By Ishita Mishra:
It was 9:30 am on a Monday as I walked into college feeling uncomfortable. I noticed the police jeep standing at a little distance from the college gate but I did not tell them about my predicament. Everything inside Kamala Nehru College seemed to go on as usual – girls were going for their classes, the library was quiet and the canteen buzzed. I looked at them and wondered if they too had ever experienced what I had today, if they too had faced harassment inside the metro train and if they too felt uneasy after that.
While coming to college via the metro, I stood in a corner near the door of the train, waiting for it to reach my destination. The train doors opened at a station before the one I was supposed to get down at and a huge crowd of passengers hurried inside. The large number of passengers in the small coach made it uncomfortable for everyone. I got squished by people and tried my best to maintain my balance while the train moved fast. In no time, my station was about to come and in all the pushing I felt something awkward. I felt that someone standing behind me had touched both my breasts. In the hustle, I turned back to see who had done it but found everyone too busy making a place for themselves. I neglected it, thinking that I must have felt so because of the pushing and stumbling of the crowd.
The train reached the station and along with others, I stood in front of the door, waiting for it to open. Just as the doors opened, I felt someone squeezing my breasts again and this time, I was sure it was done on purpose. While de-boarding the train, I turned back immediately and saw a man about thirty years old right behind me. The position of his hands and the look on his face left me in no doubt. Before I could say or do anything, I was pushed by the massive crowd and after I finally found myself space, I immediately looked for the man but he seemed to have hurried and disappeared in the sea of people at the metro station. I was boiling with anger. Everything happened so fast that I could not even catch hold of the man. I felt bad. A stranger had touched me and made me feel uncomfortable. I could not do anything about it and therefore left the metro station for college contemplating about how women face similar situations every day.
What had happened to me in the metro left me worried about women’s safety. As I looked at the girls in college, I wondered if all of them felt safe while travelling to and fro college and in other public places. In pursuit of my answers, I decided to question them about their safety.
I was shocked at the answers I received from everyone. Most of them felt unsafe. In fact, a majority had experienced harassment in a public place. As I heard their stories, I realised how bad the condition in the entire country would be when most girls from a single college felt insecure. One of my friends narrated an incident about how she was constantly being stared at by a stranger at a restaurant. He stared at her for all the time that she dined at the place and passed a filthy vulgar comment while she was leaving the restaurant. Enraged, she screamed at the man for his unacceptable behaviour only to have him act all unaware of the sequence of events. She told me about how no one in the restaurant believed her. Instead of coming to help her, everyone enjoyed the show.
Another horrifying incident was narrated to me by a second-year student; while she was walking on the road, two boys in their 20s, came to her and asked her if she would like to have some extra income apart from what she received as her pocket money. She was in a hurry and walked away from the two men, ignoring what they had to say. As she walked away, they caught her by her wrist and didn’t let her go and with a smirk informed her that she would earn an extravagant amount of money. Afraid and shocked by the audacity of the two men, she didn’t shout or scream for help but freed herself from the grip of the man and immediately ran and sat inside an auto.
With such incidents becoming a common affair, women do not feel safe at all. The worst is that most women are afraid to scream or report such events to the police, with the fear of being harmed and harassed by the same people or being humiliated by the police. Living in the 21st century, is this the empowerment we are talking about? When something as basic as the security of a woman is problematic, how can we think of empowering them? From five-year-olds to sixty-year-old women; all are under a constant fear, even simple activities like travelling, going to a shop or a bank become a nightmare for many.