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We have all experienced some form of sexual offence from men in our lives, more than once. Something so commonplace in our country that it is normalised to become a ‘part of life’.
I remember my childhood days when I used to go for long walks, late in the evenings, with my elder sister on the lonely streets of Border Security Force Cantonment. Those are one of the most precious memories of my life that I still treasure close to my heart. I felt completely safe even on those secluded streets as my sister used to lovingly hold my hand while walking.
The thought of personal safety didn’t even cross my mind then. I would be so happily engrossed in the beauty of the world around me. All my senses were fine tuned-into the surroundings – the street shining mysteriously in the moonlight, the gentle breeze blowing through my hair, the rhythmically swaying trees and the distant looking houses along both the sides of the street. It felt like pure bliss to my young and blooming heart.
Fast forward 20 years and I am always anxious while walking on the streets of my own city alone after dark! Even when the locality is familiar, I hardly take the risk of stepping out alone nowadays late at night. Driving back home alone from a late night party feels scary as hell. That beautiful, mysterious street walk of my childhood can anytime turn in to a dreadful sight.
Of course, I am a grown-up and independent woman now. Not only has it brought about a major change in how I perceive myself and the world around me; but it has also changed the way the world sees me – particularly men!
As a self-dependent woman, I don’t look for that reassuring hand of my dad to guide me through the bumpy roads of life anymore. Life has taught me how to handle almost any situation on my own with courage and self-confidence. Yet, the feeling of insecurity hardly ever leaves me.
As a modern woman living an independent life, discrimination towards women in our society pinches me like a sharp needle. My mind is often taken over by a flood of questions.
Why do I feel unsafe walking on the streets of my country? Why is this paranoia shadowing my otherwise free and adventurous spirit?
Why is this feeling of insecurity always there dampening my enjoyment of life? What have I done to deserve this? Is being a woman a curse, after all?
Why do men enjoy so much more freedom than women?
Why do women almost always have to make compromises when it comes to following their heart?
Why is an Indian girl looked at as weak and helpless, who always needs a man by her side for support?
Why is our existence as women so restricted, even in this so-called modern society that keeps talking about gender equality, personal freedom, and women empowerment?
One of the biggest reasons I can see for this persistent feeling of insecurity is the huge impact of what has been happening around in society in the past few years. The unnerving incidences of sexual assaults and violence against women have robbed us of our very sense of freedom and personal safety as women.
According to a recent survey conducted in Bengaluru, out of ten, 9 women said that they feel afraid of the possibility of sexual harassment in public places and while commuting through public transport. Women feel scared to walk on the streets after dusk as they fear that some sexual aggressor might latch on to the opportunity and assault her sexually.
What kind of a civilized society are we living in? There are men out there walking on those same streets as us, who would readily pounce on a lonely woman without the slightest of hesitation, just to satisfy their sick perversions. What is worse is the fact that, in most cases, these perpetrators are never caught and punished or their deeds and hence they shamelessly and fearlessly wander around in the society, continuing with their dirty games.
‘Eve teasing’ is fairly common in urban as well as rural streets where young girls – and sometimes even mature women – walking on the streets are targeted to pass lewd remarks or making vulgar gestures. These remarks or comments are mostly of sexual nature and often revolve around the female anatomy. Such remarks can be quite embarrassing and harassing to any woman.
Many times women have to change their usual route and take a longer one, just to avoid these ‘eve-teasers’ standing on the street corners, looking for cheap entertainment by insulting and harassing a seemingly helpless female. School and college going girls have to cover their bodies with their bags or books while walking on the streets, to avoid ill-mannered attention from men, some of which wouldn’t shy away from making filthy remarks to gain some kind of perverted excitement.
We have all experienced some form of sexual offence by men in our lives, more than once. In fact, these things are so commonplace in our country that we often ignore them saying it’s a natural part of a woman’s existence. We keep quiet just to avoid any sort of unwanted confrontation. Even the society, by and large, discourages women from fighting back the assaulters or reporting the incidents to the police. Instead of helping the woman bring those sex-maniacs to proper justice, she is advised to keep her mouth shut and suppress her anger and frustration to keep her so-called image – and that of her family – intact. It’s a double whammy for the woman who has to take the beating from both sides –first from the sexual offenders and then from society.
My blood boils, whenever I watch or read about such events or hear about real-life incidents from a friend or relative. How dare some misogynistic men, to become so utterly insensitive and shameless? Don’t they have any sensitivity and sympathy towards another fellow human being? Or do they completely forget that women are as human as them and have self-respect and human rights? Would they jump in excitement if someone will humiliate their own sister, mother, wife or daughter with indecent remarks or sexual overtures?
This sick mindset of the average Indian men of looking at a woman as some kind of a commodity or an object of desire is utterly disgusting and unacceptable to me. It’s high time that men pull themselves out of this stupid mindset if they want to peacefully co-exist with women. They must learn to respect women as equally intelligent and sensitive fellow human beings. Although the slow judiciary and lethargic police department play a significant role in making the problem worse unless the mindset of the male-dominated Indian society in general changes for the better, Indian women are never going to feel safe whether it is on the streets or even in their own homes.
The change will happen. I am fully optimistic about that. It will take some time but it is inevitable. As India progresses and marches confidently towards becoming a global superpower, the society is bound to see some positive shifts in the overall mental make-up of its people as well. Awareness and education are the keys and the more people learn about the critical issues related to women’s personal safety, the more will the society, as a whole, will move towards becoming a safer place for women to live.
And while these changes will take their course, it’s time for us women to declare our right for absolute freedom from sexual assaults and violence, loud and clear. It’s time we stand together and take every possible measure to make our society a better place for us. When women unite, they can move mountains.
A version of this was first published here.
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