In the blog in which I wrote for the past 10 years, and which I subsequently deleted for various reasons, I had a post about the sexual harassment I had faced while growing up. Remember as you read the rest of this post that I am Indian (proud about it except for its misogyny), and live in a country where women are raped and killed because they were out with their male friend or hacked to death by spurned men.
Some salient (?!) points from the earlier blog post were:
- when I was seven, a dirty, horny old man, humped me between my shoulder blades in a crowded bus (47A), while my mother stood next to me, unaware of what was happening. I was naive (I was seven for god’s sakes) but knew something wasn’t right. I reached home, threw up and burned a fever for a week afterwards.
- I was 12 when in the darkness of a train berth, my crotch was groped by a man when I was sleeping. I knew subconsciously that I was being groped, but I was fast asleep, and when I woke up, I had a dirty feeling of having been violated, but didn’t know by whom.
- When I was a little older, a man crossing me on his cycle, grabbed my budding breast, squeezed it hard and drove away like the wind before I or anyone else knew what was happening. My breast was bruised and sore for days afterwards.
- Once, as I was sitting at the window-seat in a bus, a man in another bus passing in the opposite direction and slowing down as it crossed mine, threw a live cigarette butt on my hand.
While it did take a lot of courage for me to write the post then, what totally shocked me was the response I got for it. My BFF, whom I had known for 28 years at the time this post was written, told me that her neighbour, a middle aged man and family friend, removed her panty and groped her when she was in KINDERGARTEN. I thought S and I had no secrets from each other, but this was the first time she told me this. I got mails from every single female friend I had, and from women I didn’t know, that they have been groped, pawed, humped and pinched at multiple times in their lives.
Let us get one thing straight – I was not, and am not, a ravishing beauty. I am a proud plain jane. I don’t dress “provocatively”- whatever crap that means. And I am not the only target of sexual abuse. EVERY SINGLE WOMAN OF MY AGE IN INDIA HAS EXPERIENCED ALL IF NOT MORE OF ALL THAT I DESCRIBED. Don’t believe me? Ask your sister. Your mother. Your wife. Your girlfriend.
An athletically built girl friend of mine, has been called “naatu kattai” (a sexually derogatory Tamil word deriding her build). When I had just started wearing trainer bra, my neighbour, an otherwise “decent” man, commented “LG Bra podia aLavukku vaLanthittiyaa” – LG has grown enough to wear a bra). Another random rowdy said “bra strap theriyara kuttiya paarudaa” – look at the bimbo with bra strap showing. Yet another said “thodayai paarudaa – olakkai maadiri” – look at her thighs – they are like, I don’t know, a rod. I have been whistled at, cat called, and commented upon innumerable number of times. My father has forbidden me from standing on my own balcony because some random passerby looked up and whistled at me once. Some random woman on the street chided me for not wearing duppatta because it is “loose women” like me who induce men to indulge in sexual acts with innocent women like themselves.
Do you think words are not stick and stones to break your bones? Think again. They break more than bones. They break your trust of the world. They break your trust on half the population of the world that has a penis by chance, and not choice. They make you paranoid in raising a girl child. They make you teach your daughter all about sex and sexual harassment when she is five years old, effectively killing the age of innocence. I have daily fights with my 12-year old daughter, who wants to wear comfortable shorts to play, but I have to refuse because I am afraid for her safety – not because I don’t want her to wear shorts – heck, given a choice, I would wear shorts all my life. When I walk with her on the road, I crowd her so that no man on the road gets within pinching distance of her. I am a borderline androphobe, and have not crossed over completely to the dark side only because of the few men in my life who, I strongly believe are exceptions rather than normal.
So please. Do not tell an Indian woman that “a man will be a man”. Or that locker room banter is harmless. Or that a man who, even in private conversation, wants to grab pussies because he is allowed to, can stand in an election, no matter how brilliant an administrator he may be or how eye-gougingly horrible his opponent is. Don’t . Just DON’T. You don’t know. You have been blessed with a PENIS.