As a 12-year-old I gasped loudly when a man on a bicycle smacked my shoulder, whistled joyously and rode away feeling some sadistic sense of accomplishment. I just stood shocked, petrified, humiliated. A common reaction to any young girl’s first tryst with ‘eve-teasing’.
At 16 I chose ignorance when a group of boys in a car followed me from a nearby shop to my house. Mouthing smooches, winking, inviting me to get into the car. They left pleased with themselves once I took momentary refuge at a neighbour’s house because it was closer than mine. I felt upset and disturbed. Today, when I think about it, maybe I feel morbidly grateful they didn’t pull me into the car and drive off.
Post 18, mine and my friends’ frustrations grew worse. Our common grievance - why can’t we stay out beyond 8 pm in well-lit, crowded marketplaces? Aren’t we being raised a bit too overprotected? So I thought at the time.
Frustration and helplessness are powerful emotions. I’d say they are the reason I found my voice. In my twenties, when a man made inappropriate remarks under his breath standing next to me, I verbally attacked him like a hyena (of course, this mainly because I wasn’t standing in a lone area. Bravado shouldn’t negate good sense.)
It is frustration and helplessness through my years of adolescence, like those of many other women, which rose to the rim and overflowed in December 2012 in the aftermath of the gruesome Delhi gangrape. Rage, powerlessness, misery, depression - my friends and I experienced the same emotions. Should we cry? Cuss? Scream? Shout?
The sheer audacity and brutality of this heinous act left us feeling numb and enraged at the same time.
I went to the protest with a friend and her mother. Hell, I didn’t even feel safe going alone to a protest for women’s safety! This is our state of affairs. We walked from India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan, shouted slogans and were tear-gassed out of there soon enough.
No, we didn’t come back feeling satisfied, pleased or content. We didn’t think ourselves to be great or noble for going. We came back feeling how we felt when we went there. The same. Numb and enraged.
Some of the reactions I got for going to the protest were: “Kya mil gaya jaake? All this naarebaazi is crap yaar. This was anarchy in the name of a protest. Oh wow! Like it would’ve made a difference had you not gone?”
If that’s the case, why did you dance your hearts out on the streets when India won the cricket World Cup? Kya mil gaya jaake? United in joy, divided in grief? What difference would it have made had you not gone to scream in joy standing atop your cars. Oh, and anarchy then, anyone?
Another gem I came across was a forwarded message professing that Mumbai loves its women more because ‘it’s a city that never sleeps’ and so is always watching. So ner-ner Delhi! Much as I’m envious of Mumbai’s dreamlike safety for women, does the city then snooze during terror attacks? Every city in the world has its pros and cons. So, really? Was this a time to indulge into this state-divide propaganda? To which a morbid ignorant reaction I came across was “Yes, well that’s true. You may not get raped in Mumbai but you might die in a blast.”
I was sitting with four women from Mumbai when I received the text on Mumbai gloating about its safety for women over Delhi’s and let me assure you they were way more irritated than I was. We don’t want to feel safe ONLY in Mumbai, or not die of blasts ONLY in Delhi. We’d like a healthy order of both, please!
Meanwhile, the reaction that really got to me was: “We’re not Taliban. We’re a democracy. The punishment can’t change to chemical castration and capital punishment will ensure a lower conviction rate. And with the protest which was more of a mess, what exactly did you even hope to achieve by going when you don’t even know what you’re asking for?”
I may not have all the answers and solutions but I know what I achieved. I was a part of India’s biggest protest – to end sexual terrorism. And for those who came out at the time voicing a common anger, we knew we were asking for our rights, for a change. And, undeniably, an impact was made. Its ripples can be seen and felt.
I know what I want. Hell, I can even go out on a limb here and say I’m pretty sure I know what most women and MEN want at this time. I want justice for her. I want them to be punished severely. I want others to fear the law and not think they can get away with it. I don’t just want to feel safe in the confinement of my home. I don’t want to go to work in the morning hoping I return home un-raped.
Happy International Women’s Day. Here’s to our struggle, strife and survival.
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