Monday, October 15, 2012

a story that needs to be told

i wrote this many months ago when the guwahati molesting happened... i have not had the courage to post it till now... but here it is

I'm reading an outpouring of blog posts which are reactions to the molestation of the 17 year old girl in Guwahati. My blood boiled when i saw the pictures and tho i clicked on the video, I did not have the courage to watch it. I cannot even imagine what it must have been like to be in the middle of that fucking depraved mob, to be groped and molested and to listen to yourself being spoken about in the utmost vulgar manner. The girl, no more than a child, will have to live with the scars of that evening forever. It will change the course of her life, and no matter how much anyone reassures her that she will forget, she will not. 

Sexual assault is nothing like anything you have ever experienced. I know for a fact that every woman, no matter where she comes from, has had to deal with some form of it through her lifetime. some more vulnerable than the others.

my own life has been a maze of protecting myself from the hands (at worst) and stares (at best) of men who prey on you, regardless of the situation and the place. it has changed so much in me, that i feel compelled to tell the story here. 

my mother and i were at a sweet shop one day when i was about 11. While she was talking to the shopkeeper, i noticed from the corner of my eye, a man on my left was shifting funnily and rocking himself. i turned to look and realised, he had his penis out, was looking at me and rubbing it against the display shelf of the shop masturbating. I called out to my mother and pointed at him. she yelled at him and took her slipper off, threatening to slipper him. I was traumatised for weeks and couldnt even step out of the house on my own except to go to school. 

I grew up realising quite quickly that the uncle who came home to teach me math on weekends, chose to come when my parents were taking a nap so that he could touch my breasts and rub himself against me. I dreaded those tution classes and within a few weeks, I realised that when i struggled to free myself from his clutches, it got worse, I told him I would tell my parents if he doesnt back off. my parents trusted him immensely and so he had free access to our house. he stopped teaching me, and since he was family, whenever I met him socially, my hair would stand up on end even if i was within 10 feet of him. 

I was 14 and travelling with my parents from bapatla, a town in coastal andhra to hyderabad. the train left bapatla around 11 p.m and we had RAC tickets which meant that our sleeping berths were in different places in the compartment. My father was extremely ill and I was a young independent girl. So i told my mother to sleep closer to my dad's berth and took the one that was the farthest. since it was past 11 p.m most people on the train were already asleep. there was one guy who was leering at me since we got onto the train. He knew i was not near my parents, I was on a middle berth a few seats away from him. he made a big pretense of having to go to the toilet a few times that night, each time to stand near my berth and touch me. At first he scratched the sole of my foot, I opened my eyes, but was so scared to say anything. Yet the feeling of being violated made me kick his hands off. This happened once more and the bastard got bolder. He reached for my chest which was under the sheet. i hit his hand off and sat up. he leered at me. I can still make out his face. I could not get over how angry I was. I was doing nothing, yet a random stranger thought it was ok for him to touch and grope me because he thought i was alone and helpless. He was well over 40, may have had children my age, but that didn't stop him. my heart was pounding and i was too agitated to sleep. I wanted to do something to the bastard but i was too scared. I sat up and walked slowly over to where he was sleeping,  I grabbed both his shoes from under his berth and chucked them out of the window of the moving train. the next morning when we were to get off at Hyderabad, i saw him frantically searching for his footwear, but he couldn't find it. It didn't make a difference to what had happened, but i was pleased that he lost something of value.  I lived out of home for studies and work for 5 years. and so train travel was unavoidable. to this day, i bristle when i have to travel by train. I can never sleep on a train and my senses are at their maximum awareness.

growing up in hyderabad, you learn quite quickly that eve teasing is a way of life and that you will be called out and spoken to in the most vulgar manner. when i moved to coimbatore to study, i dreaded what a town dominated by students, more than half of them being men would be like for a woman. To my utter shock, i was never groped at or touched or even spoken to by random men on the street. I was shocked that a woman can walk on the road or inside the campus without being picked on. I don't know how it is today, but 10 years ago, it was almost a culture shock to me. 

a girl can be molested anywhere. public and private places. a bus when you are trying to get off, a lab where you have gone for an x ray, a tailor's shop when you stand for the tailor to take your measurements, walking on the road, seated on a bus, even standing in line at a movie theatre. 

to this day, I watch closely when random people try to carry babies, small children at places like malls and restaurants. i do not allow anyone i know to hand over their kids to strangers however decent they appear to be. I do not talk to strangers on trains and buses and even auto wallahs will get directions in an aggressive stern voice, to deter them from trying anything funny. 

