It happened in 2012 during Durga Puja – the most festive season in Kolkata. It is a usual tradition for me, that I sit with all my friends in a pandal for most of the time, and carry on with our never-ending rantings.
It was about 9.30 at night and I was walking to the pandal from my friend’s house, alone. It was on the other end of the road from my friend’s house. I saw a man cycling from the opposite direction. I was walking with my eyes fixed to the ground as it was quite dark, due to dim street lights. Before I realised what was happening, I was left aghast, speechless and numb. I could not speak for two minutes, unable to comprehend what had happened. This unknown man, whose face I could not spot in the darkness, pressed my breasts. Fortunately, my reflexes kicked in and I pushed him away. He realised I was alert and hurried off on his cycle.
My throat was dry, my hands and feet cold, my heart pounding at 200 beats per second. This was the first time I was experiencing trauma. I literally could not speak. It took me a while but I managed to dial my friend’s number and he came to my rescue in less than a minute.
My friend was not convinced that the obnoxious person had actually run away. So he consoled me and encouraged me to get on his bike and hunt for him. We rode for an hour looking for him, but in vain.
I can never forget that day and moment because I was angry at myself for not throwing him off his cycle, for not kicking him in the gut, for not shouting at him and thrashing him.
That regret is still engraved in my mind and I have stopped looking at the road and walking. Until then, I had never felt unsafe in Kolkata and I still do not. But since then, I have not walked the streets alone on a festive night. I have channelised my rage and disgust because I could not let that happen to me again.
A similar incident had happened another evening much before the above mentioned incident. My best friend and I were strolling on a gentle, cold evening. We were sort of lost in a park when a tall man approached us and we innocently asked him for a way to get out of the park. It was back in school and we were not aware of just how bad things are in real life. That man pointed in a direction, with quite uncertainty and we stood there unsure of his intentions.
Suddenly, he grabbed my friend’s hand and said, “Come sleep with me”. We were horrified. He was reeking of alcohol and we somehow managed to push him away. We ran for our lives and did not stop. We ran directionless but there was no stopping because we were scared to even look back. What if he was chasing us? What if he had company? What if…?
We still shudder to discuss the incident but life goes on and nothing had happened after that. Soon after all this the Park Street Rape incident happened and we looked forward to justice prevailing. We went for protest marches, candle-light vigils and I can vouch that everyone accompanying us had a horrific story to tell.
Yes, I have learnt ways of tackling sexual harassers. My friends have learnt them too. But the intermittent injustice to thousands of women and children invokes fear in our soul. When will all this end? When will people become civilised? When will they recover from their terrible disease of leching and tormenting others? When will the country wake up?
With every protest march that follows a grave incident, a subtle ray of hope is ignited. The spontaneous shutting down of those voices, douses all the hope.
No city is safe, no woman is safe, no place is safe, nobody is safe. #UnsafeInMyCity