Picture this: Railway station, one in the afternoon. A suburb of Mumbai. Girl rushing to a birthday party, realises she doesn’t have the balance on her “Smart Card” to get a ticket. Gets a ticket, then, seeing as she’s going to be late anyway, stands in line to recharge the damn plastic rectangle. There are only two people in line, she reasons. She’ll just catch whatever train.
A man stands behind her, a couple just behind him.
Here’s where things get weird.
The man behind her stands really, really, really close. Keeps bumping into the girl. Girl says ‘Excuse me, please don’t touch,’ in three different languages (who knows who speaks what language in polyglot Mumbai), moves twice or thrice herself. Finally, she pushes him with her elbow.
Then the couple notice something is very wrong. For one, the guy’s fly is open. For another, he’s intent on grinding up against the girl. For a third, the girl is clearly trying to avoid him.
The guy in the couple (let’s call him A) grabs hold of the man (let’s call him Umbridge) and the girl of the couple (B) grabs me and drags me to the RPF on the nearest platform. The RPF officer comes with us and we reach the spot just as the crowd starts laying on the attacker.
We take Umbridge to the railway station chowki to find that we can’t register a complaint here. We go to the main police station in town.
(By then, the birthday party was pretty much just a distant daydream.)
A and B come with me in one auto, Umbridge and one male and one female cop in another. We reach the station (no, the police didn’t pay for the auto). The guy starts whining and cringing, forgive me, I didn’t do anything, first time I did this… no juice.
We take him inside, to the front office, there’s a lady cop waiting for us. She takes down my name and details, and asks me if I want to file a complaint. A and B are willing to sign along, but then she cautions us in Marathi – don’t file if you don’t intend to chase it. The guy will simply get off on bail otherwise, and you won’t be able to do anything about it.
Practical advice. We reconsider. But I’m angry and upset. I want to see him punished. I say so to her. Her face literally brightens. She says, come with me.
She takes Umbridge and we follow, to an upstairs room which looks like a large common room. Some odds and ends of furniture (a wooden bench, a few plastic chairs, a shelf, two Godrej cupboards and some hooks on the wall) are there, as well as a doorway into another room, where we can see some cops drinking chai. The room has a small window. No curtains, but it has some very aesthetically pleasing bars.
She calls in a male officer, asks him – where’s the belt? He looks confused. A and B are standing behind me, looking worried. The male officer then says, never mind. Let’s start.
Apparently, the whole station knows about my case. Bizarre.
The officer starts slapping Umbridge, hard. On both sides of his face, on his back. He then moves on to kicking him and saying, ladki ko aisa karta hai? The guy has the guts to say, ghar pe maa hai, maaf kar do. This enrages the male cop more. He kicks the guy in the groin a few times – when Umbridge finally bursts into tears.
We go back to the front office, where they now take down his details. Finally, the unfindable belt is found, and we go back up – now they make him kneel, hands in the air, and start hitting him on his palms. After every few strikes, the policewoman asks him to slap his hands on the concrete floor.
A and B, who’ve been anxiously following this entire process, now look utterly shell-shocked. Umbridge’s face is bright red and sweaty, while both the police officers are looking hard and self-satisfied. And I? I feel nothing. I’m just watching them hit this man.
After a bit, they start hitting the soles of his feet. Again, after every few strikes, they make him jump up and down, as hard as he can. Umbridge by now keeps trying to retreat into any corner he can find. The room seems danker, and for some reason, I feel brutal and guilty – is it indeed because of me that this man is being beaten?
This goes on for some more time. By the end of it, the man is sweating profusely, and crying – weeping is a better word – his face is red, his nose is running and his hands are shaky. He can’t stand up, but they make him do it anyway and we troop back into the front office.
Finally, I file an FIR – though the offense is entered as “Public Nuisance”. Molestation isn’t entered on to the record. A and B also agree, no point in pushing it. It’s also obvious that the cops aren’t keeping on the paperwork, all that a formal complaint entails.
The sad puddle of snot and tears is still sitting on the floor in the room. We leave.
No one ever tells a girl what to feel after something like this happens to her. No one helps very much. One friend says oh sh*t then changes the topic. Another has selective memory apparently and doesn’t remember an hour later.
But I can’t bloody forget!
I’m depressed, upset, tired. My mother and my best friend dragged me out, took me for dinner. I went for a movie the next day. The same image pops into my mind. A balding, middle aged man, wearing a tee shirt and jeans, standing in line behind me at the station.
I keep feeling I could have avoided it. Why did I need to put money on my card anyway? I already had a ticket.
Is this survivor’s guilt? I don’t think so. I think this is a result of how I’ve been conditioned to think of myself since I was a kid – with confidence, but also in a shrinking manner. Oh, me? No, not a big deal, really. Don’t trouble yourself.
And I also keep wondering, was it me? My clothes? My demeanour? But what me? I was wearing a full sleeved tee shirt, dark pants and floaters which I’d bought with my mum at Bata. Comfortable. I simply wore them because I had a train ride ahead and wanted to nap. And what demeanour? I was standing in a line, damn it. Is there any provocative way to stand in line? I’d love to know.
Too often, people play games to blame the victim when something like this happens. It was her fault. Her clothes, the way she looks, the way she stood. The way she behaved or the fact that she drank. Or the time she was out. Tell me, does this apply to me? And what should I do, then?
And regardless of whether it was my fault or not, I still feel guilty. I feel like I’ve vindicated all the old women who told me, in whose faces I’ve always laughed, that young girls shouldn’t travel by local alone. I’d asked, and why shouldn’t I? Now I know, don’t I? They’re crowing in my head now. Smirking, saying, I told you so.
Violence against women in India is only increasing. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to it, which gives us some startling statistics: the number of reported rapes has gone from 21,467 in 2008 to 24,923 in 2012. Modesty related offences (Assault with Intent to Insult Modesty and Insult to Modesty) have gone from 52627 in 2008 to 54524 in 2012, and so on.
And these are only the reported offences. As is well known, a large proportion of incidents against women in India go unreported.
You know what I thought, after looking up these statistics?
I’m glad I was only molested.
What I feel whenever another sensational rape case is reported in the news?
Thank heavens it wasn’t someone I know, or heaven forbid, me.
May God smite me for saying that! I’m sure it’s ridiculous to express an interest in God right now, but who knows? A lot of these people, the attackers and the attacked, need Him or Her right now. I am literally counting my losses. As if sexual offences tally up in the balance sheet at the end of the day.
India is facing an epidemic of attacks on women, young and old. Women, the beautiful, are being attacked by men. Beauty, at what price?