Growing up as a girl in Mumbai was not the easiest thing in the world. Although I lived a very sheltered life growing up in one of the most beautiful, peaceful and greener areas of the city, I wasn’t untouched by the filth that surrounded us. While our religion and family is quite open minded and I wore shorts, skirts and dresses everywhere within our colony lines, my mother would always ensure that we wore something which covered more skin when we stepped out of our comfort zone. And it did not take me long to understand why.
I was around 13 years old. I was walking back home alone from school. My colony gets very quiet around late afternoon and there were not too many people or cars on the street. I was walking lost in my own thoughts when suddenly a stranger walking past me the other way reached out to touch me. I instinctively ducked and froze on the spot with tears threatening to burst out. After a few seconds I got the courage to turn around and look at that man who turned around to face me, laughed and blew me a kiss. I had lost the use of all my senses and was completely dumbstruck with fright. I did not even notice that a friend of mine who was walking a few meters behind me had taken notice of the entire situation. He immediately confronted the man and lashed out at him with a punch. Soon a few other colony boys who happened to be around took note of the situation and rushed to my friend’s aid to rough up the other guy. Although that made me feel a bit better I just continued to walk home, tears streaming down my face, shaking from head to toe.
That incident made me realise that I don’t live in a perfect world. It also made me tougher and I promised myself to never let that happen again. While in public I would always be on constant vigil, scanning my surroundings for possible roadside romeos. If they happened to whistle or call out, I would muster up courage, walk upto them and defy them to say it again, which worked most of the time. I have also had to scream out obscenities at times for the more seasoned ones. In fact once I finished school and started going to college via public transport cat calling became a common occurrence and I soon started getting immune to them, ignoring the calls unless they turned into lewd suggestions. Till one day another ugly incident took place. This one closer to home and more serious. This time the feeling was not shock or fear but one of ANGER and the urge to FIGHT BACK in the strongest possible terms. This time I did not walk away, the eve teaser was not only roughed up by a crowd but also taken to the police station.
At the police station I saw another side of the city. The casual conversations going on, the relaxed attitude of the police officers, the run-down furniture, the lack of efficiency, did not give me any confidence that justice would be served. I had already started to feel uncomfortable and wanted to just go home but I still had to give a full account of the incident which took over an hour amidst the type writer not working and a quick chai break! They booked him under some petty charge and asked us to go home saying the court notice would follow. After more than five years and two visits to the small causes court, I lost all faith in our system. By then I was ready to give up the charges. It was just easier that way!
When I read about the Mumbai gang-rape case I could only imagine what the girl would have gone through. If I could react like that with one unwanted touch, imagine being raped!!! There are no words to explain the feeling – the fear, the helplessness, the fury, and the humiliation afterwards for something that wasn’t your fault. The word ‘survivor’ as the media refers to the girl now as if she has emerged victorious from a natural calamity, conveys nothing! The word ‘victim’ is more suitable considering the horrific crime committed. Rape should be treated equivalent to murder, as it does kill one’s confidence, one’s love for life, one’s trust in others, it kills the person that you are, and then the society wants you to emerge stronger….for what? To attend those meaningless court cases where the victim is traumatised further, or to see those culprits leer back at you? After an eternity a sentence would be given, a few weeks or months in prison and then they are back in our society. Today eve teasing, tomorrow RAPE!