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In A City And Neighbourhood Where I Always Feel Safe, I Was Harassed By A Stranger

Posted by Samradni Satam in Sexism And Patriarchy
July 19, 2017

I am a girl. I live in one of the safest cities in the country and in what I thought was one of the safest neighbourhoods in that city. Here’s how that changed.

This happened a few days ago. I decided to go to my regular library (I usually walk there). I had thought of sitting there and reading for a little while. It was 7 pm. I got ready and told my mom I was heading out. For the first time in my life, for some reason I haven’t figured out yet (maybe as a mother, she had a feeling), she told me to take the main road and not the shortcut.

All my life, not once has my mom told me how to dress, where not to go, or even asked who I’m going with. She has always trusted my judgement and believed that I would make a sound decision after considering the situation. She’s never used the ‘I trust you, I just don’t trust other people’ line on me. So imagine my surprise when she told me this. Still, I didn’t think much of it and took her advice. But subconsciously, this registered and the moment I started walking, I started analysing my surroundings.

There’s a patch on the main road that has a really big tree which blocks the street light. As I was passing this part of the street, a man on his bike abruptly pulled over near the footpath in front of me. He then made a gesture with his head for me to get on his bike. At first, I thought I had imagined it, but then he did it again. And then again, a little more boldly and obviously.

I got scared and kept walking till I was under a street light and in view of a couple of shops (not that it helps in this country). I could still see him watching me in my peripheral vision. The scariest thing was, his bike was still running so there was a chance he would follow me. There was no way I could scare him off on my own. So, I pulled out my phone and pretended to dial a number and then proceeded to talk loudly and read out his license plate number. Only then did he leave.

I hurried the rest of the way and quickly exchanged my book (who’d bother staying there late after that). I came out and looked around for a minute to see if I had been followed. Then, in a second ‘first’ of the evening, I called my mom to tell her I was on my way back. I had never done that before, though I’ll probably always do it now. I couldn’t get myself to say that if I didn’t reach on time, something might have gone wrong. But she sensed something was wrong and offered to come get me. I refused but took a very long but well-lit way home.

I don’t know how to react to this but I keep wondering what if my mother hadn’t told me to be careful? What would’ve happened then? I probably wouldn’t have noticed the man. Would he have followed me or hurt me? My destination was in a secluded and deserted alley. I can’t even bear to think of the ‘ifs’, I can only thank my mom for being herself. Was my mother wrong in raising me free of the social conventions that involve raising a daughter in India? Did she, in trusting me, also trust a society that is not worth that kind of faith?

This may not sound serious but we don’t have the right kind of perspective for this kind of thing. Most of us won’t think of this as something serious but it’s the beginning of much more dangerous things. This is how they get bolder every time. Incidences like this should not be normalised and action should be taken by authorities. Spectators, instead of mutely watching, should intervene. These are the little things we can work on. Maybe they will be the stepping stones to bigger, more sensitive issues.

By the way, should I have mentioned what I was wearing that evening?