February, 2007/ Jamshedpur
You won’t believe what happened today. Classes got over at noon but I needed to stay longer to issue books from the library so I stayed back longer today.
I have rarely been so scared in my life. I was walking back home from the bus stand after a long day at school, when I sensed someone following me. It was like a shadow constantly tagging along. Only it wasn’t mine. Ruchika had already left for home; she had her project work to finish.
To fool him, I took a longer route but the stalker refused to budge. I took several detours, desperately trying to get away from his glare. Every time I turned back to check, he’d sneak into a shop pretending to be interested elsewhere. I was scared to even turn around lest he see the fear in my eyes. I don’t know why I was so scared, diary. It was day time. Two in the afternoon. There were people walking down the road. I was in a residential colony and not an isolated spot. Then what was the need to panic? I don’t know.
As I entered the gates of my house, he was gone, probably aware of my location now. He also knows the name of my school, thanks to my uniform. I felt as if I had just been stripped of my privacy.
I told ma about all this. I asked her why did a stranger’s lurk bother me so much. I asked her why I felt so violated when he hadn’t even “touched” me. I asked her if I should be careful now that he knows where I stay. Ma simply shook her head and scolded me for not coming home immediately after school got over at noon. I felt confused.
Am I not allowed to have the right to come home when I want, without the fear of being stalked and leered at? Maybe the answer lies between my legs.
March 2009/ New Delhi
What a shocking, traumatic day it has been today! I’m just coming back from visiting Aanchal who is in deep pain.
It is Holi time here. Of course, it’s still a week’s time before we celebrate the festival of colour but the city seems to be embracing the flavour way before required and in not a very healthy fashion. Young boys and men are all over the lanes and narrow gully, ready to pounce on the next pedestrian with colour that can blind, water balloons that can injure and words that can hurt. Everything is justified in the name of “Bura na maano, holi hai!” (Don’t feel bad, it’s Holi!) Idiots.
As you know, I ran to my granny’s place from hostel last week itself to avoid the dreaded path filled with those hooligans. I’d rather travel 35 km every day in a crowded metro than be at the receiving end of these cheap tricksters. Maybe if Aanchal would have followed by [escapist] route, she would have been safer.
She was in a rickshaw, on her way back from the market to her home, when two guys in a bike hurled a water balloon at her face. Fortunately, their aim did not hit the target. Unfortunately, she got hit on her stomach. She howled in pain. Having thoroughly been satisfied with her cries, the two left laughing away to glory; ready to experience the sadistic pleasure all over again with yet another innocent pedestrian/citizen. She was so weak and tired when I met her. I think her baby would have died had she been pregnant. The balloon barely missed hitting her womb. I felt sorry, angry and helpless at the same time. Funny how such contradicting emotions decide to visit me together.
This city has started making me hate Holi—a festival I have grown up with and enjoyed so much. I’m running away from it. Is that the right attitude? I don’t know. Shouldn’t I rather be safe than sorry? I choose the former. I’m safe. All locked up at granny’s apartment. Away from those attackers. I guess I find freedom in confinement. Life is oxymoronic.
Told ma about this. She was too shocked to say anything. Perhaps she was horrified to think of the possibility of Aanchal being anyone. Even her own daughter.
September 2010/ Bangalore
I can’t believe I’m writing this but it’s true and I cannot hide from it. I was sexually harassed today. And the only reason I’m telling you this is because I know you won’t tell this to anybody.
It’s Thursday. Our beat day. I had to go to Bangalore Palace today to do a story on the newly introduced audio tour guide that has resulted in more visitors and tourists. The faculty at my journalism school said it’s a great story idea. I liked it, too. I needed an excuse to explore the Palace anyway. I didn’t know my excitement would be dented so badly.
They made me wait for almost an hour to talk to the manager so I could get some valuable quotes for my story. In the meanwhile, a helper at the Palace saw my “sorry state” and offered to give me a tour of the Palace for “free”. I declined his humble offer and headed to the nearby tea shop instead to kill the time. He came along and offered to buy me a cup of tea. Irritated at his sugar-coated offers, I did not decline this time. He looked happy. I wonder if my answer “provoked” him.
