Monday, March 06, 2006

I say, NO!

There was something very creepy, something very uncomfortable about these two teenaged boys who used to live on the ground floor of her building, a place somewhere aloof from the Mumbai suburbs. She was just six then, a mind too tender to even understand the rights and the wrongs of the world. Almost everyday, one of them alternatively used to come to her house and gradually befriended the girl’s grand parents. They used to convince her granny for taking her grand daughter out for an ice- pepsi which was popular amongst the kids then, and instead took her upstairs to a flat on an under constructed floor and…….
The girl now doesn’t even remember how they abused her, but she remembers her turmoil and disgust that she suffered even then and later that the process of ‘going out for ice- pepsi’ coming to a screeching halt.
Maybe her grandmother who spent most of her life in the innocent villages and who was more than just a grandmother and a guardian of the little girl when her parents were away at work suspected something fishy and took stern action…. Maybe someone else caught those boys during the act…. Maybe something else.
I just vaguely remember this entire thing happening to me, but I was jolted with surprise when another friend of mine narrated a similar experience that happened with her, at a similar age.
She was sexually harassed by her own uncle.

As I grew, I realized this was every girl’s story.

Guess the old saying ‘charity begins at home’ stands right in such cases.

The disgust still haunts, still hurts and is relived day-by-day, everyday. It happens on the streets, school buses, on your way to office, crowded elevators and staircases, hospitals, police stations, you name it and you have it right there, happening in broad day light.

So who all are these ‘men’ who indulge in shamelessly harassing a girl who is also a living being just like him, just to pacify their raging hormones? Well, there are no categories; just anybody and everybody can qualify with flying colours. It can be your own mamaaji or phoophaji, the aspiring Post Graduates from American Universities living in your own building, the roadside Romeos, the overworked, under paid and overstressed conductors of the buses, any spitting passerby with boneless arms connected to his shoulders that swing so hard that they make sure they touch some girl’s breast on the railway station, a seventy three year old uncleji, someone who is generally least suspected too who would just murmur a lewd comment when you are passing by and act as if he said nothing, the highly qualified, White collared executives who bombard colleagues and juniors alike and known for their aggressiveness and competition working for MNCs, anybody, JUST ANYBODY.

We as townies, or broadly as Indians have been bricked and battered with the ‘Chalta hai’ attitude, which now runs in our blood.
More so in the case of girls.
Folks and friends alike advise us that it is a time tested attitude that has avoided unwanted consequences that would pick up from your revolt. So the next time your galli ka dada comments ‘Gorgeous madam’ you tell yourself ‘chalta hai’. An uncle passing by tries to ridiculously sing ‘dhak dhak’ coming very close to your ears, you tell yourself ‘chalta hai.’ A rough hand wary of maneuvering the steering wheel of an overcrowded school bus slides into your skirt and caresses your behind when you are standing ahead of him as you, him and all other kids hurry to alight, you tell yourself ‘chalta hai’. You are late from office and you hurry to catch a rickshaw to go home and the minute you enter and settle in the seat, an unknown hand comes in, gropes your breast and disappears, you again tell yourself ‘chalta hai’.

But somewhere, deep inside, you very well know the repeated ‘chalta hai’ is a lie, an implicated statement on your otherwise infuriated, weepy, outraged mind. Who would want to get rough with these guys after all? What if they are not just mere guys who harass and abuse, what if they are something more than just that, someone dreadful?

The fear puts all the anguish, all the tears on hold, you feel OK to let such things go and life moves on.

Not forever.

So the next time while you are hustling out of a subway and a guy coming towards you falls over you, you push him so hard that he almost falls and then you turn and hit him on his back.
You are waiting on the railway station for your 9.27 Churchgate local and the creep standing on the opposite bridge constantly stares at you occasionally making some lewd gestures, you show him your middle finger just about when your train approaches and you are about to lose his sight.
The conductor in an overflowing bus makes the most of the situation by brushing almost every organ of his body against you and you stomp on his foot with all the might of your four inches’ heels clad feet.
The smartie who occupies a seat besides you in the bus tries to get too close, you ask him flatly and loudly- what is his problem. And if you both are on the ladies’ seat, you make sure he gets up and gives it to any other lady who is standing.
You hunch, draw both your arms in front so as to cover your chest and hide it from groping hands while you are going up and down crowded bridges.
You frown at everyone so hard so as to let them know they cant mess with you, that your forehead aches.
You have an ever ready fist to fling.
Your dreamy, unaware friend while walking with you, is felt up by some passerby taking advantage of her absence of alertness, you give her a BIG piece of mind.
You glare back at your boiling point at a person who is staring at you sitting in front of you in a public place and make sure he looks away.

And the saga goes on. Sometimes you give it back, many a times you dont.

Somehow, the Superwoman image has been so glorified over the recent years that all of us aspire to be one, at some point of time. At least to prove to ourselves, we tell ourselves, yes we can handle these pests too. But it would be our sheer stupidity if we take things for granted.

The best and only way out is to ignore, when you find yourself, unfortunately, with a shady person at some secluded place and he tries to act smart.
Read people’s faces, it teaches you over a period of time who can be harmful and who is not.
Walk very, very carefully in public places.
Don’t day- dream; avoid thinking of funny things that would unknowingly bring a smile on your face and send wrong signals.
Be curt, expressionless with guys who try to strike a conversation. Give them an impression you are the world’s biggest bore.
Its always good to have the phone number of your friend’s friend’s dad or brother who is a police or is a local political honcho.
Look away and not down, when a group of boys try to pass comments on you. Let them know you can’t give them the satisfaction of getting embarrassed by their comments.

Overall, there are innumerable dos and don’ts that any girl would have for her and would like to tell you too.

Also, sometimes the comments, the songs, the whistles, the murmurs and the touches might put you to shame, make you feel utterly helpless, enrage you like nothing else and reduce you to tears of anguish and self pity.

You might hate yourself for being a woman.

But then, deny.

Deny succumbing.

Feel proud that you are a woman and thank God you are not one of those jerks. Pity them as they don’t have the strength to put their dirty desires aside and refrain from committing such henious acts….
And nurture that anger, that pain, as that very anger and pain will help you to make a difference, maybe in your own little way.

Or, maybe, in a big way.