Eight pm. We have finished our dinner. My father goes to the other room to catch the news on television and my brother moves upstairs to abuse our shared laptop until it runs out of battery. It is just me and my mother in our kitchen. And Waadi ki Aawaz comes on Radio Kashmir. It is time for sappy conversations. My mother tunes down the radio a bit and starts telling me about the neighbours in our mohalla–how every piece of raw material salvaged from their dismantled house has been left in the kochcha, how people don’t care about anybody else and the world is all about selfishness–paanyoew paanyoew. I nod my head and wonder if I should tell her how I got almost molested this morning just a few metres from our home. I weigh it in my head. I wonder how she will react, what she will make of it and worse what will she think about me.
The morning air had a firm sweet chill that reddens your nose and puts a nice pink glow in your cheeks. I was walking in a narrow alley. I passed the houses of my close neighbours; then a few not-so-close neighbours. I passed the house of my local doctor. He treats my occasional fever and cold and other not-so-serious illnesses. And then I crossed my molester. In a narrow alley-just a few metres away from my home. I didn’t think much of it. I have people coming in from the opposite direction all the time. I don’t usually look up to memorise their faces. I didn’t see his face then, the face that now pops up in front of my eyes and I want to break. He must have turned back and followed me a few seconds after we crossed each other. I heard hurrying footsteps behind me. It was nothing unusual. Pedestrians overtake each other all the time. I stepped aside assuming I was letting somebody go ahead but my heart stopped. I felt a hand on my butt.
Rage exploded in my body and I turned around to face my molester. He had already broken into a run and stopped right at the end of the kochcha looking at me. I stared back for a moment and then I ran. I ran with all my might and I ran after him. I screamed my lungs off just that somebody would hear me and catch him. Just, maybe, stop him for a moment. Just desperately hoping for some sort of intervention, but nothing happened. He had by then gained quite a head start. Chasing him, I had reached my mohalla and I was getting late for office and he was getting too far. I gave up and turned back. But I wasn’t angry.
I just couldn’t find any anger inside of me. Sure my rage had popped up then, but it had subsided just as soon. Over the years, I have come to terms with being groped, pushed, winked at and other assorted forms of harassment. It is a very, very, very long list. There must be so much more to that list that will never happen to me but someone must have experienced it somewhere. I’ve accepted this as a part of my existence. And that acceptance has killed my anger. I don’t get angry about it anymore. If I did, I won’t be able to live a normal life anymore.
I know a lot of people at this point often speculate about how the victim is dressed, what she was doing, etcetera etcetera; but this is such a useless debate. I was a part of this “dressing” debate, too, but then, I was naive. I lived in a protected environment of shuttling from school to home in my school bus with thirty other students. And then I finished school and had to get on with the rest of my life. And I’ve since become a victim. The first time something like this happened to me was when I was 17.
I had this early morning mathematics tuition. There are joggers and walkers all over the place; but I was molested in full public glare and nobody did a thing. I ran after the guy. I screamed but people just looked on. The attacker even had the audacity to tell people while running, ye paagal ho gayi hain. And when that guy escaped into the alleys of Khayam, I just sat there in the middle of the road and wept. Thinking back now, I thank God I didn’t freeze. I shudder when I think of “what if”.
That was day when I realised what rot has taken hold of our society. This rot pulsates with energy every time somebody says a woman was molested, harassed or raped because of her dress. I wasn’t even dressed good. People who know me will tell you my style is dull – “auntie-type” is often used. Nobody looks twice at me. Yet, I get molested. I have had enough of people debating and discussing what causes this and how it can be stopped. I tune out when I hear such discussions.
I, being a victim and a survivor, will let you know it won’t stop. We all know how wrong murder is but has that stopped it? Has thieving stopped? Has cruelty just ever stopped because somebody protested against it? Have you and I been ever able to stop ourselves from doing the smallest wrongdoings? Or worse, haven’t we just walked past many just so? Dress will never be a factor in a crime committed against me or any other woman, just like your large bank balance won’t be justification to steal from you. The depravity of our being is the only reason of all wrongs.
Back then, I cancelled my tuitions and school for the rest of the day. I didn’t tell my parents. I got a sound scolding from them for being irresponsible and going awol. I just told one girl. We went to the same tuition together. That day, she hadn’t come. This time I didn’t cancel office. And this time, I told everyone who would listen. I hesitated when it came to my family but I did tell them. And I am glad they don’t blame me.
After this incident, my mother deputed my brother to accompany me to office and fetch me back every day. About two weeks after this happened, we ran into the molester on the exact same way, around the same time. I pointed him out to my brother and he took off. My brother ran after him and I ran after them. He got away, again. Life is not a movie. Bad guys usually get away. And you have to live with that.
I don’t need a hero to save me from the bad guy. But I need support. When I chase that molester and scream that he tried to grope me, I want somebody to trip him so that I can catch him. I wish somebody could take a picture that I can provide to the police. I wish somebody would for once say I believe you and I am with you. That is all we really need.
If all the women did like I did back when I was 17 and just sat down in the middle of the road, our city will come to a halt. It will also be very graphic and at the end of the day, at least the other half of the society would know how life is for their women. And maybe, just maybe, somebody would help a woman next time she is asking for it. Although, I am not really counting on it.
—The author wishes to remain anonymous