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As women, we have all been molested or harassed at some point or the other. On roads, in public transport, while walking. Is there any way to stop it?
At one point, I was four, then 15, then 27 and 33 now. During all these phases of my life, I knew, I just knew that I wasn’t supposed to stay out late. I had to be home early. The curfew was pushed from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. as I grew up. A total of three hours in a span of 20 years.
It was hard initially, when I had just started earning and going to have dinners, late night movies and parties with friends. But soon, I came to terms with it. I simply told myself that I am not meant to enjoy the night life.
Being a woman had everything to do with it and I just had to accept it.
Trigger warning: This post contains some descriptions of verbal and non-verbal harassment that may be triggering for some readers.
While travelling by public transport or a bike or car or even simply walking, the chances of you getting hit by a vehicle are much lesser than that of you being molested or harassed.
There is no need of statistics to pass a statement this generic (specific?) I know it’s true and that many of you will relate to it. I have had several encounters with strangers who will back me up with this theory. So I decided to list all these experiences out, just for the sake of curiosity. And to see how many I recollect.
I remember them all. Crystal clear. Like it happened yesterday. Probably because I shared these with a few close friends. Or simply because of the trauma they put me through.
So here they are, the times when I was shown that I don’t belong out there. Times I was harassed and molested. The lessons I was taught on how to be a good woman and stay within my boundaries. How the roads weren’t meant for me.
One evening, I was riding back home when suddenly, a bike with three guys crossed me. Even before I realised what was happening, one of them pinched my breast.
I stopped the bike in the middle of the road and understood that there was no time to be shocked.I started my bike, accelerated and started chasing the. I saw them. It wasn’t the one riding the bike, neither was it the one in the back. It was the guy sitting in the middle. I shouted, “You f******g bastard!” They didn’t stop the bike. But the guy sitting in the back, turned around and laughed before they disappeared into a dark lane.
I wanted to follow them, yell my heart out and possibly hit them. However, I did none of it. What if they do worse this time? What if the three of them attack me together? It was just one guy before and now it would be three.
I parked the bike on the left and cried for a while and went home. What disturbs me the most is, how do they calculate the distance? When did he spot me? When did he decide to act on it? What if I fell from my bike and met with an accident? Why did the guy laugh at me? What pleasure do they get in seeing their friend molest someone? Why are men comfortable raping women in gangs? How do they sleep at night and how do they live with themselves?
It was a summer night in 2007. All the trains and buses were crowded and there was a need of more buses and trains. Thus, the special train I was travelling on. Unfortunately, since it was a special train, not many people knew about it and it wasn’t as crowded. We were travelling from Hyderabad to Vijayawada.
We got in the general compartment and took a whole seat each. I sat diagonally opposite Amma and Sirishattayya, they were talking to each other and I was ready to get lost in my deep thoughts. For me, travelling was all about dreaming and fantasising. Now it is travel anxiety, smart phones, music and crime series. That night, my phone wasn’t that smart. So, there I sat, lost in my thoughts.
The train hadn’t started by then and it took my a while to realise that something weird was happening on my right. It felt like someone had been staring at me for a while. I turned my head in that direction and again, it took me a while to realise that some guy was staring and smiling at me. All this while, pointing his dick, that was out of his pants, at me.
I quickly turned my head away and started contemplating what my move should be. I froze. It took me a little longer to understand that he was not just pointing his dick at me but he was masturbating. Though I was in shock, a million thoughts were running on my mind.
Actually, it was just one thought that ran a million times inside my head. ‘Ignore him’, ‘act like you didn’t notice him, because, attention is all he needs right now’, ‘Don’t give him attention’, ‘Don’t give him attention’, ‘DON’T GIVE HIM ATTENTION’.
I didn’t know that except for my eyes, my entire body was responding to his presence. Acknowledging his act, giving him the exact thing he needed, Disgust! And he was building on my shock, fear and disgust and was chuckling throughout. He did his thing and turned towards the door once he reached his climax, let it all out on the platform and disappeared.
