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How A Bus Journey Made Me Realise That Women Have Been ‘Taught To Live In Fear’

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By Anushree Gupta:

Woman travelling alone
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It was 11 at night when Sanjida and Sabiha wished me goodbye at the Kamlapur Coach Station. Another humble friend, Mahdy, was there to accompany me until the bus arrived. I was travelling from Dhaka (Bangladesh) to Agartala (India). Around 1 a.m. (Bangladesh Standard Time), while the officials at the station were half asleep, the coach arrived, and it was quite perplexing to know that I was to be the only passenger travelling that night. It had been different on my way to Dhaka as there were about 19 of us in the coach. This time, the coach driver, the supervisor, the bus conductor and I made up the entire squad.

The coach service from Kolkata to Dhaka to Agartala was recently introduced after the Indian Prime Minister visited Bangladesh and both the countries extended a friendly gesture. The travel ticket was amazingly inexpensive (which somehow struck me as a warning sign and reminded me of some of the choicest horror movie scenes where people hire a coach but never reach their destination). The estimated travel time was to be a grey area as the traffic in Dhaka had a significant part to play.

Although being from the land where sexual violence and instances of rape are as common as a bug bite they say, I did not take a step back on realising that I’d be a lone traveller that night. I somehow surpassed that feeling of discomfort which surrounds one when the mind is burdened by a million ‘what ifs.’

There is no denying that if I had told my parents, my boyfriend or my friends about making this move, it would have been a big NO, and at some point, I did realise what a risk I had undertaken. What if the coach was raided? What if something uncouth was on the cards? Sexual violence, murder, rape, theft, loot – all sorts of premonitions popped up in my head simultaneously, but there was also this other side – what if none of this happens? What if everything goes well?

Soon after the bus ride began, we stopped at a tea stall. I rushed out to get one last glimpse of the town. It was a small place. Mostly a pan shop with about ten men having tea, smoking, and laughing their hearts out. All of that stopped as soon as they took note of my presence, as maybe it seemed unusual for them to see a woman at that hour. In another five minutes, we were back on the bus, and I occupied the seat near the door. For a while, it felt like I owned the bus, yet, I was all ears, over-attentive and highly observant of every minute detail. While most of the time,
the driver, conductor and the supervisor, conversed in Bangla, I made every possible effort to derive context from their discussions.

Eventually, I lay my head by the side of the window pane and relaxed into the seat. My fear and watchfulness moderated, I went on to collect memories from the trip.

I thought of how Bangladesh never made me feel insecure about being in a foreign land. The heat of the sun; the serenity of the evenings; the cheer across the city; the commotion of traffic; the street side grocery vendors attempting in their high yet sober tones to attract more shoppers – all that I had come to know so well.

As my thoughts wandered, an involuntary smile took over my relaxed face. Effortlessly, I could relate to Bangladesh and also knew that the people thought of me as one of their own. It was wonderful how they could all understand some part of the Hindi language I spoke.

I tried to look outside and saw my own reflection staring back at me on the window glass. I felt a sudden surge of excitement at being a woman, travelling alone in a bus, and crossing international borders. I realised that my suspicions were melting away as the miles passed by.

Time passed as I engaged in some conversations with my three male companions in the bus. Around 4.30 in the morning we reached the border and had to wait for two hours before the immigration office opened. The anxiety of passing this time made my eyes grow big again. Was it a plan to wait for this long in the dark? However, the road on both the sides was lit brightly, and I could see some security men at the gates. The driver and the conductor made their way to the back seats and soon I heard them snoring quite distinctly while the supervisor slept on the front seat. I, however, switched on my cell phone and kept searching for network every 5 minutes.

It was still dark at around 6.15 a.m. when the supervisor requested for my passport. The process at the Immigration offices (both in Bangladesh and then in India) was quick. I was in India soon and arrived at the Krishna Nagar Coach Station in Agartala. Sat Sri Akal, Allah Hafiz and Namaskar were my last three words to my travel companions – the driver, the conductor and the supervisor.

Crossing international borders is a different story altogether when compared to day-to-day bus travel within cities. Travelling alone in the South Asian region, for women, is not considered safe by any standards. But then I saw another side.

It is not only men who see women as objects. It is also women who have been taught to live this way, in fear, in inferiority and conformity with men being the protectors, providers and also the predators.

I believe, that a child remains a child until its ears are pierced and decorated with shiny jewels at a very tender age, beyond which that child is labelled a girl. She is made to wear vibrant, colourful clothes and therefore she begins to appreciate such attires as she grows up. She witnesses her father and brothers make all the major decisions for the family, and thus she makes herself comfortable with the reality of her own subjugation and surrender knowing that no one from her gender ever speaks up or demands or decides.

It is not only rape that happens every time, but it is that insecurity that makes women believe that rape is the most probable thing that could happen. This fear and insecurity bind them as victims for life.

The societies in the South Asian region are so overly gender governed that most of what an average female does in her routine life is what’s expected of her and not what she desires. The impact is so horrific that a present day woman denies acknowledging the compromise she has made, and instead recognises it as cooperation, responsibility and duty. This constant fulfilment of societal expectations has given rise to a bottomless reservoir of unnoticed deprivation, violation of rights and breach of personal identity for women.

