By Monalisa Padhee:
Editor’s note: Over 92% of women in India experience some form of harassment, yet, we hesitate to speak up. To help create safe spaces for conversations around these experiences, Youth Ki Awaaz and Breakthrough India have come together to encourage more individuals to speak out and support one another. The piece below is a part of this collaboration. We ask people everywhere to come, #StandWithMe.
I would like to be a little blunt and say that growing up as a girl is difficult.
The first time you are groped while visiting a mela near your house when you were just 10 years old still haunts you. As a child, I thought it was my fault and still wonder how I got that notion. I also thought it would be the last time I would encounter something like this. But who knew I would be proved wrong. Again and again.
Like many teenagers, you will be stalked and the moment you complain about it, you will hear statements like – “Who doesn’t like to get attention?” and “Stop complaining about small, petty stuff”.
Knowingly or unknowingly, I started becoming very conscious of what I would wear because one’s wardrobe seems to become a yardstick for character. Long sleeves and loose kurtas are supposedly protecting you from unwanted attention, and this is what I resorted to in many situations.
One time, when I was travelling in a bus and suddenly found a hand coming near me, I gathered the courage to shout at that man, thinking other people would support me. But alas I was laughed at! I was just an undergrad student, and I felt helpless.
When I was too scared to walk alone, I asked a male friend to accompany me. A leisurely chat with him outside a friend’s PG got us into trouble with the police and the reason was this: girls are not supposed to be out at 10 p.m.
In between, I moved to Australia for a few years for my studies and there – I felt as if I had got wings. I could travel in public transport without being groped, wear whatever I felt like and go to places whenever I wanted. Deep inside, I had started believing these incidents would never happen again. Naive, I know.
When I returned to India for a month-long vacation, I had a reality check. As I was getting down at Rajiv Chowk metro station, I saw a man trying to touch me inappropriately. I started shouting and ran after the man but he escaped. I looked around at the indifference of the people and got the feeling as if it was everyday’s scene and no one is bothered. Coincidentally, a friend happened to post on Facebook how a guy tried to grope her and when she started hitting him, people told her not to create a scene. Our society has become immune to such nuisances and it is crushing down our confidence and restricting our movements.
I felt violated and knew that even after 70 years of independence, as a society, we have failed to provide a safe environment. To stand up for what is right. To respect the freedom that we women ought to have.
If you’d like to share your own experiences – from dealing with everyday sexism and gender stereotyping, to period shaming, harassment and abuse, do share your stories using #StandWithMe, and help take this important conversation forward.