In Kochi, I’ve Felt Unsafe Since I Was 12 Years Old

Posted by Karthika S Nair in Gender-Based Violence, My Story
January 4, 2017
Editor’s note: This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #UnsafeInMyCity. It highlights how safety is a concern for all of us, living in different parts of this country. If you have an experience to share, write to us here.

I live in Kochi, Kerala. While I go through all the stories online which roughly narrate the horrors faced by women, they are as relevant as the nightmares we face. The social conditioning is such that women being molested or harassed is seen as a normal phenomenon or a ‘call of nature’ which cannot be controlled. Stalking and harassing of women in heroic or humorous contexts in films further uphold this mindset. The question is – is it? After all, #NotAllMen has been trending on both Facebook and Twitter.

If not all men are rapists and molesters, then why did the society condition women into believing that every man they face alone or after 8 p.m. is a pervert who might slip his arm around them? Why do all families uphold this belief that women who go out after 8 p.m. or wear short skirts or have an opinion are public properties “asking for it”?

When did I start feeling that I am unsafe in my own city? 

I guess it all started the day when my grandmother gave me a long lecture on how women are physically weaker and therefore, should be careful. And, while reading news about sexual assault, she went on to blame the victim. I thought to myself; “this is the real nightmare“, the aftermath of the incident, not the incident itself.

Then, (I have written about this in feminism in India) when I was 12 years old, I was walking from a textile shop to my house after giving the tailor some materials to be stitched. Tt was around 5:45 p.m. and dusk had settled quicker than expected. A group of men were standing at a corner, just behind the road I was supposed to take.

When they saw me coming towards the road, they started making all kinds of dirty comments directed at my hair, slippers and the pace at which I was walking. I turned to take the road and didn’t look behind to see if they were following me. All that went through my mind was getting home quickly.

I was not wearing “provocative clothes”, but a churidar with a shawl covering my chest. I was just 12, an age that is considered a child’s age, and it didn’t stop these men from enjoying their liberties, enjoying their time after dusk outside the house and making derogatory comments about random women they see. They didn’t see a woman, they saw a child and it didn’t stop them from analysing her from a “desirable” view.  I was so stunned that day but thankfully, I reached home safely. But then, I was afraid to speak up because of all the victim blaming comments that would be directed at me, from “why did you leave your hair open” to “why didn’t you ask your father to accompany you”.

Another incident occurred when I was 13 years old, a 60-year-old man brushed his hands against my left thigh and ran when I screamed out loud. The lady at the store simply smiled and said, “Wear long tops next time.” The fact that she didn’t see a 60-year-old man misbehaving with a child dangerous is what made me feel unsafe back then. Another shopkeeper who was standing a few meters away didn’t even bother to look.

Another incident happened recently; a pervert stalked my mother. But, she took matters into her hands and caught him with the help of cooperative police officers. His wife came running to my mother the day he was arrested and begged for forgiveness, citing her children as the reason. The police filed a restraining order on him, but I was more worried about what his 9-year-son will grow up to learn.

Whenever I go to a mall named “Penta Menaka”, I can hear hissing, whistling and catcalling behind me. I studied in a women’s college which was located near a men’s hostel. While going back to the bus-stand we had to pass the lane next to the men’s hostel. I have faced all kinds of catcalling and hissing from the boys. They wait for the precise moment, when the girls disperse from the college, to have their “fun”. Our parents taught us that we should just ignore them since “boys will be boys” and “they are just having fun“. They might be having “fun” but do they realise how terrified girls are and how our hearts thump until we are in the safe zone? While making a research report, it was declared that marine drive and Menaka are the most dangerous places for women in Kochi.

Girls continue to pay the price in the form of over protection, safety and victim blaming.

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Image source: frankjuarez/Flickr

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