Life's Like That

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Womens Day

I wanted to write something for the blog a thon, but as usual, I am well past the deadline for both registering and writing about street harassment, but I suppose its better late than never.
I wrote about my experience earlier, and understandably, it touched a chord. All the women who commented on that post had at least one such experience to recount. What was noticeable was the fact that almost all of us told of situations where either we did not scream, shout or draw attention to what was happening to us, or even if we did, we were faced with snide comments about deserving it because we were dressed a certain way, or even worse, "It happens...let it go"!
It happens. I know. We know. We face it everyday, sometimes even before we are grown up enough to understand why. I used to live near Gariahat in Calcutta and every evening my mother and I would walk through the hawker laden roads, window shopping, eating alu kabli and just wandering aimlessly. Sort of like a daily evening ritual that I shared with Ma. I remember Ma telling me very seriously when I was about 11/12 years old "Tinni keep your eyes and ears open when you are walking on the roads. There will be these men coming from the opposite direction who will try to bump into you on purpose; pay attention to whats going on around you and you will be able to avoid and sidestep them. " Why would anyone want to bump into people on purpose? How ridiculous I thought. But something in my mothers voice told me to take her seriously. And I tried to watch out for such immature people. It took a while for me to realize that this bumping and pushing did not stem from from some nonsensical childish whim, there was something far more disgusting at the root of their behaviour. With time I learnt to tell a potential bumping pervert from afar and sidestep very nimbly. Im still pretty good at it. And I found myself telling my 14 year old sister the exact same thing the other day.
We all have similar tales to tell dont we? People following us home, masturbating near us, bumping into us on purpose, singing lewd songs, and sometimes just staring at us. I was having a discussion on the male gaze with Arka yesterday and the question he threw up was where do you draw the line? How do you know when someone is giving you a flirtatious look and when he is mentally undressing you? How do you know what you thought was a mere flirtatious look wont turn into something more sinister? Most men look at attractive women, it does not automatically mean they are perverts or they will molest her. I dont have any definite answers to these questions. I cant pinpoint and say XYZ is the factor that differentiates the innocent look and the undressing one. All I can say is we know. Something, somehow feels wrong about the way a man is staring at us. It could be a daily labourer on the road, or our next door neighbour or in my case the man at the Book Fair. He stared hard and long at me while my father looked at the books. He made me uncomfortable, but I told myself I was imagining things and continued to stand outside the crowded stall. Then he walked over and grabbed my breast. And squeezed it so hard that tears came to my eyes. Then walked away casually, smirking. I stood there terrified;feeling dirty and ashamed, as if it was somehow my fault. I couldnt bring myself to speak of this incident with anyone for a long time afterwards.
It could be tutor or the friends brother or again, as with me, the driver. Thankfully he never went beyond just looking, but it was enough to make me uncomfortable in his presence, enough to make me sit bolt upright in the car, ready to open the door and jump out if he tried anything funny ( I remember one very panic stricken ride from Salt Lake to my house very vividly). I couldnt complain to my parents; what would I say? "He looked at me??" Although thinking back, I should have, my mother would have understood, Im sure. You cant pinpoint the male gaze. You just know when you are being subjected to it. And if someone makes you uncomfortable then just get the hell away from there as soon as possible. If its someone you know whose stare leaves you feeling naked then tell someone about it. Tell your mother, tell your friend, tell your sister and never ever be left alone with him. GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HIM.
The conspiracy of silence that society imposes on us is a very difficult one to break out of. I wish I could tell my sister to slap, scream, create a scene if she is ever molested, butas un-feminist as it may sound, I wont. I cant be sure that anyone will help her, I cant be sure that the molester wont turn violent and do something far worse to her. My only advice to her would be to just get the hell away from there as soon as possible. Wear whatever you want, but when you are walking on the road, make sure you wear a jacket or a stole on top of it. Dont walk around on the roads late at night and whatever you do, dont go to the cops, they are the worst of the lot. Carry safety pins, buy some pepper spray, and use it when necessary and then run as fast as you can. Come home and tell us, and we will do everything in our power to protect you from these monsters.