I am sure he went home and slept peacefully like a baby.
Like I said, my whole body was responding to the violation happening to it. My face looked like I was going to throw up. My mom noticed I wasn’t okay. She asked me what was going on and I kept mum. She shook me and raised her voice and asked me five, six times more. I didn’t have a choice. I had to tell her what happened.
Amma got up at once and went looking for the guy in the cargo pants with a lot of pockets. She was shouting so loud that people from different compartments came to our seats. She was the angriest that night. She was using all the cuss words she knew. She even said she will chop it and give it to him.
People started gathering and she was giving a strong warning to everyone. One of the gentlemen, who was fed up with her anger, said that they saw the person masturbating but they didn’t stop him because they thought HE WAS MY FRIEND! Have I ever been more humiliated?
My mother almost slapped him but he said ‘WE’, talking about a group of people who carried that opinion. That was more painful than the actual act itself.
I couldn’t sleep at all that night, fearing he might come again and do something worse this time. We reached Vijayawada after a series of nightmares.
There was another incident where I was riding and a dude, probably in his early 20s, rode on the wrong side of the road before hitting his brakes suddenly. This forced me to hit my brakes.
Now, I use abusive language when I ride and mostly no one hears it. I didn’t think this dude heard it, either. After all, I had had a helmet on and a scarf covering my entire face. I started my bike and left.
A few metres later, I saw the guy follow me. He blocked my way and did not let me go ahead. I had to slow down to a stop and he parked his bike right in front of mine. This forced me to get down and ask him what his problem was.
He said, “What was that filthy language you were using bitch? Ra%#i, L#&di and every other cuss word in Hindi.
I may have said ‘f**k’ involuntarily when he came from the wrong side. But I didn’t want him to think that he could scare me. So, I removed my scarf and showed my face to him. Then I started yelling at him.
He was properly drunk, unable to stand steady and his words were slurring. That scared me. Neither did he know what he was doing or saying. All he did was abuse me verbally while I was screaming at the top of my voice.
I tried to start my bike and just like in the movies, it refused to start. At this point I was really scared. Petrified, I started asking for help. And frantically stopped every vehicle that was passing by.
I saw confused people in cars who didn’t understand what I was doing, whether to stop or not or by the time they realised, it was too late.
But a couple of bikes stopped near us. They came to us and two guys even crossed the road to see what was happening. The moment they approached us, they understood that the guy was drunk and was harassing me.
I spoke as fast as I could and explained everything. When they questioned him, he started abusing them too. They surrounded him and asked me to leave from there. I said a thousand ‘Thank you’s’ to them and rode as fast as I could.
I didn’t look back till the time I reached my destination and that’s when my heart started beating even faster. On reaching home, I called my cousin and narrated the whole story to her just so that if something happens to me, she knew it could be this guy. Also, I was too scared to be alone at that moment.
There are other instances where I was molested while crossing the road and a lorry cleaner grabbed my breast and took off. I was molested when I was at a concert with cousins and dancing like no one was watching. A car full of boys hooted at me, asked me to join them, listed out the things they would do to me, verbally and non-verbally.
Times when men, irrespective of their age touched me inappropriately in public and travel buses, molested me, harassed me. I wanted to list them all down but I guess there is no point to that.
It is not one incident; it’s a daily thing. Almost a norm. Now, when I am walking and if some guy is passing by, my hands involuntarily become my shield and cover my breasts or act like they are active – not lazy or unaware.
After a few experiences, I grew aggressive and alert. I started returning their gesture with a tight slap on their back or whatever was in reach. But the shock is still the same.
Those few minutes where I freeze, the few minutes I think about even after years and regret for not acting on time.
It took a while to shift the blame from my inability to be swift, to the abuser, who is actually at fault.
Picture credits: Screenshot of Alia Bhatt in the short film, Going Home
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