By Radhika Menon:
Editor’s note: On January 3, Radhika Menon, a professor at Delhi University, stopped at a petrol pump to get her car refuelled, when she was abused, thrashed and harassed by a young man, without any provocation, as people around her looked on. This is an edited, first person account written by her on Facebook, produced here with her permission.
I was going to college in the morning to take my classes when I stopped at Vij Auto Centre (Bharat Petroleum), opposite SFS flats in Mayur Vihar Phase III Delhi, for refuelling my car. As I was getting inside the car, a young man riding a white scootie wearing an orange hoodie came from the wrong side towards the petrol bay. As he came speeding towards me, my bag got entangled with his scootie and I fell. Because I was holding on to the bag, the man also stumbled. My leg had also got caught under his scootie. Angry, he started abusing me, repeatedly calling me a whore. When I got angry and pointed out his mistake, he punched me straight in my face. This, even as people around me looked on, doing nothing.
Knowing now that I had to take matters into my own hands, I tried to pull back his hoodie for identification, and was hit again by the man on the face. After that, everything was a blur of slapping, punches, wherein my spectacles were broken and flung away. I turned to the petrol agents and bystanders to note his vehicle number. They simply looked away, even as the emboldened man came closer, punched me again and sped away.
Later, a few bystanders did come to enquire about what had occurred and scolded the petrol pump agents and guards for not reacting. The police arrived after my call. We were then informed by the petrol pump that not all cameras worked, and that there was no hard disk. The footage that was finally taken down from a camera that worked, conveniently did not capture the face of the man who attacked me. But it displayed how I was beaten up.
I spent the whole day getting footage from the CCTV camera, getting the medical done and applying for an FIR. What I still can’t get over is the silence at the petrol pump as the man repeatedly hit me in broad daylight.
The sheer apathy is a simple reminder of what is seen as acceptable. Being dragged down at a petrol bay by a man in a vehicle – who was clearly on the wrong, then abused, slapped and punched repeatedly was taken as just another ordinary event at the petrol pump. After the man had left as easily as he came in, the agents went about their daily jobs and cars continued to speed away, reflecting a disturbing ordinariness, even as I was left alone to gather my phone, smashed spectacles and call the police. But why? There are some explanations, which makes me seethe with anger, for it reflects a very sick society, where violence against women is normalised and sanctioned by words, relationships and actions.
The attacker called me a whore after I pulled him down by keeping a hold over my bag. When he repeatedly abused me, I responded by trying to remove his hood, after which he asked me to recognise him, promised to settle scores and followed it up with punches. But for the bystanders, it was all sanctioned. It is as if by calling me a whore, a public permit had been won to be dragged and run down, abused and hit.
One man, a bystander did get angry at the assault and came to support me by scolding the petrol pump people for not stopping the man. He was asked, “How are you related to her?” So you have to be related to intervene if a woman is being assaulted!
However, relationships can be dangerous it seems. When I asked if anyone had responded to my pleas to note the number down, one of the men said, “We thought he was your husband.” So, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers can assault with casual ease and go away! Is it a surprise that the previous year so many women were stalked and killed on the streets in full public view by men claiming to be in a relationship? It is as if relationships offer entitlement to violate.
It will indeed be a sick society if children hear and grow up thinking relationships sanction violence against women, and where you can care for someone’s dignity only if you are related.
The fact that so many of you think all this is not acceptable is the only promise of hope to women who would like to claim public and private spaces.