College was done for that day. I flagged down an e-rickshaw and got in with two men sitting. Let us name them Mr. X and Mr. Y. X was wearing a black shirt unbuttoned almost completely and sat opposite me. Y was sitting next to me and didn’t seem to care much. The driver continued and I plugged in my earphones oblivious to the surroundings. A few minutes later, I felt Mr. X’s knee brush against my leg. I assumed it was an accident and gave him the benefit of the doubt. Carefully, I crossed my legs and continued humming. Two seconds later, I felt his legs continuously tapping and shaking. Finding it weird I looked at him and he gave me a smirk. The hair at the back of my neck stood up prickly in response. I knew things were about to go bad. I turned down my music but kept my earphones plugged in hoping he wouldn’t do unnecessary things to ruin my day. Given what followed, that was me being naive at best.
He placed his hand on his private parts.
X: “Bhai. He is awake.”
Y: *laughs* “I wonder why.”
X: “Guessing because a girl came.” (‘chokri‘ in his terms.)
Y: “Of course. After so long.”
X: “He has become so hard. Going to have so much fun today. She looks nice, na? No wonder he likes her.”
X was by now rolling his hand over his privates and laughing as he lightly humped.
I don’t need to elaborate further for you to understand the actions his hands were engrossed in for the next five minutes of the ride. It was disgusting, to say the least. But the worst part? I could feel his eyes on me. I felt his cheap gaze explore every inch of my clothing and body and I wasn’t okay with it. I wasn’t fine with being stripped in his eyes and imagination. I wasn’t fine with his laugh as though it was his birthright to do this. I wasn’t okay with him exchanging a high-five with his friend over the success of his description of him being ‘hard’.
I stopped the e-rick, gave him a look of pure disgust and walked off. I didn’t utter a word. What could I have said? Would words have made a difference? Moreover, I just wanted to get out of his presence. I came back to my room and after I finished narrating the incident to a friend, he asked me a question that led me to write this: “But he didn’t do anything, na?”
What constitutes as doing something in our society? Rape has become a ‘normal’ everyday headline that we refuse to see the small signs that mildly flash themselves clearly exposing the mentality of people like him. Our benchmark for intolerable behavior has been set so high that we brush off ‘small’ incidents like these. After all, nothing really happened right? It was a few words and he didn’t touch me. So, why make a big deal out of nothing?
That above paragraph is exactly what I am guilty of. I am guilty of letting it go. I am guilty of not finding it a big deal. I am guilty of not being affected by it because I have seen worse. I am guilty of not telling him it’s not okay. But worse, I am guilty of not feeling too much about it. I am guilty of not finding it horribly unacceptable because I kept comparing it to worse incidents.
And I am not in this alone. This is one of the million stories that happen every day in India. In 2014, over three lakh women were kidnapped, raped, molested — and in some extreme cases, killed — across the country. That’s almost a 27% increase since 2012. Take a pause and let that number sink in. And those digits don’t include incidents like mine.
Those figures should make you feel guilty. It doesn’t matter what gender you identify with. Each one of us has either known someone who has experienced these scenarios or been in one ourselves.
We are all guilty – of letting it go, of not finding it or making it a big deal, of not being affected by it and of not saying it’s not okay.
I am guilty of silently letting this continue.