Who are we fooling?

It is sad, isn’t it, how we (by *we* I speak for us women) allow certain things to become a part of our life no matter how disgusting it is? Why do we do this? Why do we allow it to happen? Because from very early on we are made to believe, like gospel, that they are bound to be there and it’s in our hands to keep ourselves away from those things. We and solely we are responsible for ourselves. Those things aren’t in the wrong place. They are bound to be there you see! It’s us who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. And if something untoward is to happens to us, we have noone but ourselves to blame. Because they are bound to be there, you see! So we aren’t supposed to bring ourselves to a situation where they would just get attracted like ants would to sugar!

And time and again we are told this. Blamed for this. So we just ignore and move on and thereby allow those sickening behaviors to move along with us too.

Grope, molest, abuse..these are terms we have grown up listening to, and experiencing even. I think we’d be lying if we say that none of us have gone through it at some point in our lives. We have. Sometimes subtly and a lot of times in a pretty obvious and crude manner.

I have been reading on social media platforms lot of stories of abuse and molesting from fellow women. A lot of them have poured out in angst, many of them recounting their own brush with sexual harassment. Believe me, they brought some gory memories of my own rolling back.

I was 12 or 13 when this fellow, with a big shawl draped around him, walked towards me every morning on my way to school, and flashed at me every time we crossed paths! I was in my school uniform, and not some highly revealing clothes for that sicko to behave in such a manner. I hadn’t asked for it in any way. He had flashed, repeatedly at that for days, out of his own dirty will.

On another occassion, while walking to a friend’s place, a biker zoomed past me squeezing my breast! All I could manage to let out was a screech which I am pretty sure he didnt even care to hear.

Then there was a man, who kept groping me from behind my seat in a bus. I couldn’t raise an alarm because I wasn’t courageous enough. I kept kicking him with my elbow till the time I heard a yelp out of him. I had hurt him back.

Then, once a neighbour, in his 60s, came over to my house at a time when he was fully aware that my parents weren’t home and started giving me sex education!

Another time, on my way back from work, a man kept touching himself while looking at me in a DTC bus. I felt naked and utterly disgusted to say the least!

I’ve lost count of the number of times a hand out of nowhere has brushed against my body in the most inappropriate manner. Now before anyone comes in defense saying it could be unintentional, let me tell you that we women know the difference. We do! So lets cut it out.

Much worse than any of the above incidents is one that stands out in my memory much as I have tried to erase it..

I had my first brush with abuse when I was 5. I have never shared it here. I think now is an apt time to do so. An uncle of mine, who used to stay with us, used to sexually abuse me in the most unassuming manner. Now I say unassuming because I never realized that I was being abused. I don’t even remember resisting or fighting. I was under some kind of spell where I didn’t know what was happening. Hell, I was 5, how was I to know!

Back then sadly, small kids weren’t ever educated about good touch & bad touch, so it never really struck my parents to tell me about it either. Moreover they obviously didn’t know that their trust was being crushed by this man they considered family. And it wasn’t such a common topic to talk at home either. Let’s face it..it was still taboo to talk about your private parts and stuff out in the open.

Anyway over the years I built a wall to put a cover to the gory episode. Fortunately or unfortunately I learned to push it to the back of my mind. Never completely erase it but. It took me years to break that wall and confide in my husband and parents.

When I became a parent and sensed that this man and so many like him could potentially sneak his dirty hands into my daughter’s space as well, I vowed never to let her make this mindset a part of her life.

Now all these incidents and more make me reiterate to myself and realize how rampant it is.

Yet we have come to treat it all as part of our lives because we are told or made to believe that ‘not all men’ are like this, so we better not make a big deal out of it, right? We are muzzled again. And again.

Fact is that there are scores n scores of men out there with their lascivious intentions in every nook and corner, in every walk of a girl’s life to make her cringe, disgust her, scar her, affect her far more than we’d like to believe. So let’s not fool ourselves and brush this fact under a convenient rug and say #notallmen are like that.

