It is not just the Delhi bus incident which is making me write this. I have not been bursting with these stories, struggling to let or hold myself from writing them. These are stories which are lying around on all roads, in most corners, in some rooms and on many beds of the world, but particularly so of the country which has been mine from childhood.These stories don’t make you burst out at all, but eat you, ripping your confidence. Until someday you find enough things to bury them behind cupboards.
What is making me write this is the frustration. Of having to look behind my shoulder constantly, of how I have handled intrusions on my self.
Just little more than a year ago in Bangalore, a man ran down behind me on a small lonely stretch of road, breathing down my neck before I could turn, fondled my body and pushed me on to the road. In a state of shock, I could not get a sound out of me. But my body resisted, finding a hand to stop, a foot to kick him a bit. Suddenly the voice returned too – not mine; the hoarseness of its cry was alien to me. The man, alone and a coward, ran. I ran after him. But on the main road, when he ran off in another direction and I could not see anyone who could have supported my desire to box him, I decided to walk away in the opposite direction.
That night I could not stop crying, I was both pitying and disgusted with myself for not having kicked the man where it would hurt most. Next day, it was a nightmare to walk to office. I avoided that street and face my helplessness again. And since then, I have to brace myself to return to Bangalore. I flinch at the idea of crossing a road there, don’t take an auto to go meet friends. I stopped my morning run in a park nearby. Sometimes, if its dark before I leave office, I request my colleagues to walk me to my hotel 3 min away. It is humiliating and largely frustrating. But the fear doesn’t let up.
And how can it. Even as a very young girl in Jaipur, I have seen eve-teasing boundaries cross and hands come out of them to squeeze breasts or pinch bottoms. Though I have pushed back the memories of those train rides from Delhi-Jaipur, it is hard to forget the evil, victorious, mocking grin of a man through the iron grills, as he dashed off the train after having fondled me. What did I do? Nothing. What should I have done? I still don’t know. I know that I stopped taking trains and switched to buses. I found it easier, perhaps, to deal with subtle elbows trying to press into me than these blatant ‘attacks’.
After the Delhi incident, people are demanding that the police be more vigilant. Have you seen the policemen of Delhi look at women? They rape them with their eyes. How do you trust people who, when finding you sitting on a bench with your boyfriend, blackmail you – threatening to tell your family that you were out alone with a boy. And then, getting sickeningly close to you, ask you to come and meet them alone to save yourself from ‘disgrace’. I thank God that my legs did not desert me then as my voice deserted me last year. I ran, as if for my life – it was for my life, because it was easy to see what was coming next. I was scared they would beat up the boyfriend, but perhaps my running away served as a threat to them, and they let him go for 2000 rupees. The same story repeats here – for the one more year that I lived in Delhi, I was terrorized every time I saw a cop. Even now, the sight of a cop is uncomfortable to me.
I am not trying to compare these incidents with the vast trauma of rape. I don’t think I could live with one. Because even these incidents have already instilled such a fear in me. I have run away everytime, and taken recourse in avoiding. How is it different from the much hated refrain the public makes after each rape – ‘she should not have gone out in the night’. My independence meets a roadblock when confronted with this terror of being violated. In a hotel room in India, I often wake up to the smallest sound, imagining the worst. And then, when I sleep, I dream that my lips are locked to each other and I will not ever be able to speak.