A 22-year old Indian woman writes....

Dedicated to the Blank Noise Project :

It was a weekday evening.And especially tiring day, it was a first day of Workshop practice.Athough we were adequately warned about "Smithy guy pawan" and how he had trouble staying within bounds, K was furious. He had done it again.Trying to touch girls in the pretext of teaching them workshop fundas.This of course, led us recounting each of our experiences with street harassment, and other sexual misconducts. Six years later, as I sit down to write this post, I switch off my TV playing the Oscars, and focus. Yes, every single girlfriend I've ever had , can recount atleast one such incident where she has felt violated.

Now I know : You don't have a "past" if you have had experiences like this. Alteast in India, it is a part of becoming a woman - the first lesson you learn, is beware. And its ok to err on the side of caution rather than being naive.

I must have been around 14 years old. I was into inter-school competitions - singing,debate,quizzing and the like. Athough initially it started off as a ploy to bunk classes, the prizes and recognitions got me hooked. It was one such competition, called "Crown Capper" which was then, a big deal. Intensely competitive, and I was thrilled when I won. I rode the bus home. The walk from the bus stop to my home,is a five minute walk through a dimly lit road. I was over the moon, and couldn't wait to go home and share the excitement. A man in a cycle rode by, is arm quickly positioned over my torso. And in a flash, it was all over. I was still dazed when I got home, and I forgot all about the trophy and celebration.Suddenly it all seemed so unimportant. I remember sobbing, and telling my mom, about some rowdy elements on the street. No more. I was too embarrased to talk about this to anyone. I would refer to it as "an incident",but no more. I would recall what my Geography mam would tell us, " .... it just means, you did something to get his attention". For a long time, I went guilty.

Now I know : It is NOT your fault. Stop feeling guilty.It is not your clothes, it is not your makeup(or lack thereof).It is about THEM. Too bad.

I used to ride my "Trendy" to school at 16. One day, it was around 10 in the night, and I was coming home after a rigorous practice test session at tuitions. There is a small tributary of Cauvery that runs a few blocks down from where I used to live. It is dry and deserted most of the time - a typical "Vaaikaal". A man rode another bike parallel to me, and started talking obscene stuff to me. I was soo furious, and at that point in time, my swear word vocabulary was limited to "idiot" "stupid" and a maximum of "asshole", none of which , of course would make any sense to that guy who knew only Tamil. I was angry that I did not know any swear words in my mother tongue, so I could lash out at him. I remember going home and asking my mom to teach me swear words. Only to be told off.

Now I know : A lot of swear words in a variety of languages. I am not a prude. I swear with discretion. Because, there are such people who deserve to be sweared at. Otherwise you become a pushover. If I had to choose between being the "arrogant girl with an attitude problem" and the "doormat", I'd much rather choose to be the former.ANY DAY.

TN express is a huge train, that traverses a considerable cross section of India. It is almost a two day journey end-to-end, and the ride is filled with a wide variety of people. We were a group, about six of us, who usually travel together. It was a usual day of fun and frolic. S, who went by the wash basin to remove her contact lenses, returned to the compartment - furious.It took her quite some time to relate what happened. Our 18 year old brains were thinking - "Well, this is the stuff only mallu movies and boring documentaries are made of". And so,we each went near the wash basin, and checked it out for ourselves. Yes, sure enough, there was a small boy - about seven years of age, sitting at the edge of the door, with his legs spread wide. And a middle aged man, with his shoe-ed foot, stamping the small boy's private parts.We were all furious.

Now I know : Molestation is not gender specific. Or age specific. To me,this has nothing to do with feminism. It is rage directed towards some adults, conditioned by the society to think they can get away with doing all this.

Me and K , in our final year of undergrad. This was the first time we were riding the famous Pilani to Delhi bus to and fro. Our worst fears were confirmed - the only available seat was a three seater. We each took turns sitting in the middle seat. Two "lockies" and a lot of paan chewing and touching "galti se" later, we were relieved when a scientist from CEERI sat by us. He started chatting about local buses, and weather and such stuff. Sometime later, K told me he was trying to put his arm around her waist. She wasn't sure if he realised it.We swapped places, and the same thing happened to me. As the bus approached Delhi, he started enquiring about where we would stay, and insisted he accompany us "to safety" in a lodge that he knew. Our guesses were confirmed.It took a lot of effort before we finally shook him off at ISBT.

Now I know : It is not about illiterate men. It is not about unemployed road side romeos. These people can exist anywhere. In our own midst. And it is not about young men. They come in all shapes, sizes and age and nationality.

Me and K again.After we passed out. On a visit to BITS.We rode the notorious Karnataka Express. Our bay had army men, returning to their stations. Past experiences told us Army men ranked really high on the "likely trouble" index. We each took our berths and switched off the lights. And out of nowhere , this guy's hand drops out of his berth, and sways all the way around, and things started getting nasty. We sat together, awake all night, huddled up to avoid the touching, talked to the TTR the next day and got ourselves shifted out.

Now I know : Sometimes,discretion is the better part of valor. It is better to act intelligently, rather than act hasty in that rush of emotions. Get away when you have to.It is one thing when you are in a crowded bus , when you holler at the miscreant.People notice, and you are safe. It is foolish to try and holler in the middle of the night,in a compartment full of horny men.

Just a few things that come to mind to help be careful :

1.Always carry your cell phone with you.Even if it is to the grocery store next street.

2. Never hesitate to ask for help. It is your LIFE, and "what if everyone comes to know" seems so insignificant in comparison.

3.Be prepared.Take elementary classes in self defense.Beginning karate,kickboxing - anything that helps you feel like you can take care of yourself.If not anything , it is a confidence booster.

4.I dont know how relevant this is in India, but always report any assault to the police. I dont really believe in this "oh, what will happen to my reputation" kinda stuff.

5. There is a thin line between being brave and independent , and being foolish. Act smart.

The bottom line - You can never be too careful. If I can recall these issues of sexual overtures in such great detail, I shudder to think of those people (men/women/children) who have been raped and molested. This issue is even more relevant in India, for two reasons - the excessive population, and lack of a good law enforcement system.But as they say, change is not an isolated process.It develops from within, and then spreads into the consciousness of a whole society. It takes time. And how will a 22 year old writing about it , in the comfort of a heated room help?Maybe it would strike a chord with someone, somewhere - and there might just be a better tommorow.

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