Maybe not all men. But all women go/have gone through abuse, molesting, groping in some form or the other. It’s high time we stopped treating this as “part of our lives”

The sooner we realize this the better for us and our children.

Auto-rickshaw wala

The bus stops in front of Bikaner House.

Its almost midnight.

Way past the ‘decent hour’ for any woman to be out in the city.

I alight after a thoroughly enjoyable 7 hours of journey from Jaipur. Right behind follow my almost-6-year-old daughter and my mother.

We walk a few steps looking around for the best mode of transportation that would safely take us home. We have barely made it to the exit-gate, in comes a herd of auto-rickshaw drivers encircling us..offering us to drop us home. “Madam, kahan jaana hai?” “Auto mei baith jao”

We have another 20-25 kms of travel yet to cover to finally reach home.

Each of them has his eyes firmly fixed on us.

Right then, a flurry of thoughts come hitting me like a curse,“So which one of them would end up molesting us tonight?”…

“What if one of them drags us to a deserted land and rapes us?”..

“Which one of them would eventually succeed in looting us..and killing us?”

No sooner do these thoughts creep into my mind than I clutch my child tightly and hold on to my mother protectively.

I look around to see whether I can find a cab for us instead. Yet again the crippling thought seeps in.

‘What if the cab-driver ends up knocking us off?’

“Dont be crazy”, I tell myself. There has been no untoward action by any of the auto-rick drivers that drives me towards such thoughts.

None whatsoever.

Each one is merely doing his job of convincing us, persuading us to sit in his vehicle so he can earn his bread & butter.

Then why worry?

Brushing those thoughts away, I, along-with my mother and daughter get into an auto. My mother, the firebrand that she is begins to argue with the driver about the outrageous fare he quotes.

Paranoia hits me yet again and I urge her to stop provoking him lest he harms us in any way. I keep chiding her,” Stop it Ma, this is not a safe time and place for two women to get into scuffle with a man. We still have a long way to reach home”. Of course I tell her this in Malayalam. I dont want his ears to get what I am saying lest he thinks we are helpless and an easy prey.

All through the auto-ride I am alert.

The auto-driver is driving at the perfect speed. He is cautious and minds his own business.

Yet. Every time there is a sharp turn or a delay in taking a turn my heart skips a beat.

Every time we reach a dimly lit road my heart skips a beat.

In my own crazy head I prepare and plan to fight him in case he brings the auto to a stand still in those unlit roads and tries to come at us.

Nothing of that sort happens.

We, then, reach a well lit road. Vehicles plying either side continuously. But not a single soul in sight.

I wonder out loud to my mother about cities like Mumbai where people freely move around till past midnight with no fear of safety. Or so I have heard, correct me if I am wrong.

Wistfully, I wonder if I can even imagine a similar scenario in my own city. I wonder if I ever will get to associate my city with safety and security without a shudder or cringe.

On the way I spot two girls standing at the side of a road, perhaps waiting for a cab.

Our auto-driver swiftly turns to give them a look.

And my scary thoughts go on an over-drive again.

“What did that look convey?” “Did he see prospective passengers in them?”. “Did he hope to fetch them and earn some more money and retire for the day with a content heart?”. Or. “Did he have any lustful intentions brewing in his mind?”

As these thoughts play havoc in my mind, I realize that the auto-wala has safely brought us home. I pay him and walk in to the safe confines of home with my daughter and mother.

All of this sets me thinking….

Is this what my city has come to mean? Is this the city where I was born? The city that brought me up, made me stand up on my feet? The city where I didnt care what I wore, but today I stand the risk of being blamed for my dressing if I get attacked? The city where I didnt have to think twice before venturing out, irrespective of the time or day, but today I have to keep my guard up even in broad daylight? Is this MY city where I stand the risk of being blamed for getting molested because I went to the bar? Because I wore a skimpy dress? Is this MY city where I am forbidden to move around after 8 PM lest I get raped?

Is this MY city where I dont even have the freedom to walk freely as I please?

Never have I felt so helpless and unsafe in my own city.

Happy Independence Day BTW