I was 17. Happy. My friends and I were out celebrating Holi when, out of nowhere, my breasts were groped. I was horrified and looked straight in the eye of my molester, someone I knew from my colony and whom I called "bhaiya". He looked back at me unflinchingly and even dared to flash a sly smile. I was shaken, mentally and physically, but I didn’t tell anyone except a friend who is now my husband. He confronted this man and warned him. But this incident angered me for years, even more so when I had to cross paths with the man almost daily, as we lived in the same housing society.
I was 18. Excited. Nervous. It was my first day of college. A new life was calling out to me. I took the DTC bus. Ignoring the leering men, I managed to stand beside the already occupied ‘reserved for ladies’ seat. Then, I felt someone thrust his pelvis behind me. I elbowed him and managed to create some distance. But he did it again. I looked back sternly. It was an elderly man. He repeated the act a third time. I yelled. He turned and managed to disappear into the sweltering crowd.
Unfortunately, every girl and woman has faced a similar situation at least once in her life. These incidents, along with the numerous cautions and curfews imposed on us by our loved ones out of fear for our lives, have made us accept this way of life. We navigate through our own cities in constant fear. But can should we live like that? Should we give in to these fears and walk in our own city suspecting every passerby, looking over our shoulders every minute, struggling to move past the leering men, dodging the groping hands? This fear, this insecurity and lack of confidence to move about freely in our own city – isn’t that a basic denial of our rights?
In today’s age where a Nirbhaya or a Shakti Mills gang-rape incident is a bitter truth, it is understandable to be more cautious, more aware, more guarded. But I refuse to live this kind of ‘protected’ life. I don’t need my men to treat me as a mere daughter, sister, wife, or friend, where they feel it is their duty to protect me.
I need my men to treat me equally, with respect and dignity like any human being, and not as an object! I don’t need the government and the institutions to limit the time I can stay outdoors; I need them to be more sensitive to women’s wants and provide for an infrastructure that allows us to walk freely.
As a woman in the twentieth century, am I being too whimsical to hope for a society free from gender discrimination? From innate stereotypes, even those as seemingly harmless as ‘girls like pink’? From the deeply ingrained patriarchal mindset? Am I asking the state for too much when I demand a safe public transport system connecting even the remotest of places and running till late in the night, a police force that actually cares and reacts for, rather than against, a woman’s complaints, a street well light at all the times without any faults, public toilets which are clean and well-managed without closing as early as 10pm, assuming that a woman’s bladder can hold in after that time?
Am I asking for too much?
This article was first published in DNA India on 13th January 2014.