A Narrow Escape from Perverts Around Me – #MeToo

Born and brought up in a country like ours, sexual harassment in various forms is considered to be pretty usual in our daily lives. This marks the first impression about the sorry state of affairs in our  nation. Sexual exploitation in any form, leaves an indelible mark on the soul of the concerned person – be it male/female. And a casual approach towards the frequency of such incidents, is alarming indeed. Somewhere, something is definitely going wrong!
I clearly remember a vivid incident from my childhood, when I was hardly 11-12 years old. I was sent by my mother to the nearest grocery store to grab a packet of bread, when our area suddenly experienced a power outage. Accompanied by my little brother, I was walking back home when someone on a bicycle suddenly tried to pull the right sleeve of my top. Before I could realise what exactly happened in the darkness, the man was gone. Both my brother and me were startled and wondered if he wanted to rob or hurt us – because he had done neither, but probably attempted to. Nevertheless, we’d reached the front gate of our home by then and ran inside the house. With hardly any form of sexual education in those times, I did almost what was obvious then. I didn’t discuss about this at home, but pondered about that somewhat uncomfortable incident the whole night. It was only a couple of years later that I realised that it was a failed attempt for molestation. That man probably tried to reach out to the breasts (hardly developed at such a young age), but somehow my arm came in between. And all he could manage was a sharp hit on my right arm. Till today, I fail to fathom what kind of pleasure a man can get from an under-developed breast. Can that even be called sexual attraction?
This brings me to another incident, when I was travelling in a local bus on a journey back home. I was about 21 years old then. Since I was commuting on a busy hour, the bus was jam packed and I could manage to get a seat at the rear end of the bus (instead of the ladies’ seats allotted for women). I’m specifically mentioning this because I’ve even heard arguments stating that women do not opt for ladies’ seats voluntarily and invite obvious trouble in the form of sexual harassment. It sounds almost like if we don’t confine ourselves to our reserved seats, we are at our own risks and perhaps, bound to get molested! An old man, about 50-55 years old, came and sat next to me. Within few minutes, I realised that he was unnecessarily trying to move closer to me, with hardly any comfortable level of gap between us. A moment later, he sat with folded arms leaning across his chest. By then, I was already too alert which made me sit upright with my arms tight and close to myself. Within few seconds, I could feel his fingers opening up one-by-one from his closed fist and brushing against my arm. Yet again, this man was trying to reach out for my breasts, but my arms blocked him. To this, I immediately retorted – “Uncle, can’t you sit straight?” This attracted few onlookers in the bus, but nobody actively intervened yet. Fortunately, that man sat inches away from me for the rest of the journey before I decided to create a ruckus. He was almost of the same age as my father. I was already speechless!
Surprisingly, this saga of harassment continued even to my workplace, where a colleague had once sent pornographic images to my official email id. It hardly made sense to me and I immediately deleted that mail, followed by a sharp rebuke asking him never to repeat that. He never did that again. I even remember once being called ‘a typical small-town-girl’ for having expressed my distaste in having illicit relations with married men. I have experienced so-called seniors at workplace, staring right at my breasts, while discussing a major work-related issue. And yes, before people start judging recklessly, let me state that I wear ‘decent’ Indian/western formals at work. There were queer instances that I observed. People actually believed that they could take a chance in their sexual advances, if a woman had a drink or two with them. Very conveniently, the woman can be blamed then.
Such were the thoughts of the elite educated men around me. But, somehow I held my ground and things never went out of control. Other than these few highlighted incidents, there must be countless more instances of eve-teasing, name-calling disguised as a sense of humour, chasing etc. But, amidst all these incidents, one message  was loud and clear – ‘whenever I raised a voice, an undesirable incident was averted’. Perhaps, I was also lucky in my situations. Most women are not. Even if we did not get any form of sexual education at our times, my father always taught me to be strong and strive to overcome fear against all odds. That strength of voice is all that matters. I’ll always owe that to my father.
I’ve travelled across many countries in the world and practically lived in two of them, other than India. Singapore is a safe haven for women, be it with respect to solo-travelling, daily commuting, working etc. I’ve never come across a country more respectful and concerned towards the safety of women. The men have been groomed likewise. Similarly, America is a nation where women exude oodles of self-confidence. Silence is never an option for them. They will definitely opine and speak up against any undesirable situation. Even the kids have an opinion of their own. They have been groomed that way. So before rushing into arguments on what laws should be enforced in our nation to prevent such misconduct, I always believe that there are 2 very simple steps to begin with – ‘Teach our boys to respect women, and teach our girls to voice their opinions’. And this  can begin right at home. Small steps will definitely take us ahead.

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