For most of my life, I thought I was in the wrong and was asking to be touched or commented upon because of the size of my chest. its only later that i realised that women regardless of their size or age are being preyed upon and it makes no difference what your body looks like. I've spent more than 15 years trying to shield myself from this. wearing oversized clothes, a bedsheet like dupatta covering my chest, men's shirts when i wore jeans, a jacket almost through the year if i didnt have a dupatta on....the list of defenses was endless. and i like most girls would find innovative ways to not garner any male attention to my body. holding a file or books against my chest or using my bag to shield myself as i walk through crowded places. if i dont have anything in my hands that i can use to cover my body, I permanently walk with my elbows out, ready to jab anyone who comes close. the sheer stress of having to shield and protect your body is something that only another woman can understand. there are times when my heart beats so quickly when i walk through a crowded place, that once i reach the safety of a car or a house or office or a store, i have to stop to catch my breath. 

and the way men think it is ok to not touch, but pass vulgar comments. It burns my ears, most times i shout back asking "repeat what you said you dog" in such a loud aggressive voice that they shrink off. The thing with these bastards is that they do all of this, knowing that in most cases, the shame that a woman feels is enough to shut her mouth and bear with this shit. when you call their bluff, most of them are too scared to do anything else and will back off. 

most people who know me, tell me that the first encounter had them wonder why i was so aggressive. I cannot explain to each one,that i developed it as a defense to protect myself. better to look like someone who should not be messed with than find out the tough way. It has altered my personality simply because it is years and years of building a wall around yourself which will keep you safe. i look people straight in the eye and give them nasty looks to keep them off if i suspect any misdemeanor. you have to appear tough to ward off lechers. It has made me so protective of my body that i do not trust anyone who comes too close. 

i am always ultra alert especially in places with high body contact. i once walked into a high end store during the afternoon when there were no other customers. A group of sales boys stood about 10 feet away from the entrance and were having a few laughs amongst themselves. I enterred, i felt they'd passed a comment on me, I stared and asked "yes, did you want to say something to me?" they were stunned, one guy said "no maam, nothing." not convinced, i pressed on... "no i think i heard you say something, say it again" by the look on their faces, I knew they weren't saying anything to me, but years of having men pass comments on you makes you like that. I walked past them, keeping up the act of being very annoyed, but i knew i was feeling embarrassed. that's how it changes you... trust no one. 

I walk alone at all times of the day and night in the streets around my house with my dog. I know that only an ass will try to touch me when i have such a large dog with me, but leches are men who are assholes. I walk sometimes even before the sun has risen and it is relatively dark. at night, most streets do not have lights. i shudder to think what may happen. I also feel extremely angry that i have to think of all of this before i step out to let my dog pee - what i am wearing, how much skin is showing, is the tee too tight, is the kurta see through....the list is endless. I find random men, well dressed, returning from an office too, will look and stare more than needed only because a woman is walking with a dog on a street. i could be walking back with shopping bags in both hands, defenseless if someone decides to touch me. i have found it useful to befriend people i encounter daily. the chowkidars will watch out for you if you call them bhaiyya, i smile and talk to the auto walahs at the stand waiting for customers, the man who runs the tea shop, the boy who sells milk. simply to tell any strangers who may see me for the first time, that this is my territory and that i am not to be messed with. sometimes you wish it wasn't so stressful. but when i think of that poor girl in guwahati, i smile another smile at a chowkidaar who may come to my rescue. 

1 comment:

Swa said...

Hi Arundati,

I'm a keen follower of your blog. But haven't been commenting.

This is a very well written post! Thanks for sharing your experiences, it feels good to know that I am not the only one who is always always on my guard. I too have faced many things from a young age. I always thought I attract attention(wrong kind) because I am bit more heavily built! But these losers just need anything remotely looking female to carry out their disgusting acts! Just today the incident from Bangalore, from where I come, has shocked me beyond words! :( Is there anything called safety for women, I wonder!