At the age of seven, I stopped going to my neighbour’s house because his uncle rubbed me in places where it hurt. I was too young to understand that it was wrong, but even then, something inside me prevented me from ever speaking about it.
At the age of thirteen, I was told to stop playing cricket with the boys in my colony as I had hit puberty. I could no longer stay at my best friend’s house when my parents left me alone. I was locked and instructed not to open the door.
At the age of fourteen, I learnt to wrap my sanitary napkins in black plastic bags and hide them under multiple layers of clothing. I was told not to visit temples, or accidentally touch the idols in our house when I was bleeding, for fear of hampering its purity.
At the age of sixteen, I was no longer allowed to attend birthday parties of my male classmates as it was the age they start drinking and could make “mistakes”.
At the age of eighteen, I started college and was advised by my parents to take the women’s coach in the metro daily. My “curfew” for coming back home was set at 6 PM.
At the age of twenty, I filled my wardrobe with loose shirts, airy sweatshirts, ‘boyish pants’ and was careful always to tuck the mischievous bra strap inside my t-shirt.
At the age of twenty-one, I learnt to accept that some men are hooligans and all we can do, is ignore the voyeuristic stares and keep our heads low.
I dutifully accepted all the above mentioned advice to survive in the capital of our country. I have never had a night out, never gotten drunk, never even kissed another man. I found solace in poetry, wrote about these experiences – never in the first person. I gave women wings in my words.
I was waiting for my college years to get over, to move to another city, another country, where I could spread my wings and go on walks on at 3 am without being groped. I was waiting to get out of the city that suffocated me and had expected other cosmopolitan cities to be some sort of a refuge.
Do we really need a hashtag for that? Every time an incident happens, it doesn’t need to be made into a battle of the sexes. Women demanding safer cities and the right to be on streets without being groped are not “Feminazis” out to get every man in this country. If some men are confident and outrageous enough to grab a woman and harass her, it is because each of one us in some way have built a structure that allows them to do it.
And these men do not come with markers on their foreheads – they are not defined by class, region or how proficient they are in English. They are on streets, on public transport, in schools, at home, inside bedrooms, in offices of power. I wish we could scan mindsets and differentiate and choose the roads where only ‘honourable’ men walk.
I wish I had the privilege to really escape to a city where I’d feel safe. But I don’t have that privilege, and thus, not the intention to appreciate the fact that #NotAllMen rape. I cannot clap for you, and let you divert the issue at hand. I cannot let this be made about you – not again. I cannot adjust my clock, fix my dresses to tame the testosterone levels of sexually frustrated men.