It must not always come down to blaming men, rather such issues must be addressed with the understanding that men, women, and people of all genders have their own personal needs which must be respected by the society. There must be an attempt to see beyond pre-defined gender roles, thereby inculcating thoughtfulness among people, and channelizing the idea of social integration instead of reducing millions of lives into compromises and surrenders. With social support and encouragement, women must actively demand space to engage as builders of society, family integrators and skill generators.

I had this wonderful experience, which could have been completely different in a negative way. But maybe things are not always as bad, or maybe there are more good people than we estimate. However, there is no denying that it is time the youth of our communities and societies play their roles in empowering women, and in spreading awareness of their rights and also by raising their voices in not letting any wrong go unnoticed.

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  1. Ankita

    Why has this article been reduced to women and their fears. A man/ boy would equally have feared travelling alone in this situation, of being robbed or killed across dark international borders in south asia. It is not that women learn to fear while men do not. Crime has been inherent in all societies and is gender neutral. It is not something only women learn genetically. This article also says a women can be free of fear if men are taught to empower them. Am sure the author is a empowered women, and is not one of those subjugated gender roles aligning women, however there exists a fear.Which shall exists irrespective of being a man/woman. Crimes are larger than only sexual offence and the fear shall exist till men/women exist.

  2. Monistaf

    @Ankita – Thank you for setting the record straight. 79% of the victims of violent crimes in India are men. The reason this article feels normal to the author and several readers including the staff of YKA is because it conforms to their prejudice and prevailing political correctness about the female victim complex. You are absolutely right, throughout centuries, both men and women have always had something to fear. Like everything else, this article is framed within the context of “Women have problems and men are the problem”, the connerstone of modern feminism. Acknowledging male victimization would clearly subtract from the female victim narrative. Just because she is afraid, does not necessarily mean there is something to be afraid of.

  3. Anushree Gupta

    Wonderful comments @ Ankita, @ Monistaf,

    Firstly this article has been written with a female perspective as it is based on the experience of a female author who discusses her effeminate insecurities during her travel.
    Secondly, there is no doubt that regardless of gender, humans have had fear of something or the other since ever. Yet, saying that crimes are always gender neutral would hold true only in a society which completely understands gender equality and not a society which has patriarchy so deeply ingrained within its social system.
    Although, crimes have been inherent in all societies, gendered crimes have always had a special place and mention. If we look into a number of ancient law codes or the present day law around the world, crimes originating due to the gender of an individual, have a different place.
    More importantly, the article concentrates on the idea of ‘fear of crimes and not crimes themselves’; the very thought of being assaulted or raped and not actually being assaulted or raped. This concept of the ‘fear of crime’ may not be easy to breakdown into data sheets, yet it would not be tough to understand the degree of fear and anxiety which affects the life of a woman’.
    The men no doubt, are equally vulnerable as are women, cases of men being subjected to sexual violence are no more a hidden story, yet while walking late at night in the streets, the degree of fear that crosses a man’s mind compared to that in a woman’s mind is much less, although they are equally vulnerable and may be subjected to any crime.
    Similarly, under a normal circumstance, a man does not expect to be hit by a crime which is sexual in nature. Unlike most women, he does not carry the ‘fear of being sexually molested when he goes out to meet his friends at 9 in the night’ notwithstanding the fact that he is equally vulnerable.
    Nine out of ten times when a women is travelling without a companion, and there is not a single eye intending to look upon her with disgrace, she still keeps fidgeting with her dress, confirming, if everything is alright, and is uncomfortable until she reaches her destination which is not the case with men.
    Not only women in the rural areas, but also women in the most developed urban societies feel the same insecurity on regular basis. The context however may vary.
    The article specifies, that it is the role of the society, not men specifically, to empower women to look beyond this induced fear. As @Monistaf, very rightly mentioned, ‘just because she is afraid, does not necessarily mean there is something to be afraid of.’ Is in line with, ‘It is not only rape that happens every time, but it is that insecurity that makes women believe that rape is the most probable thing that could happen.’ And this belief in a woman is the fear which keeps her thinking and questioning her safety and identity.
    The article has been framed in the context ‘It must not always come down to blaming men’ rather the societal upbringing of a child must be gender neutral and should responsibly progress towards a gender neutral society where women may walk freely without expecting a crime to take place.
    Also to mention that, it is not the prejudice of the present day political policies, rather a necessary inclination to eradicate the century’s long gendered structural violence rooted in the South Asian societies. It is due to this political pattern that the crime of rape has been brought to the notice of masses and has pulled the attention of ‘rape as a crime’ not only against women but against any individual. When a social concern or a crime is mainstreamed, it attracts a number of other unknown aspects of that crime as is the case with sexual crimes against any individual in general and not women in particular, which have existed since ages, but were not under focus back a decade or two.

  4. Monistaf

    @Anushree – thank you for your insightful comments. Reading articles like these only serves to propagate the irrational paranoia about crimes against women. Women, just like men, must take responsibility for their own safety. You also mention “It is due to this political pattern that the crime of rape has been brought to the notice of masses and has pulled the attention of ‘rape as a crime’ not only against women but against any individual”, but that is not true.
    Section 375 of the IPC defines rape in terms of a male perpetrator and a female victim, which means only a woman can be a victim of rape. Also, only a man in India can be charged with sexual assault and prosecuted under that law. There must be tens of thousands of men who suffer sexual assault in India, without any hope of redressing their grievances or finding closure. Such one sided articles (She has every right to express her opinions) only help to demonize men, while perpetuating the victim status of women.

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