He started making small talks. Where was I from? Where did I study? What did I study? What is journalism? And every time he said something, he came an inch closer. The antenna in my head were on high alert. I knew it then that something is wrong. But I couldn’t do anything else. There was hardly any audience around. Apart from the guy who was making the tea and another who was on the phone while sipping his cup, there was no one there. I gave him my frown trying to make it very clear that I’m not comfortable with his audacious advances. Perhaps that encouraged him more. In what happened in a split of a few seconds, I felt his erection against my thigh.
It felt gross, diary. It felt so gross! I screamed in horror. The “helper” (oh what an irony!) looked surprised that I should have shouted so. Oh that @##$#@#! My scream alarmed the other two at that spot who looked confused at my sudden outrage. I just ran away from there and waited inside the waiting room for the manager who finally did turn up so I could interview him. Only I was so shaken and dazed by then that he ended up asking [me] more questions if I was okay than answering mine with regard to my story.
I haven’t told anyone about this. Not even ma. Though I’m itching to tell her. At least her. But I know what she’ll say. She’ll ask me to quit journalism and blame my professional choice for all this. Kill the bud, not the flower. That has always been her motto. I don’t blame her. Granny taught her that.
I wish I could have slapped that bas****. I just didn’t have the courage to. I feel like such a loser, diary. A journalism student, all set to change the world at large and society in general, behaved in such a cowardly fashion. I have never loathed myself as much as today.
Please don’t hate me.
August 2011/ Madurai
I hate going to the office by the bloody bus. Hate it to the core. It’s always so crowded. I don’t like being in the middle of that crowd—half of them checking out if they can have a peep at my cleavage or catch a quick glimpse of my waist when the wind blows. To hell with my sari!
I know I’m an employed woman and can afford to take a rickshaw to office and avoid the bus ride. But I need to save, too. Dad says this is the best time to save, when I have no one else to spend on except myself. He is right. And of the many luxuries I have sacrificed, a Rs.200 ride to the office is one.
But the bus ride is more than just a 45-minute ordeal of travel. It’s also a 45-minute endurance of leering, listening to cheap comments, an “accidental” touch here and there. Frustrated idiots. I have developed a morose, irate expression that spreads across my face almost instantly as I board the bus every day. On days when I do manage to grab a seat, I feel I’m the luckiest woman who’s still alive on planet earth.
At least they haven’t raped me yet. My “honour” is still intact. Cheers!
December 2012/ Mumbai
The girl has died. The 23-year-old who was gang-raped and mutilated in a moving bus in Delhi, died today after battling for her life for over a week. There are articles everywhere on the net and in the papers. About rape. About rape laws. About people’s attitude. About societal mindset. Every other day, I’m getting “invites” to some march or the other in solidarity with the fighting woman. Only now that woman is dead. Yet the fight continues. Or does it? I feel skeptical.
On my way back, today, I passed a candle light vigil; a procession near Deonar Depot. I spotted youngsters holding placards screaming “Hang the rapists!” They were all smiling and cheerful about this lovely “get together” and posing for pictures that would probably be up on Facebook and Twitter oh-so-soon. Of course, the picture that would be Instagram’d would get the most number of “likes”. As if “justice” goes hand in hand with the number of “likes”, there are posts on FB about the same. It’s hard to not shout in anger at this nonsense. I’m seriously considering Yoga for anger management.
My anger turned to deep sorrow when I read a mail from a gay friend. “I don’t understand this [misleading] hatred. The misoandry. I read several comments by people who wanted rapists to be ass-fucked by homosexual men. It was disturbing,” he said. There’s a limit to people’s stupidity, isn’t it? Well, apparently not. Half the world is mourning the death of “India’s daughter”. An India that promises no freedom from being glared at, be groped in public, be touched in your private parts and be assaulted sexually. No matter what you wear. No matter where you live. No matter what the time.
Dad called this morning. To check if I was “safe”. It’s rare he asks such rhetorical questions. I assured him that I was. He told me he read in the papers that someone had been raped in Mumbai, too. My journalistic brain dismissed that as anything “new”. Scary how rape and sexual assault has become so mundane and every day that it isn’t even hard-core “news” anymore. Women may not be free but rapists certainly are.
Dad said he was watching a news channel that showed the father “of a 23-year-old” whose daughter works in Delhi and how this entire gang rape furore had filled him with fear and panic. While narrating this to me on the phone, I heard him sniffing. He asked me again if I was “safe”. It’s hard to argue with a crying father.