“Come, let’s go,” said Papa one afternoon and I, nine-ish or littler, tagged along, like I always did. The grave air about him told me we were going for something not very pleasant but I didn’t ask, like I never did. Papa was more ‘show’ than ‘tell’.
We stopped near the Polytechnic College boy’s hostel. It was on the way to our home atop Shyamala Hills. There were tea shacks at the crossroads. We waited a little distance away. Suddenly, Papa asking me to ‘stay’ there, rushed to the tea shacks. My elder sister who used to get down from bus there on her way back from college had also materialized on the scene. Next, I saw Papa holding a boy’s hand. There was some action, some words spoken, some onlookers and then Papa and sister came back to collect me and we all went home.
A matter of (eve) teasing, ched-chad was thus settled.
Growing up in a small town, we girls, kind of knew how to ‘deal’ with boys. With silence. Ignore, keep a low profile, don’t go to crowded places, don’t go to secluded places, don’t draw attention to you, don’t wear what fellow Bhopalies wouldn’t…
Predators came as the afternoon uncle to push the swing and by and by had you sit on his lap; the grey-haired gentleman who floored you with his impeccable English, his world tours, then stooped down; the men servants who could be trusted with the house keys but not with the girls of the house.
We wore skirts that had to be four-inches above the knee in the girls’ school but as soon as we joined a co-educational college, were required to cover up -- wear a salwar-kameez-dupatta. I was stepping out in a pair of jeans one evening, when Papa quietly said that he was no longer strong enough to go out and fight people. I went back in and changed.
Like most other girls in the city, I rode a two-wheeler to college. One evening, returning after dark from my French class, a group of men in a car waylaid me. Quick thinking and a quicker bike saved me but before I could say sacré bleu a question mark attached itself next to my French classes till a male classmate offered to accompany me back home every day -- he on his bike, I on mine. Every time he bunked class, I had to too. In it together, like conjoined twins.
Next stop -- Delhi. Danger stared dangerously, daringly on Dilli dil walon ki roads. On the way to work one morning, I was waiting for an auto. One stopped and I got in. When I told him where I wanted to go, he said, “I’m not going there. I just picked you because I like you.” Too scared to react, I let him take me where he left me and then told my friend. “Didn’t you slap him?” he asked angrily. Less angry, he asked, “Have you no sense? What stopped you from getting down?”
Fear? Embarrassment? What?
Red Line buses were a different planet – a free for all, groping, pinching, touching neighbourhood where desperate men let their wild fantasies loose. The details are too graphic for this space. Reckless driving was a minor crime. Reporting it did not, as a rule, call attention to the complainant. But it did. A few days after I reported a Red Line bus, registration number et all, for reckless driving in a letter to editor, it made headline news. The Police arrested the driver and were at my door to take my statement and proceed with the case.
Suddenly, I became the perpetrator of the misdeed, the villain of the piece, peace-pincher, trouble architect, the disrupter of life’s steady goings on.
What was the need? Why couldn't I keep my big mouth shut? Did I not know what the driver-kind can do? Had I thought of my little girl? What if they kidnap her? Someone could just throw acid on my face and disappear and everything would be OVER.
Now I knew real fear. I withdrew. The Police was angry with me. I was angry with me too. But I was a woman first. Anger I could live with. A small price to pay for not being violated. A woman, so like a traffic law.
So what has changed in four decades for me? Little. On the way back from the airport, alone in a cab (the Airport Taxi at that), I was again a petrified, little girl not knowing what to do when mid way (the 60-km stretch takes one and a half hours) the cabbie first seemed to lean back and relax, then lifted his pants to his knees and above. He stretched himself, rubbed his ankles, patted his thighs. Terrifyingly intimidated, I told myself, dirty is in the eyes of the beholder; that my fear was unfounded and he innocent, only uncouth.
I muttered a weak, “Why don’t you drive properly?” Everyone knows what cabbies say to that. I called husband and code-worded my fear. He asked me to get off. Get off? In the middle of nowhere? Stand on the highway with my bags and beg some auto to go my way? And what to tell this guy? How to not create a scene, feel helpless and mouth the dirty? I sat put.
Women are a broad spectrum group. I’m neither among those that’ll be happy with women’s day free manicures, show window’s amazing ingenuity in reflecting pink through next-to-nothing clothing or hassling men to make anniversaries/women’s day/valentine’s day special; nor among the coin-size bindi-ed, handloom sari-ed, Arnab Goswami-silencing ones. I am not a woman of extraordinary courage and I’m in majority. We’re the ones that are walking through life on an Alert mode forever.
So I welcome the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill 2013 passed in the Lok Sabha earlier in March. It makes acid throwing, stalking, trafficking, employing a trafficked person, voyeurism (making videos) punishable offences. A policeman who does not take a rape complaint also faces jail now.
The 24x7 news channels hyperventilated and singularly dismissed the new bill on the only two issues it did not address.
I don’t understand marital rape. It plain amounts to domestic violence, sexual abuse. It is explained as women forced to have sex by their husband, ex-husbands, partners. The latter two are categories of ‘marital’? Preeti Jain crying ‘rape’? Secondly, we cannot make laws on statistics alone. Tomorrow, in a more equal society, will there be husband-rape? Or will a man have to suffer in silence because of his macho image? Spousal rape makes little sense because one doesn't just keep living with a rapist.
The lowering of age of consensual sex… I was ‘hmm…’ about this till I read this, “a 17 year old who is a victim of sexual offense committed by another 17 year old will be treated as an adult victim/witness while the perpetrator will be tried as a child under the Juvenile Justice Act.” (Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse). And of course, it has been pointed out that victims of rape in this 16-18 age-group would be coerced to admit it was consensual.
Protesting sisters and (their) bhai-logs in armbands, please take a rest and READ the amendment. Do not trust the Shankar Breathless Mahadevanesque newschannels to give you everything on a pink platter. If you then need a new cause, here’s one I found, Wiki tells: “In Taiwan, International Women's Day is marked by the annual release of a government survey on women's waist sizes, accompanied by warnings that weight gain can pose a hazard to women's health.” Don’t you smell political conspiracy, hidden agenda, and vote-bank politics behind our government’s blatant disregard of this crucial step towards women’s safety?