Unfortunately, This Is Not Fiction

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
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Updated with links. Look at the bottom of this post.

I almost didn't write this post.

Procrastination is one reason. A genuine lack of time is another.

But the most relevant reason, really, is that I didn't really know.

When I was around fifteen, a cousin of mine from the US who was visiting India took a train ride with her father from Churchgate to Andheri. My uncle had not lived in Bombay for a decade and a half and simply remembered the Virar Local as being "a little crowded" at peak hours. Now you don't leave a thirteen year old girl alone in a strange city, so of course she rode with her father in the general compartment. Needless to say she was sobbing uncontrollably when they got home. When I landed there, all the women in the family were crowded around her trying to offer comfort. The men of course were berating my uncle for using the "Viral Local of all trains".

Now despite my claim that I'm from Bombay, I've only lived in that city for a little more than four years. And I've been inside a Virar Local just twice. So on that day the only reason I felt bad for my sister was because she had to ride squished up inside a train compartment full of men, for a journey that must have lasted almost three quarters of an hour. It wasn't a big deal. Girls cry over anything.

You see, I didn't really know.

A couple of years later, again in Bombay, I was walking down a lane, my college bag slung on my shoulder, probably whistling a tune on my way to the bus stop. There were a couple of girls walking a few yards ahead of me, who must have been around fourteen or fifteen. I noticed them when a tall boy of around my age walking in the opposite direction, bumped into them quite hard. He'd apparently been pushed by a couple of his friends with the sole intention of crashing into the girls. As you would expect, the boy simply walked back to his friends laughing away to glory, while the girls quivering with shock held on to each other and walked on without a word.

For a second I felt like I should teach those boys a lesson. But I've never been very brave. One of me. Three of them. I walked out that lane ashamed of myself. Ashamed for not trying to right that wrong. What's the point of good intentions if you don't have the guts to carry them out? As I walked past the girls, I even considered apologizing on behalf of men in general. I don't know if it would have made a difference, but the fact is that I felt too guilty to do even that. My inaction had made me an accomplice. I wasn't any better than those boys.

It's not easy to forget such moments of weakness. But I walked out of that lane still not really knowing.

Yes, I'd heard about eve-teasing. I'd heard about guys on the street singing songs like "Choli ke peechhe kya hai" to harass women. I knew it was the right thing to do to escort a female friend home at night. I knew it wasn't a safe world for women. But I didn't really know what women have go through in the streets of this world. I had heard about "bottom-slapping" but had never really seen the point of it. Surely it didn't happen very often?

I read about incidents like what happened to Hemangini Gupta on a train to Chennai, and lauded the efforts of victims who tried to ensure that the molesters got punished for their acts. I know a girl who beat a guy with her sandal at a bus stop. Another kneed a man in the groin once. But really, I didn't think of these as anything more than "one-of" incidents.

So when I heard about the Blank Noise project, I nodded my head about how sexual harassment was a real problem in India and thought I should try to write something about it for their blogathon.

I'd probably have forgotten all about it, though, if not for this post. Annie has written a powerful account of what a woman has to go through in our cities. It hits home the fact that these things are not "one-of" incidents. That women suffer this harassment throughout their lives. That there is a real problem out there. It's a post that we men need to read more than the women. Because we need to know.

Two of my cousin sisters grew up in Bombay. Two more are still in their teens. It makes me shudder to think what they must have gone through or what experiences life still intends to show them.

And I feel ashamed once again. Just as ashamed as I was in that lane almost a decade ago. Ashamed that I represent a gender that knows no limits. A gender that perceives a woman as weak, and then proceeds to take advantage of that weakness. A gender that goes on to blame the women for attracting the attention in the first place, when their only fault is that they were born female.

This post is for those two girls in that lane. I just wanted to say that I'm sorry.

Update: As part of the blogathon, Neha Viswanathan has written a powerful post about harassment in India.
Megha writes about child abuse, and lists helpline numbers in the US and India.

Update 2: Megha Krishnan writes about sections of the penal code under which harassment is an offense.
Thalassa_Mikra proves that it doesn't matter to the men what a woman is wearing. Even a burqa isn't enough protection.
Charu points out that no place is sacred. Men seem to know that God is blind.
Incognito shows that it doesn't matter if you are in a crowd or not.
M. gives tips for retaliation. Use them with care.


Anonymous said...

wow. read your post and the other girl's... glad to know that people are standing up en masse and saying that this is NOT acceptable.

I'm just another gori living in the US and even today *I* got some of those comments from some guy with a horrid Texas accent. WTF? I just flipped him off and kept going on my way. I can't imagine feeling like this could happen every.single.day.

eve-teasing is NOT just something that 'men' do .. it is something that PERVERTS do. Get it at home or take care of it yourself, but leave the innocent women and ESPECIALLY girls the hell alone.

In the US, hardly anything is stigmatized anymore. Musicians and athletes glorify doing drugs and going to jail for murder... but one thing is still considered bad enough that you don't want to be that, and it's a pervert. a sex offender with a sign in your front yard. that 'dirty old man' down the street. I tihnk that's why it's not so prevalent here. If that attitude of shame was more widespread (and NOT put on the girls as if it's THEIR fault) then I think things would be safer for women worldwide.

