The night is not safe, come back soon. The streets are not safe, don’t drive around alone. Public transport is not safe, stay in the ladies section. These are things people tell you and warn you about. Pepper spray, an open safety pin, my backpack strapped across my chest, these are all the defense mechanisms we arm ourselves with and get on with life. And what about the unseen, unheard defense mechanisms so many of us just imbibe unknowingly? Remember the time I had second thoughts about those pants I wanted to wear? There was also the time before I got all cozy and comfortable staying alone while the husband was away, when I was a wee bit afraid of going out at night, because you know, I don’t have a boy accompanying me. There have been a few times when I have changed out of something, because maybe people would think it’s too bold for the occasion. There have also been times when I have heard stories of girlfriends braving eve teasers at odd times of the night, coming out safe to tell me the story, and my first reaction is what were you doing there all alone?! It’s shameful, but these thoughts creep in, even when we don’t notice they have. No sooner had the words come out of my mouth than I realised how there are so many little things, and years and lifetimes of conditioning have made us slightly weak, always suspicious, always protecting ourselves, defending ourselves (sometimes unsuccessfully) against predators. How much of it is practical and required? Because you know what they all say, it’s better to be safe than sorry. *Yawn* And if we’re always going to reinforce these defense mechanisms aren’t we just accepting harassment as a part of our lives that we have it just accept and deal with one way or another? How does one pin-point such behaviour, weed it out of the grey areas and call it out, begin to correct?
My mother always instilled in us the idea of standing up and fighting back. She tried hard to get me to join a self-defense class. She told us stories of how she when she was once standing at a bus stop, a man had grabbed her chest, and tried to make a run for it. Broad day light, at a publicly-public place, yet it happened. She told us how enraged she was, but how she had the presence of mind to chase him down, was lucky to catch up with him and give him a resounding slap or two, before some folks around her came to rescue. It’s true, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself, before help comes your way. But what about those of us who are inherently meek? Despite hearing stories like this right through my childhood, and having thoughts of never letting anyone take your for granted, dinned into my head for as long as I can remember, I somehow seem to be missing that gene altogether. It’s probably why I collapsed into a shivering pile of tears and fear, after I was badly groped in a public bus on my way to college. It’s probably why I didn’t quite know what to make of a colleagues vaguely flirtatious advances that always gently see-sawed the grey area between friendly banter and something that was just inappropriate to say to a colleague. It’s probably why even at the ripe age of 25, despite being to so many gynaecologists and knowing a good touch from a pad one, I tumbled out of the little clinic in Goa, shaking with fear because I was just not sure if what the doctor had just done to me was medically appropriate or not. My gut said, no, but my head gave him the benefit of doubt and told me to shut up and let it slide. It was only when he made repeated comments to me about my paranoia about getting pregnant, and suggested that maybe I was being “naughty” and “immoral” did I realise he had actually crossed that line. I might never fully understand the grey area between what is appropriate and what isn’t, but I have learned to let my gut guide me more.
Remember the Rose Chasm story that went viral a while ago? And then this NY Times post? I was equally mad and worked up on reading them both. Because I mean, why does it take some Western polarised and extreme reading of our people, society and culture for us to sit up and notice? Haven’t we all experienced in some form or the other, what Rose and Lavanya have talked about? Why then, is it so hard for us to accept these facts about ourselves? I was also mad about how it is made to seem again and again, that the Indian man is either a potential rapist or Mr. Nice guy of the please-wear-a-dupatta-before-you-go-out kind. Nothing in between. Do none of us know any normal, good men around? Do none of them belong to that vast grey area between that feral, hormonal and altogether vicious state of being that Rose speaks about and the other extreme — the Common Indian Male that Lavanya so eloquently describes?
When I saw Anurag Kashyap’s latest offering on the subject, I was uncomfortable. A short film that presumably makes the bold stand we all want to believe and feel in our hearts — if it happens to you, fight it with all you’ve got. But what about those women, like me, who have a track record of turning completely blank when eve-teased? What if all we’ve got is a numb mind and a tied tongue? I was uncomfortable with the blatant statement about taakat, and its rightful place, in one’s mind. I’m sorry, some of us are just not that strong. The world is filled with women like me who may not always be able to react with force, and that certainly doesn’t go to show that I am asking for it. Or that I deserve what happened to me because I couldn’t speak up. What about women like me, who aren’t entirely submissive, but in certain situations find it hard to speak up or react in time? Aren’t we in that dodgy grey area nobody talks about?
The night is not safe, come back soon. The streets are not safe, don’t drive around alone. Public transport is not safe, stay in the ladies section. These are things people tell you and warn you about. What they don’t tell you about is that if someone has to touch you, pinch your butt, eve tease you, it could happen in places you least expect it. In a doctor’s chair. In your office. In a goddamn elevator. And the person capable of it, is sometimes people you would least expect, including people you trust — your doctor, your boss, the Common Indian Male. People will tell you about the extremes, the expected, the stereotypes. But rarely does anybody talk about the grey areas that lie in between.