Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Did you get groped today?

Everyday stories of sexual violation

A woman was walking. Her age doesn't matter. She was walking on the road next to her home. It was evening and she had been out for an errand. The lane was quiet and there were not many people about. But the woman did not feel alarmed--after all, this was 'her' neighbourhood, the place she had lived in for nearly a decade. And besides, she was not venturing out too far, she was going to a row of shops five to ten minute's walk from her own home.

Suddenly, in the darkness, she spotted something strange at the apartment building on the lane in front of her. This building had a little gated shed where there was a transformer. And in front of this transformer, a young man was standing, eyes locked on her. He was fully clothed but with pants unzipped, hips jerking up and down. He was standing there masturbating. His face was in shadow but there was enough light from the nearby streetlight for the woman to see exactly what he was doing. 

So what did she do? Well, she had her little child with her, a child not yet four years old then. So her first thought was, did my child see? How dare this man do this to me, to my child? Shaking with anger, she shouted--something unintelligible, but something conveying the boiling rage within her. Sensing her agitation, the child became upset too, asking, “What is it Amma, what is it? Why are you shouting?”

The woman was in a dilemna--should she leave the scared child alone and run for help? Should she drag him along and chase the man? Taking advantage of her indecision, the man scaled the gate in front of him and started running away.

That woman was me. That child was my son. No, he didn't see what that man did because my little boy had been happily singing songs as we walked. He and I had been talking about cartoons, cars that talk and dogs that bark “hello”. It had been a totally magical evening, until this happened. What drove that man to do such a thing? I honestly don't know. 

Everyday experiences
Call that man a pervert, a flasher, a desperate excuse of a human being. Truth is, I am not the only one to go through such an experience. This sexual violation (as a woman, wouldn't you feel dirtied and violated when something like this happens?) is an everyday affair. It is part and parcel of being female and it happens in every part of our cosmopolitan city. No, actually, it happens everywhere. To females--young, adolescent, working women, older women. Age doesn't matter, like I said. Women get groped, pinched, flashed at, a man can 'accidentally' brush against our breasts, 'accidentally' fall on us (in a crowded bus on the subway), follow us, makes disgusting sucking noises as we pass by. And then, there is the more straightforward 'grab-as-you-go' tactic. My friend M had her bottom grabbed by a hoodie-wearing guy on a two-wheeler, as she walked around Richard's Park. He literally zoomed up to her, grabbed her and zoomed off. Yes, she could have chased him, but she was shell shocked and all she managed was an angry, helpless shout. Other walkers walked on, as if they didn't notice anything.

So yes, this sexual violation can happen anywhere, on roads, public transport, in offices, bus-stops, parks, at malls, movie theatres, during long-distance journeys, daily commutes, at occasions (festivals, weddings), where ever there are crowds, or where ever there are empty streets.

Do we ask for it?
The truly heinous, stomach-churning events and their aftermath make it to the newspapers. But these other experiences don't get reported though these are no less soul-crushing, spirit-destroying, self-confidence decimating. Rather, these incidents get buried deep in our consciousness, but leave a scar that affects us through our lives. Because you see, as women we cannot help but wonder, did we do something to provoke such an incident? Because if we do talk about these things, go to report a crime, society in it's infinite wisdom asks (through the mouth of neighbours, relatives, friends, cops who act as judge and jury): “What were you wearing? What were doing in that place, at that time, alone? What did you do? Were you with your boyfriend?”

As if it is somehow, our fault.

Many women have blogged/written about these experiences. Just as I am sharing my own. Because reading such stories is one way of making women everywhere realise no, it is not our fault when someone gropes us, sexually violates us. The perpetrator is the one being degraded here. Not you or me.

Why do these things happen? Is it because we have a sexually repressed, frustrated male population? Is it because porn is so freely available, is it because our movies are full of women in skimpy outfits dancing to suggestive lyrics, pouting sexually-loaded lines, portrayed as falling in love with heroes who stalk them, harass them? Honestly, I don't know.

The incident I shared here took place a while ago. My little fellow is older and has hopefully forgotten all about it. At that time, he did not know what happened, but instinctively knew something 'bad' occurred to make his Amma very, very upset. So, for some nights, just before he slept, he would ask me: “Will the bad man come again, Amma?” And I would tell him, “No, sweetheart, the bad man won't come back to hurt us”. And comforted, he would sleep.

But as a woman I know, the 'bad man' will do this, again and again. And there's nothing much I can do about it. 

(This is my latest post on Connected Liveshttp://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/blogs/connected-lives/blog_posts/did-you-get-groped-today)