The year was 2005, when I was all set to join University for graduation. I had already written my entrance exam and was eagerly waiting for the results when the infamous ‘Ashiana rape case’ happened. Lucknow was never a paradise for women (which city is?), but that was something extreme. The incident of six rowdy boys kidnapping a 13-year-old to rape her in a moving car in broad daylight was horrible enough to make us think twice before stepping out on our own after the sun went down or when it was still shining.
The Ashiana rape case was still a page one story when we came to know of this 19-year-old girl from NIFT Delhi who was attacked with acid by somebody she used to call her friend. Now, this girl was someone I could relate to. She was young, pretty, ambitious and, intelligent enough to get through to NIFT Delhi. I was upset, but the remarks by the people whose job was to hunt down the culprit and throw him into prison came as a rude shock to me.
The top cop said, “She was a modern girl who wears western clothes and hangs around with boys”. Hence, deserved to be attacked with acid? This NIFT girl was held equally responsible for whatever happened to her. Whatever she had done, she didn’t deserve to be attacked with acid, no human being does. How difficult was it for the cop to understand this?
With these two horrendous incidents in my mind, I started college. That was the time when Lucknow University was known to be a hub of eve teasers, those from Lucknow would understand what I mean. My neighbour, who had also graduated from the University used to share her horrible experiences every day. She even said that she couldn’t complete her masters because of this one guy who used to stalk her every day.
While my friends in Delhi would tell me how they visit Sarojini Nagar every day to find that perfect spaghetti top to go with their frilly skirts, I would search my wardrobe for the most loose-fitting tops I could wear with my ill-fitted jeans. Such was the terror.
Finally came the D-day and I entered the University literally shivering. I met this girl named Lavanya and it turned out that she had the same subjects as I. Dressed in a long yellow skirt and a black top, Lavanya looked pretty, but the University was the last place to look pretty or anything synonymous to it. “Inko dekho Preeti Jinta ban ke aayi hai,” (Look at her, she’s dressed up like a heroine) said one guy mocking and we knew where we were!
I was called ‘Desi Shakira’, and I never knew why. Stupid comments were something we learnt to ignore but once I found this guy following me in his SUV car that had the Samajwadi Party logo on it. I live hardly 3 km away from the University and used to walk home most of the days. This one man religiously followed me for one week and then I stopped attending college.
Life outside the University was no heaven, of course. My breasts were groped twice in this city. The first time, the man on the bike simply squeezed and sped away, and when it happened for the second time in the crowded market, I ran after my culprit screaming at the top of my lungs. He ran away and the people ignored but who is surprised?
I shifted to Delhi after my post graduation and my breasts were groped yet again, this time at the crowded Rajiv Chowk metro station. I knew who my molester was; he was standing right in front of me. I did what I had to do. I grabbed him by the collar and beat him till my hands hurt and yes he ‘asked for it’. People of course watched and this man with a gun who found it hard to control his laughter finally intervened and said, “Madam jaane dijiye kitna maarengi bechaare ko”. ‘Bechara’?
I shifted back to Lucknow after a few years and to my surprise, this girl I knew wore capris and t-shirts to the University. So this was what my friends were talking about? My Lucknow had really changed!
One fine evening I decided to wear my favourite knee-length dress to a friend’s party. Accompanied by another friend, I took a cycle rickshaw to the venue which was just 2 km away. Little did I know that a two-kilometer rickshaw ride would turn out to be the longest of my life. Men slowed down their bikes to have a good look at my legs; some even drove along the rickshaw, and some passed the nastiest remark one could imagine. Apparently, women’s legs are not meant to be visible in Lucknow’s daylight.
But that doesn’t mean my salwar, kameez and dupatta don’t excite men. A couple of months back, two men on a bike stopped on the same road to ask, “rate kya hai tera”.
I shall stop here but trust me I can go on and on. I asked my friends who I meet every day to see If I was the only one and, found out that they could also go on and on. But I will share the ones that still gives them the shudders.
Anita Jaiswal: “I was groped during my morning jog. It was 6 am and I was walking on the road, and this man on a bike came out of nowhere, and groped me from behind leaving me numb. I was too shocked to react.”
Rashi Nigam: “I took a shared auto home from the railway station. As I was tired, I didn’t realise I felt asleep and found this decent looking man hands feeling my breasts. I gave him a piece of my mind and (slipper too) and threw him out of the auto. Looks can be deceptive.”
Preetika Agarwal (name changed): “I befriended this boy in college who later confessed to having feelings for me. When I didn’t reciprocate his feelings, he turned abusive. One day when he found me alone, he tried to grope and slap me. When I filed a complaint with the student’s welfare community, they suspended both of us. Instead of taking action against him, they held me responsible for everything. I slipped into depression and decided never to trust anybody.”
Farheen Azmi:“I often find bikers following my scooty. There was this man who followed me for months but eventually stopped.”