When I heard about the death of the Delhi rape victim, I felt lousier than I had in a long long time. Not only was I feeling helpless, I was appalled by the media calling her Nirbhaya, Braveheart etc when I reality she was an average Indian woman who was fighting the same fight that all Indian woman fight. Every single day. Calling her a martyr made her a one off and not someone who represented millions of women in this country. How many of us remember Sarika Shah? She was another woman who died cos of what is still referred to as “eve teasing.”
I find it ridiculous when people ask about the clothes rape or harassment victims were wearing or who they were with or what they were doing cos these are really moo points. Sometimes, you don’t even need to be a developed “woman” to be a victim of sexual harassment. It starts from a very young age. The society teaches you that you’re a woman who’s a ticking bomb that set off sexual thoughts in a man’s head and makes him do things that he otherwise wouldn’t. It is always the woman’s fault.
I grew up in a very safe upper middle class neighbourhood in Madras. Our family has been living on that very street for years now. When we were kids, we used to play on the road all the time or ride on our cycles around the block. Our parents had nothing really to fear. One summer evening, my cousins and I went to a neighbourhood shop to buy something and were coming back home. The three of us, girls, were followed by a decent looking guy on a scooter. He stopped the scooter in front of us to block our path and said that he would like to show us something. Without a warning, he unzipped his pants and flashed us. He started waving his penis in front of us and asked us if we wanted to touch it. We were so shocked that it took us a minute to realise what was happening. And thankfully, we had the sense to run immediately. This pervert flashed us right in the middle of a residential neighbourhood barely 500m from where we lived. Also, did I mention that the three of us were 6, 8 and 11 years old? Do you still want us to ask us what we were wearing?
I went to supposedly one of the best schools in the Madras. It was a co-ed school but only for the sake of being co-ed. Upto class V, girls and boys sat in the same classroom. After that, we had separate classrooms for boys and girls. And wait for it, we had separate floors and even separate staircases. We were told that this minimised the “distractions” that teenage children faced. But all it did was to alienate our classmates we should’ve been friends. Our school uniform was salwar kameez and one day the management decided that our dupatta was too narrow and our breasts were still distracting the boys from a floor away. So we were asked to wear the dupatta so broad that I was impossible for anyone to see anything. After the morning assembly, the girls with “indecent” dupattas were pulled out and were asked to redo it in a “decent” manner. We also had to wear a bra that didn’t look like a bra from outside lest the boys saw it and were distracted again. In spite of all these “decency” measures, we had men groping us on public buses. The most we could do was stamp his feet or prick him with a pin and pray to The Lord Almighty that he didn’t get off at the same stop as we did.
I moved to Hyderabad after college to work. Finding a house if you’re single woman is a nightmare. The ones who’re willing to let you see their house talk to you like you’re scum. The first thing they tell you is that boys are not allowed cos the “families” living around will have a problem with it. With some difficulty we found a place. After about 3 months of living there, the association wanted us to leave cos our neighbours had an issue with single women living next door. They didn’t want their 6 yr old daughter to grow up around wrong influences. Everyday when we left for work at 7.30, the 6 yr old’s father would come out to pick up the milk packets, stark naked. I’ve spent many nights wondering about the plight of that little girl. What was the real reason behind not wanting anyone within earshot?
So, you don’t need to be a 36C, cleavage showing, sexy woman, drunk and out with a man to be harassed. All you have to do is to be born a girl in this country. We all have many such stories. The Delhi rape issue has stirred something deep in all of us cos it is our story. It’s what we grew up with and it’s what we face everyday. We teach our girls to be ashamed of their bodies. We teach them that their unwanted hair needs to be plucked, sexy curves have to be hidden, any show of skin is slutty, talking to a man who’s not their father or brother, immoral. We have to first believe that our daughters are not commodities. Handing them over to their husbands with their virginity intact isn’t our only job. Teach them to be self reliant, let them travel the world, live by themselves, date, fall in love, make mistakes. Be there to lick their wounds without telling them its their fault.
If you have a son, tell him how hard it is to be an independent woman in this country. Tell him being a good man who treats his women well does not make him a wuss. Be his example.