Sounds regressive doesnt it? Especially on Womens Day? But you know what I think? I think Womens Day is a farce. What the heck are we celebrating? Getting drunk when we want and smoking a cigarette on the road? Wearing jeans and sleeveless tops? Being financially independant? Working cool jobs? We, and by we I mean urban educated independant women, dont even represent 1/3 of the woman population in the country. How does Womens Day affect the woman in the slum, in the village? has anything changed for them? Hell! Has anything changed for us? We might have hip jobs, but still need a male friend or colleague to drop us home if we are working late. We might wear what we want but we still cover up before leaving the pub. We drink and smoke , but we still think twice beofre walking into a place like Dewars in Bangalore for a drink with our colleagues because its "not the kind of place you can take women to". We drive our own cars, but we feel safer with tinted windows, because then roadside romeos cant see into the car easily and therefore chances of being chased etc are much less.

There is nothing to celebrate. Women are still as un-emanicipated as they were 10 years back. Yes things have changed..but on the surface only. The larger, scarier issues remain unsolved. And I dont know if those will ever get solved. Read this, and then go on to read the anonymous comment...its scary. That is how some men think. And thats the reason women will continue to feel unsafe and continue to depend on the nice kind protective men they know(like Rahul, like Soham, like Vijay who responded to the anonymous comment) to be safe. I only hope, rising awareness of these issues and movements such as this help women, and I am able to tell my daughter someday to raise hell if someone misbehaves without being afraid of the molesters retaliation.

14 Comments:

  • YOu're right - its a sham of sorts to celebrate something like Women's Day when really things have not changed. Its the same old same old harrassment everyday. The days when I am not poked at in the bus are the days i actually feel surprised. Its good that efforts are being made but really I dont know what is going to ring in changes.

    By Blogger Dreamcatcher, at 4:36 AM  

  • I remember the last time I read your post on harassment wanting to write about it myself and never got around to it. I am glad so many people did speak up and write about their experiences. It looked like every blog I visited yesterday had a story to tell. every strong woman out there had a little girl scared and embarrassed of what had happened to her, scarred for life and wanting to make things better for her daughter. And it take courage to speak up and take a stand. Here's to hoping somethings will change. Someday.

    By Blogger M (tread softly upon), at 8:17 AM  

  • Oh Ron, what you said is so true! Women's Day is a gigantic farce. just now, they showed a programme on Star News about sex-determination centres operating in Patna and Delhi, where female foetuses are killed everyday...50 million women are missing from the subcontinent, what happened to them? Where did they go? Nothing has changed, as long as we have to fear the gaze which strips us naked, nothing will change.We fold ourselves in, and our bodies are mostly our liabilities in the struggle of everyday lives. Not only the harrassment, but the resulting loss of trust in the male species generally...that too is a crippling blow, that should not happen, we should be able to trust people. But I suppose it will remain an idealistic dream, and we will continue to run, run, run in the silence.

    By Blogger good morning, midnight, at 8:45 AM  

  • It is sad. Particularly disturbing is the fact that these perpetrators not restricted to a single demographic. Couple of years ago my friend complained that she was harassed by some high school kids and I myself saw a 60 year old gentleman doing silly stuff on an airplane.

    By Blogger Anil, at 5:09 PM  

  • Hey,
    I soo agree with you on the part that its really upto us to leave aside our inhibitions and shout out aloud!

    I remember during post grad days I sued to come home late sometimes after studying with frds and the streets used to be dark and lonely in the colony and I was ALWAYS so scared that somethign might happen and it did once or twice and it left me feeling scared and so inhibited about myself

    By Blogger Ekta, at 5:29 PM  

  • What you say rings true in some ways. I have seen things like what you mention myself at times.

    I have had some female friends who expressed similar sentiments as what you did.

    As I had said before, such issues exist all over the world, but more in countries like ours, where the general frustration among males is very large, owing to a closed and conservative culture.

    You ask when this menace will subside. I guess it will be when our society becomes more open. When couples in parks aren't slapped around as if talking a member of the opposite sex is a crime. When parents start treating children's personal relationships with more respect.

