A few months back, a friend of mine stepped out of her house for a morning walk. It was 6:30 in the morning and the atmosphere was bright and pleasant. As the fresh air filled her lungs, she felt amazing and decided that she would make morning walk a ritual. Just then, she crossed a huge tree on the side of the pathway she was walking on and found a man with his pants down standing right there, staring at her.
Thoroughly startled and spooked at the sight, my friend decided to speed up and power-walk away. Just as she got a few steps away, this man who was only 'hanging out' on a public pathway until now, suddenly started to talk to her. Yes, her! He started to catcall, saying a few really horrible things and shouted after her to come back. My friend kept walking. The man, all exposed and clearly mistaking her almost running away as a 'yes', now started to make obscene sounds and said something very cheap. He said things so damn infuriating that my friend turned, ran towards him and grabbed his neck.
Like a woman possessed, she then started to slap the bejesus out of him, and kneed his crotch. He almost fell over with his trousers down. He then tried to hit her and run away, but he couldn't. And remember, this all was happening at a public place, a road that has fairly heavy traffic. No one stopped. My brave friend held on to him for a good 5 minutes, until an elderly passer-by stopped and in a few seconds, four of her husbands' friends who are training for a marathon and run every morning, got there too. Together, these men caught hold of the pervert and took him to the nearest police station. My friend and her husband then filed an FIR.
My friend was brave, probably braver than me. She did the right thing. I am proud of her, as anyone in their right mind should be. Right? Well, wrong. You'd think that she would be applauded for being brave, and that she would be an inspiration to those of us who would have decided to keep walking away when the street harassment got to its worst. Sadly, that didn't happen.
When she and her husband got home after the eventful morning at the police station, she had another battle to endure. This one was dirtier than a random pervert yelling obscene things at her. This one was with the people she knew as her friends and family. Here is a list of reactions she got:
- "Did you know him personally? Because it looks like you knew him. Personally, I mean. Are you sure you don't know him?" Meaning, I think he harassed you because you knew him. Or because you maybe had an affair with him. Or because you were #AskingForIt and it's your fault. Obviously.
- "It must have been so embarrassing! You know, catching hold of him while his pants were down? You should have walked away." Which means, it was embarrassing for YOU. Not for the man who in fact has his genitalia exposed for all the morning walkers to see, not for the passers-by who didn't stop, but for the girl who was being harassed on a street. Classy!
- "It could have been dangerous." Yes, it could have been really dangerous if she had not done a thing, giving the man a colossal confidence boost ensuring that he attacked another unsuspecting girl with more than just catcalling. Heard of rapes? Yes, that.
- "But why were you walking alone at 6:30 in the morning anyway?" Well, the man was jerking-off out in the open, on a street at 6:30 in the morning, and I'm sure no one asked him that question.
- "Your husband must be so angry with you!" For what, exactly? She told me he wanted to punch the pervert in the nose, but the police stopped him (Like literally. They held him back). But angry at her? Why?
- "Very good. You taught him a lesson. But why an FIR? You'll be troubled with all the police ka chakkar." Might mean why make the punishment official? Or probably means just let him go, don't get attached to the police-case-outcome. I don't understand.
- "But this happens everyday, nothing new. You should't take it so seriously." My friend told me she wanted to strangle the person saying this and then say the same thing.
- "Girls are not safe in this country. People should just stop having daughters in India." This, probably is the most offensive comment on this list.
So, there it is - the list of unbelievable and frustrating responses my brave friend got for standing up and confronting the street harasser. True, street harassment is not a new concept and yes, it could have been dangerous for my friend if her harasser had a weapon on him or if she wasn't an extremely fit girl who took his pushes and punches bravely for a few--very long--minutes until help came. But, it is not going to stop until we take action.
Silence is not the answer, being brave is.
Walking away is not the right response, standing up for yourself (and in turn, for others) is.
Not venturing out alone on the street is not the solution, taking action is.
No woman is ever okay with street harassment. Just because street harassment is common, no girl takes it 'in her stride', as a part of the tough-life-of-a-girl. That's bulls*%t. No woman is immune to being objectified, violated or made to feel inferior. It's infuriating, disgusting and downright painful. No one is ever asking for it. Period.
So let's not be the kind who's response is anything like the list above. Instead, let's decide to brave up and stand up to harassment, because the man you let go today might brave up instead and commit a far more serious crime than catcalling or verbally harassing you on the street. Let's decide to speak up, okay?
And oh, my friend says she might have cured that man of his public fetish - she says she kneed him pretty hard and here's hoping! *wink*
PS: For current updates about this FIR and this certain friend, please check Monologue.