By Nishtha Vyas:
A curious paradox is that we Indians, who are born nosy, have high levels of apathy and hesitation towards molestation or eve-teasing of any sort. Sure, we are an opinionated lot, with a fair share of knowledge of what is “morally good or bad”. But when majority of the population decides to keep mum during the moment of truth, it takes us on a serious back foot.
“What would I do if I were them?” I counter question myself. “Anything but keep quiet”, I retort. Wouldn’t that be contradicting the whole idea behind voicing myself?
Like every other girl, I have faced minor, or not so minor, instances that vaguely qualify as eve teasing. Each one happened at a different stage of life and unfortunately, my reaction towards them depended heavily on the support of the on-lookers.
It started when I was a teenager.
I do not know if stalking is technically molestation, but in my head it is. It is grossly disturbing for a 13-year-old to be physically stalked. He was in his twenties. Both of us used to be on foot, usually. He knew my land line number, he knew my address, and he knew where I went for my Math tuition classes. Sometimes, he followed me on a bicycle, ringing the bell occasionally as he maintained a paltry 5 feet distance. I clenched my fists and walked briskly towards home.
One understands stalking when one sees it. The regular shopkeepers on that route saw it, so did neighbours, sometimes even my tutor. Nobody asked a thing. Nobody discussed it with me, to at least get me start talking about it.
“Why did I not speak to anyone?” I was 13-year-old, thirteen years ago, living in a small town. Not that I want to justify my silence but I was scared of how people would react, even my parents. Sadly, some family members tend to blame the girl, her actions, her body language and her overall conduct in public. Plus, issues like molestation were not a part of discussions at home; a wrong practice. The defence mechanism I developed to dodge such issues was very elementary. All I did was to walk on the road with an angry face, like that would shoo people away!
Next it happened when I was 18.
5 years later, I was once returning from the dentist’s clinic with a friend of mine. I was now living in a city, not known to be very unsafe, in the dry state of our country. We were on a two-wheeler on one of the busier roads when a man, in his early 40s, rode up to us on his scooter and asked for directions to some place. We did not know the way, so we shrugged and rode away. 10 minutes later, the same man was riding alongside us. I happened to look at him and I got numb. There he was, on a busy crossroad, with his trousers unzipped, exposing himself. He was looking at it and then at us repetitively, out there in public like it was a casual sport. Till date I cannot put my finger on what exactly I felt that night. Shocked? Afraid? Angry? I think it was anger because most of the girls feel that way. He was my father’s age. He probably would have gone home, had dinner with his wife and teenage children.
It was a bright busy road, and that man was constantly honking at us; nothing that could get unnoticed. The traffic police used to be quite alert at that circle. But nobody said/did a thing.
And then it happened at 22.
4 years later, I was in a small town in Karnataka for my MBA studies. The college was situated around 400 meters away from the main road. The connecting road was a ‘kuchha’ lane. My friend and I were returning to the college (also hostel) at around 5 pm. We were walking. A young, frail man was urinating on the compound wall, 200 meters away from the campus. We did what everybody does to people who urinate publicly, ignored him. A minute later, I felt somebody’s presence over my shoulder. My friend and I turned behind, and it was the same man. All three of us were standing. His hand inched towards me, to touch me! The adrenaline rush was beyond my control. “Fear? Fight? Flight?” What would have been a matter of seconds, seemed like this slow motion of events, making me imagine horrible scenarios.
This time I yelled! Loud! I was able to channelize the anger, the fear and the element of shock into something constructive, because he backed off. We started walking again and I asked my friend if he was still following us. At first he did not, but then he resumed. I picked up a big stone from the road, ready to launch it towards him. I yelled at him, in Hindi. I told him that if he comes any further I will break his head. He stopped and walked away. I made sure to not show that I was afraid.
Our college used to be constantly under construction. This incident took place about 25 feet away from a group of labourers who saw the incident, heard me yell, stared at us all the way back into the campus, but said nothing.
The forged blindness towards molestation victims reminds me of the quote I read in Dan Brown’s ‘Inferno’, “The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” Candle light marches, slut walks and protests are reactive measures. It is needless to say that half of such protests won’t be required if someone decides to act when it is actually required. The people facing an abuse of this sort may or may not have the ability of thinking on their feet, but a third person would definitely have a better sense of judgement. Act on it! I am sure there are some who do it but what is that percentage? We are gradually becoming an aware nation, speaking up and educating our children about the prevailing evils. But we must refrain from being a mere non-participating observer and be a contributing element in situations like these.
At least then we can hope of inching towards uplifting our society in a more holistic way.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.