Type, delete, type.
I have never felt as wordless as when I was trying to articulate my experiences of sexual harassment on the streets of India. When these incidents took place, all I wanted to do was to perhaps take a lesson from them and then move on, forget about them. They made me feel emotionally weak, helpless, as if freedom was out of my grasp. I could imagine others saying, "So what? After all, she was never raped." But here's the thing, a violation is a violation. Any of those incidents could have turned into rape had I not made a scene or the man not changed his mind.
What they did to me?
They did make me lose a little faith in men.
But here I am. Healing myself.
Clouds above my head
Or shadows from the past
It's all a memory; it's all so vast
I sit here so choked
And you say I get emotional about patriarchy!
My friend and I were walking down the street from school that day. We were just 15 years old. As young girls transforming into women, the trauma of sudden bodily changes, strange new growths of hair and outbreaks of acne were enough for us to be conscious of ourselves. The teachers and the boys at school only added to our confusion, leaving questions unanswered at most instances.
"I have no list of to-dos. Nor will I say that the woman is a daughter, a sister, a mother. Just think of her as a human first."
That day, owing to the tiring day we had, we looked out for a cycle rickshaw. Just as we were about to board it, a man on a scooter with his helmet on came out from nowhere and punched me hard on my breasts. I shouted, kicking him hard on his face. He ran away. We were speechless. We didn't know what to make of what had happened or why it happened. From that day onwards, we always kept our bags close to our chests, hiding our budding bodies from the predators who lurked on the street as we walked home from school.
But how much of a shield could a schoolbag be? From around that time until today, most men talk to my breasts and not to me.
I look at myself in the mirror
A piece of art am I to all?
Or a human who lives emotions
Waiting for the invisible veil to fall?
And you say I am breaking the foundations.
In the chaos of Delhi and my life in a college, I started developing wings of fire. Wings that were giving me hope to fly. Coming back from the college I had often been instructed by my mother to be careful as the distance wasn't short and I sometimes had late classes. I didn't realise the value of her advice until a traumatic incident.
Five drunken men in a car came towards me as I walked down to the nearby bus stop. They blew kisses, made lewd remarks and tried to force me to get into the car with them. As I ran for my life, I felt real fear yet again. It wasn't a secluded street. This time it was in broad daylight on a busy main road.
It wasn't the last time. I often saw men masturbating in the metro looking at us group of girls, men in cars stopping next to us on the pretext of asking for directions while they fondled themselves, men following me as I ran for safety. From that first day onwards, I never went too near a car driving by me. Ten years down the line, I still feel the jitters when I find a car approaching me.
They look around with dirty eyes,
Waiting for them to catch her
I don't hate men, I say yet again
But the faith seems to die
As I see another woman tortured by, a man
And you say, I am too much of a feminist.
I sat down in a shared auto ride in Patna to reach my PG house where I was living during the course of a project I was working on. Clouds were gathering and the sky darkened. Suddenly I realised I was the only woman in the auto. But it was only when I was getting out that one of the co-passengers groped my chest. I shouted in shock and protest on the road even as the auto sped away. Nobody heard me. It was yet another incident to reinforce my pain towards myself, as a woman, I felt violated again.
As a girl, as a woman, the stories keep adding up, taking a toll on my mind as well as my body. Men are sensible human beings, if they consider women humans in first place. Women are sensible too, if they consider themselves human. What can I say? I have no list of to-dos. Nor will I say that the woman is a daughter, a sister, a mother. Just think of her as a human first.
The pain of one and every woman
Who looks around with eyes wide open
To save herself from any tiny trouble
To run away from those stripping eyes
To fight back those violating hands
Is she alone? Am I alone?
To that man in the metro who "relieved" himself by looking at me. To that guy in that car who showed me his penis on the pretext of asking for a route. To that office colleague who "spoke" to my breasts every single time we talked. To that man in that lane who chuckled and flashed himself at me as he urinated in the open.
These acts don't make you strong. You are weak. So weak. Because, you are scared of a woman's sexuality.
A version of this post appeared on the Feminism In India blog as a part of their 16 days of Activism campaign