While I was helping her to get to the rear seat of her brother’s car, I wanted to convey a lot to her. But, all I could mutter was a sorry.
“I am sorry,” I said, not knowing myself what I was apologizing for.
“Sorry? I must say thank you. You risked your own life for me. I will always be grateful to you. I don’t know why you did this but I promise to do the same if am at your place any time in my life.”
She was finding it difficult to talk so I did not carry on the conversation and just asked her to take care of herself. But, she made me ponder that day about so many things, foremost being sisterhood and the power of being one.
Today, Smita and I are good friends and our relationship has strengthened over the years. She had found me on Facebook later and though she does not use social media anymore due to personal reasons, we are constantly in touch through WhatsApp.
That day, I also found another friend – Ashwini. She was the one who had found my phone and guarded it safely till I came back from the police station and collected it. She mentioned how she had witnessed the entire episode but couldn’t muster courage to come out of her home and help. She was feeling embarrassed about coming to the incident spot only later, but I assured her that it was nothing to feel terrible about. We all tap into our reserves of strength at different point in our lives. For her, that day was the beginning. In the present day, I see a wonderful growth in her as a woman and in our own ways, we all are symbols of girl power – a power that is often either overestimated or underestimated by our society and is rarely understood in its true essence.
Read all the #GirlPower posts in this series here.
Image source: a still from the movie Raanjhanaa.
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