Thanks for standing up and showing that this is not tolerated even among men.

AiB said...

Am really glad and proud you wrote this post. It is defintely a hard hitting one. A post which would and should make all men stand up and take heed to eve-teasing. A touching post. A post which should wake up the conscience of all men.

This post deserves a standing ovation ... *clap clap clap*.

Proud of you my friend.

Taz Snow said...

Thank You. If more men felt this way, more women might actually venture out of home and hearth without an over-riding sense of guilt for being "femal".

Risha said...

very thought provoking post, that too coming from a boy felt really good.

If men realize it nothing like it but I think girls and women should be made more aware of this in schools and colleges itself, so that they can take care of themselves. coz not necessary this happens outside home only,
mira nair too tried to convey this through monsoon wedding

Amanda said...

Just as it took white people in the US to stand up against slavery for anything to be done, it will take men speaking out for sexual violence against women to be wiped out. Brick by brick, the wall will come down. You just hit it with a wrecking ball. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately..this is not fiction either!

Secular thoughts ...
The three most powerful people in this nation are a Sikh, a Muslim and a Roman Catholic...

And then there are people who cry we as a nation are not secular enough. Funny people.

ubergeek said...

And I thought that B'bay was better than Kerala and chided my cousin when she wanted me to escort her back at 1AM. Well, guess that B'bay is just the same as other places. Why does India have so many perverts? Is it because we have a very sexually repressive society? A friend of mine went through something similar once on board a train and she slapped the guy. Guess what! She was made to think that she had over reacted by almost everybody - even a girl friend who had been with her tried to hush her.

Keith said...

Sheesh man, this is shameful. Never knew this stuff happens so often.

m. said...

i dont know about all women, but it reaffirms my faith in people to read something like that.

bless you :)

ps: and next time beat 'em up - it gets easier each successive time!

Words Worth said...

was quite surprised to read your post. didn't realise that people don't know this happens. after all it happens so often. and yes there have been times when i've kept quiet - and then been consumed by guilt, fury, and helplessness. and there are other times when i've hit back. but whatever my reaction, there's always fear. because the bottomline is that it's downright scary - every time. whether its just somebody brushing against you while walking by or something more brazen.

but its reassuring that there are people like you who not only wouldn't do things like this but also take a stand against it. Thank you. It means a lot.

asuph said...

hey rajesh,

this is asuph from the sulekha days...

this is a very thought provoking blog and very well written. yes it's a huge problem and it's taken very lightly. it's good to see awareness building up . i agree with previous comment which says that there is a need for social stigma against this kind of behavior.


Anonymous said...

Hey, I happened to stumble on your blog, & like the way you write..:)

See Bee said...

hi rajesh
thank for particpatin in the blogathn..it was nice to read about how guys react to the same issue.....
i know things have changed form our parents' days...guys r a lot more sensitive to women...
blank noise has kickstarted sumthing nice here...her'es hoping it spreads like wildfire

Camphor said...

Thank you.

I wish I knew a lot more men who know what is meant by 'eve-teasing'.

Rajesh J Advani said...

Andrea: You're right about the stigma. If there was any, it would be enough of a deterrent. On the other hand, however, there is a lot of stigma associated with being a victim, instead. As if the woman becomes impure because her modesty was offended. And women who complain are looked down upon. She'll spoil his life for such a small thing. See how shameless she is, talking about what he did.
It makes me sick.

AiB: I'm glad I wrote this post too.

Taz Snow: We can definitely try to get to that stage. And the least we can do is try to raise awareness. Because of the shame associated with it, how many men really know what women go through?

Risha: You're right. Education is very important. As another post mentioned, in the US children are taught at a very early age to say No.

Bez: Honestly, I think it's a very big wall. Which is why it is very important that a lot more people become aware of this. Thanks for your words.

Anonymous: That's offtopic. But I don't think the phrase "Secular enough" makes any sense. "Enough" seems to impose limits. Secularism is about the lack of limits with respect to equality.

Ubergeek: Yes, I'm beginning to believe that it may very well have to do with our living in a repressive society. It's taboo to talk about the details. And if you don't talk about it, you can't really stop it. I also find it shameful that the restraint is always forced on the victim. It should be the other way around.

Keith: Neither did I.

M.: I'll definitely try. Thanks.

Words Worth: Most women have to go through this on a daily basis, and most men don't even know the scale of the problem. Definitely surprising. Thanks for the words.

Asuph: Yes, stigma would help. The situation needs to be turned around.

Moony: Thanks.

Trauma Queen: As I said, I almost didn't write this. But on reading Annie's post, I knew I had to.

Camphor: As I've mentioned in my latest post, I think calling it "Eve teasing" is an understatement. But we men still don't really know, do we? Not until it happens to us. We don't know how sad/angry/ashamed/violated it feels to go through something like that. And how it feels to go through such an experience again. And again. And again.

twip said...

Loved it.
The fact that you felt something, is noteworthy in itself.
Most of the guys out there, if they dont actively take part in harassment, act as if it doesn't exist, and quite predictably feign surprise when you mention it to them.
So its good to know that guys like you exist:).