    These things are happening, albeit in urban parts of the country. It will take time till it seeps into the ethos of a majority of Indian people.

    Till then, we will have to be content with Women's Day being a time to send meaningless e-cards, and participate in occasional sms polls.

    By Blogger Soham Pablo, at 2:45 AM  

  • Do you think this kind of perversion is a disease? If so, what is the solution? I thought about this for sometime and came up with these possible solutions (some are similar to Pablo’s observation).

    1. Introducing more co-ed schools. (I knew many boys from boys' (only) schools had a strange perception about girls. I'm not suggesting all of them are perverts.)

    2. Treating this as a crime rather than social stigma. I came to know of many such incidents from my wife. I'm sure my sister also experienced much such harassment, but she never told me about those. Most of the perverts have sisters. If each and every one told her brother about how she felt, may be he would stop doing these.

    Awareness is necessary and its better if it starts at home. I know it’s easier for me to suggest all these, because I've never been there.

    As M said in her post, if her post can stop a single harassment, then it’s worth postin

    By Blogger Kele Panchu, at 8:55 AM  

  • @dreamcatcher and gm,m: i hate the way these pubs and restaurants promote womens day...getting drunk and having a ladies night out are apparantly the only way one can celebrate womens day.gah!!

    @m(treadsoftlyupon): exactly. when i first posted about street harassment each and very girl who commented had similar experiences to share. how do we tackle this menace? i dont know how successful this blanknoiseproject will be, but at least people are talking and taking the issue seriously. that a first step in the right direction i guess.

    @anil: the 60 year old on the airplane can by no means be described as a gentleman. these so called "gentlemen" are the worst pervs of the lot.

    @ekta: i know exactly what you mean. the other day i had to go to this office party at a lounge bar which is like a 5 min walk from my house. after it got over, due to various reasons i found that i would have to walk home...at around 12 at night.i called rahul and made him talk to me till i reached my gate and believe me i practically ran the short distance. each time a car passed by i almost stopped breathing and walked faster...not to mention prayed nothing would happen. its sick.

    @soham and kele panchu: i dont know how this issue can be tacked, but panchuda you are right about treating these instances as a crime rather than a social stigma. perpetrators of this crime need to be punished, public humiliation is probably the best way. and yes, more awareness and an openess about free mixing of the sexes is an absolute must.

    By Blogger Ron, at 10:19 PM  

  • Oh ya Ron, I was just reading abt how 10D in hyd had Miland SOman come in for Woman's day & party with "only ladies" & they going "what a hunk". THis is supposed to be Woman's day. Sad. I could do without it.

    By Blogger Seema, at 1:28 AM  

  • Hey Ron!
    Yep...i think the guys who do all the dastardly acts should be publicly castrated! They should be taught a lesson that it is a deterrent! This justice should be beyond the judicial system...because the system will take two life-times to bring the guilty to justice!

    By Blogger Anand, at 1:45 AM  

  • hi. i have always wondered - what motivates the 'men' who involve themselves into situations like these. why do men - eve tease / molest / rape? I understand it could be some strange sense of feeling empowered - but i struggle to understand - where this hunger for devious power stems from?

    By Blogger Reshma Anand, at 6:51 AM  

  • @seema: i know. its so silly and trivialises a day that could have been so significant.
    and seema, do the tag...u never know, it might put things in perspective for u :P

    @anand: oh the judicial system will not do anything. like i said, never go to the cops, they are the worst of the lot.

    @reshma anand: i was wondering the same thing myself, but try as i may, i cannot understand this behaviour.
    welcome to my blog btw.

    By Blogger Ron, at 9:37 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger Arun, at 6:24 AM  

  • I can offer no solutions to the problem that I think would stand the test of time. However, it saddens me that one half of the population of this country is so distrustful of the other half. Societies are based on trust, and if this sort of thing goes on, we'll manage to tear ours apart. In fact thats already happening isn't it. What else do you think female infanticide is?

    By Blogger Arun, at 6:25 AM  

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