Right now, my mind is a mish-mash of thoughts and emotions, so pardon me if I am not being too coherent. It’s been over 3 months since I last blogged, and that’s rather unusual for me. It seems as though the writer in me has quietly disappeared. It’s not as if I have nothing to say any more. I do. I have just found a way to verbalize it without having to write. Maybe that’s what comes of being happily married. I don’t know.
At a time when the nations (and the Twitter timeline) is outraging over the Guwahati incident, I have something similar to say. It doesn’t matter what the girl was doing, at what time of the day and what she was wearing. She is at much as risk as at any other place.
I have always been rather secure in my assumption that I was relatively safe in Chennai. Since last year, this sense of security has been enhanced by the fact that I was now a married woman, with at least one outwardly visible sign of marriage: a toe-ring that I find too pretty to remove. This sense of security was rudely broken yesterday, and along with it, my privacy and my composure.
It was a normal and busy workday. I was on my way to work on my trusted Activa around 9. I noticed that a bike was busy trying to catch up with me, not overtake, but match pace for almost 2 kilometres before the signal. I ignored it, knowing as I do that bikers often seem to think that a woman on a scooter is interesting to destabilize. About 5 minutes away from my workplace, the man stopped me and asked me something. I couldn’t hear a thing in the din of the traffic. I lifted the visor to hear better, only to realize he was commenting on my clothes and used words I’d rather not repeat. I snapped at him that I would call the police if he lingered one more minute, and he quickly sped away, either because of the threat, or because he figured his mission had been accomplished.
Inside, I was furious. I wished I knew martial arts so that I could kick him where it would hurt most. I was in tears because I felt violated. I was absolutely livid because at that instant, I knew that my clothes had nothing to do with the whole incident, attired as I was in a collared salwar suit with a dupatta firmly secured around my waist. After much raving and ranting that involved cursing him with a terribly painful and slow death, my mind cleared enough to reflect on the real issue at hand.
Even in the widespread outrage over the Guwahati incident, the media often stresses that the incident happened in the night outside a pub. It also stresses the age of the victim. As if it makes any difference. Look at what happened to me! I was dressed traditionally. I was on my way to work like any other normal human being and in broad daylight. I was wearing one dupatta secured around my waist and another around my head like a hijab to guard from the unforgiving sun. I was wearing a helmet with the visor down. I wasn’t drunk or partying. I was wearing a toe-ring that revealed my marital status. Yet, I was harassed. Had I been sixty years old with greying hair, I would still have been.
Why didn’t you complain, you might ask. I am ashamed to admit that I don’t trust the authorities. If I had raised my voice, tried to hit him or gone to the police, I would have been the showstopper of the morning. I am ashamed to admit that I felt that not one member of the public would have supported me. I would have been completely alone, I am pretty sure of that. I wasn’t, and am still not, willing to risk that.
We need to get one thing straight. Sexual harassment (Yes, please call it that. It’s NOT teasing) will happen if you happen to be female. No matter your age, your clothing, your habits or even your character. The perpetrator behaves so brazenly because he knows he will get away with it. He knows that if you try to complain, you will be victimized and hounded and not him. He know that society will subject you to scrutiny and not him. He will get away scot-free when you, simply because you are female, will be accused of provoking him.
This will stop only when we refuse to let our judgement of the situation be clouded by our judgement of the victim. It will happen only when we realized that no woman deserves to be blamed for harassment because no woman likes that kind of attention. The only question is, when will that happen.