For the Blank Noise blog-a-thon.
I don't quite understand how simply writing about street harassment, will make a difference. I have more faith in a mean knee-to-groin technique and lacking that, a weapon - and when I say weapon, I don't necessarily mean a gun or a six-inch-dagger with a serrated edge (although those would be good too) - or anything that can be used as one. A bottle opener, a compass (the ones with pointy ends. NOT the navigation tool), a blade...something, anything.
But I didn't always know about these things, and like pretty much every girl/girl-going-on-woman/woman/old-hag who's lived in India, I learnt about them too late.
Three stories. All of them true, none of them unique in occurrence.
1. She is eleven years old and thrilled to her pink-sock-clad toes.
Her first visit to Lucknow. Lucknow, the city which has been painted every colour of exciting, by stories from her sisters. Her beautiful, grown up, everything-she-ever-wants-to-be sisters, who are in college there.
They've just gotten out of the movie hall (another first for her) and are on their way to stuff their faces with chaat and she can't stop smiling.
She listens to their conversation and occasionally butts in with her childish statements which are nevertheless, received with mock seriousness and consideration.
She is jolted out of her blissed-out state, by something, that snakes in under her arm, squeezes her barely-there-breast and snakes out just as fast.
By the time her brain registers what had happened, he has disappeared into the crowd.
"That...s-stupid* man!" she stammers out.
What? What did he do? Did he do something to you, D?! They ask...horrified.
"He...he hit me." Is all her shocked brain can think of saying.
They're fuming, and furiously scanning the crowds because they have sensed what she cannot say.
Did you see him, D? What was he wearing? The older one asks urgently, looking daggers at all the men.
No, didi...he...came up from behind me...all I saw was a white shirt.
They scan the crowd for men wearing white shirts...but there are so many of them, it's futile.
Are you hurt D? They ask, tenderness and concern and regret in their voices. Because they know...but they don't know what to do about it, they're not out of their teens themselves.
They place their arms protectively around her small shoulders, and walk back. Quiet.
That was the first time.
2. She is sixteen years old. A little wiser, a little wary, a little careful but not too much (not enough). After all, it is a school trip and ma'am and the rest of the class are there as well. She's been careful about what clothes to take along. Stick to salwar suits with a dupatta. It's a new place and you don't know what kind of people you'll come across. It's better to be careful.
She sets off with her two friends, to explore the campus, making sure that they're never far from the rest of the class.
A boy is walking towards them. No shifty gaze, no sly look - they assume he's a student there. He walks up to them, gesturing that he wants to know the time. In the single second that it takes her, to lower her head to look at her watch, he puts his hand on her breast. He meets her too-startled-to-react gaze, takes his hand away, and starts to walk away.
The three of them snap out of their disbelief, catch up with him and start hitting. But scrawny sixteen-year-olds who don't recover fast enough from shock can't hit very hard. He flashes them a smile and then turns to run.
By the time the rest of the class gather round, he's gone. She's standing there, shaking with anger, with tears in her eyes. To anxious enquiries, she can only reply, "He touched me."
That was the second time.
3. She is eighteen years old and this is her third trip in a Blue Line bus. She's mastered most of the techniques now. No eye-contact, no looking out of the window and dreaming, and whatever you do, don't react. A reaction is what they want.
She gets into the bus but can only get an aisle seat, which is a big enough deal really. The bus is really crowded, she can see that and they cannot help brushing against her as they pass, she can see that too.
She tries to shift...shrink, make herself small but it doesn't help much. They're still brushing past. And suddenly, it's no longer 'brushing past'...it's pressing against her shoulder. Persistent...with a nauseating...rhythm?!
This cannot be happening! She thinks, flustered and uncomfortable and not wanting to believe it.
She squirms, shifts, tries to move away, but it's not working. It continues.
She looks up at him in disbelief, but he's looking elsewhere.
"The bus is crowded", she thinks. "It's probably not intentional. He probably can't help it either."
And then she can feel a sickening wetness on her shirt. She is terror-stricken and close to tears. She pushes and shoves her way out of the bus, with a desperate desire to just get away. She gets into the first auto she sees and in the dark interior of the auto, comes to grips with what just happened.
She's home. And in the shower, where no-one will ask her questions she cannot answer, she weeps.
Three hours of scrubbing her skin raw, does not make it go away. Soap, water, tears, blood. Nothing will work.
And she cannot shake off the miserable feeling that it is her fault.
That was the third time. It was also the last.
The college** she goes to, requires that all students, carry with them at all times:
1. A five inch, stainless steel blade.
2. A three foot long, steel ruler.
3. An A3 size, wooden drawing board.
1. Lecherous glances are effectively diverted by the light glinting off a very sharp, very mean looking blade, which is casually taken out and tested for sharpness, especially during bus rides.
2. Heavy breathing, inches from her ear, is sharply indrawn at the sight of the very sword-like three feet of steel, slowly drawn out of it's case.
3. The leg-between-legs-because-the-bus-is-crowded routine, is brought to a gasping, struggling-for-air standstill, by the heavy-wooden-drawing-board-between-YOUR-legs-you-fucking-bastard routine. And THAT ought to ensure that the world need never bear the burden of YOUR offspring.
She gets off the bus smiling that day.
Three stories, one moral:
Always, always, carry with you something you can use to destroy any capacity-for-procreation that a molester might have. And aim for the groin
*She was eleven years old and didn't know the words 'mother-fucking bastard'. She does now. In three languages.
**Delhi College of Art, Alma Mater mine, I have so much to thank you for.