Sunday, November 25, 2012

Are you sure?

I was thinking the other day about the lectures I get from time to time about how I should dress, what I should add to my get-up to give myself a more acceptable (according to patriarchal standards) and/or serious (read, older woman) look, how I should conduct myself, why I should not laugh out loud and the list just goes on! The list is so long that if I actually maintain it for a year, I may not find anything 'right' about me at all!

And then there are always those doubts and disapproval about the "right". Was that the "right" place to be? the "right" time to be there? and the "right" reason? Too confusing? Allow me to explain. All my female readers might find it easier to understand. 

Please think of the last time you were harassed on the road. No! I am not talking about those every day incidents that we have all learnt so well to ignore, the same way we ignore barking street dogs! It is not about those. I am talking of the incidents which you can not ignore and worse, can not ever forget. They shake you from within however much you pretend to be brave. And then the questions from your near and dear ones follow. "Why were you out at that time of the evening?" "Why you had to go out? Were not we there?" "Why were you so late?" And the worse of all and this usually comes in a whisper "Are you sure that he was doing what you think he was doing?" or "Are you sure he was targeting you?" 

Am I sure? Are you sure? Have not we all been sure all along about this one thing? Have not we ignored it a hundred times even when we were damn sure that hand that just brushed my bum was not an unsure hand? That hand damn well knew what it was doing. And it never fails to make your blood boil. And the questions that follow only makes it worse. 

About 20 years ago I was returning all alone from school when two boys in a cycle targeted me. My friends left earlier. I had to stay back in school for a program. I walked through the officers' colony when those boys came in cycles. They were out to have fun. Loudly cheering, leering and shouting as they passed me one by one in their cycles. I held my breath and tightened my muscles. I was about to heave a sigh of relief when the last cycle came towards me and the pillion rider lunged towards me. I turned my back in reflex! His hand brushed my back. And they leered at the visibly shaken me and pedaled hard. Don't know what snapped in my head that I started running after them. I dumped my bag and water-bottle and ran after the cycles. They expected that the least! They were too stunned to see the victim turning into the chaser now. To cut the long story short, I caught hold of them and handed them over to Police. 

After that incident, whenever I went out, my mother never failed to remind me I should not do that ever again. It was too dangerous. She said, "Come and tell us. We will help. But don't do that yourself". I believed her. 5 years later when I was stopped by a motorcycle rider in a dark road who wanted to "befriend" me in the most obnoxious manner, I talked myself out of the situation and came home to tell her. She said, "Did not I tell you not to go out after dark? Why do you need to go for theater rehearsals? Why is it so important to you?" I cried with indignation. I shouted, "But, he is wrong! I am not wrong. You said you will help ME! Why are you scolding me instead of finding him and getting him punished?" I had to learn that nuisance makers always get their way. 

Then circa 2009, it happened again. I could not believe someone can attempt to molest me in a busy road in Delhi. I thought I was too old for all that by then. However, when it really happened, I knew I, myself would have to do what I needed to, for myself. I held the man tightly till Police arrived (within a few seconds, unlike the last time) and taken him over from my hands. I then sat in the Police Station for my statement to be recorded. I am thankful that the Police officers did not ask me to explain further when I uttered molestation. The word was enough!  I am thankful that there were some junior ranked Policemen! In the (in)famous Ruchika Girhrotra case, I have heard a few senior Policemen and Lawyers saying, "Why don't they specify what kind of molestation?" As if being molested was not enough. The girl then had to convince the "others" (men, mostly) that she was indeed molested by describing what was done to her. That it was not a loving hand blessing or befriending her but it was indeed a hand of a molester. Poor girl is not even alive to convince them! 

However, coming back to my story of 2009, after the ordeal was over, as we stepped out of the Police Station, I heard the same whisper late in the evening, again. "Are you sure?" 

4 comments:

  1. A sensitive piece of self introspection Nayana.We never try to write on this topic as we feel shy to tell our stories with the fear of being misunderstood or rather facing the questions that follow there after as you mentioned. "Why did I go out in the evening." If it is day time then the question changes it's pattern little bit- "Why did you go alone?"

    Really nobody acknowledges the crime committed by the molester. I think,Molestation is always done in a planned manner with a target in mind, it never happened by chance.
    When I grew up from my stage of anger and instatnt reaction to anything that is wrong according to me, I started feeling pitty in this community of molesters.I started feeling bad for this ageless, caste & creedless, classless people that they do not have anything substantial to do....for them, no barrier of age, relationship,class, place or anything matters but a momentary pleasure. I am not even sure if they actually get any pleasure or not but just feels huanted to commit the crime.

    This patriarchial society always supports the community of molesters by not condemning themselves but asking questions to the victim themselves - "Are you sure?"

    At least we should talk diectly with our close family members to create sensitivity among our near and dear ones.
    By Jui Gupta. (juigupta@gmail.com)
    November 25, 2012 7:54 AM

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  2. hmmm...

    Good....

    I never had the guts to give it back. Rather than anyone reprimanding me for not being sure of my decisions, moves and motives....I had myself decided to crouch,bend inwards, close all doors of communication and sought self sympathy.....trying to reason out logically that finally it is me to be blamed.

    I wish I was as brave and clear in my mind like you and many of my other friends. I do not want my daughter to be like me. I also want her to be safe. I want her to be aware and alert. But the main thing I want her to learn is to be absolutely guilt free. She should not be self stigmatised at the first place.

    But even more importantly, I want my son to grow up understanding women and learn to respect human beings.

    Bhalo likhechish.....bhalo thakish.

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  3. To both Jui and Sudeshna, I have not been brave at every occasion. I have my moments of shame too. Shame, not because someone harassed me or a fellow passenger but because I could not gather enough courage to stand up against it. I have also been badly let down by my male companions. They failed when the time came to stand up for your friend or relative. I have learnt either you decide you will take none of it and stand up for you rights or just forget it. No one else will take up your battle. And yes, I also make sure, I support women in public transports when they raise their voices against a harasser. In one such incident in a Delhi transport bus, we actually made a guy get down from the bus. The man was big, drunk and made obscene remarks but we did what we had to. I am often reminded its too risky but then unless we take that risk getting out of home everyday will remain a risk for every woman.

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  4. Your are brave to speak about this critical area. We need to continue solidarity on such issues so the debate can go on next level.

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