I grew up with rape, without even questioning it. It was a part of my life, before I even knew what it was. Tamil movies in the 80’s and 90’s invariably had a rape scene, I suppose the mindset then was that it added value to an overall family entertainer. As soon as the woman’s saree began to unravel, and she spun around, my mothers hand would swiftly cover my eyes, with a vice like grip. Very often the victim would be the ” hero’s ” sister and would go crying to him in shame. Everyone would then cry, and the hero would wipe his tears and set out to seek justice. This justice would strangely result in forcing the reluctant rapist to marry the sister, who would obviously be pregnant by then. So you see, to an 8 year old me, rape didnt seem like a very bad thing. The girl married the rapist, infact was even keen to marry him, so he had to be a good guy, and the ” hero” sang songs and danced around them. The only person who ever showed discomfort in these scenes was the rapist, who looked surly besides his coy beaming bride and dancing brother-in-law.
One day, while driving back from one such movie, I asked my parents what rape was. At a loss for words, they said I needed to be a little older, and promised to explain it to me when I was 10. Then I turned 10, and true to their words, I was given the birds and bees talk, with god bless my parents, the help of a dictionary ! Now that I had the knowledge, I felt a sense of power, I wanted to share it, I wanted to show-off. I ran to tell my cousin, that we were born when a man’s thingie touched a woman’s thingie, and to my surprise she started bawling her eyes out.
Thats was the begining, the knowledge did not bring with it a sense of power, but rather a sense of horror. As I grew older, so did the extent of the horrors, it shcoked me, created a pause, but I adapted to it. It became second nature to dress modestly while taking public transport, to avoid travelling alone late at night, to even dodge gropers mid conversation, mid step in Pondy Bazar (a very busy shopping street in Chennai). Friends have laughingly complimented me on my skills of dodging gropers. We accepted our situation, our world without protest.
I adapted so well, that I became callous, I forgot. I felt bad about every rape I read, I could not sleep for a week when I read about the poor poor Japanese girl (http://myanimelist.net/forum/?topicid=401617), but I always forgot.
Now I am trying hard to remember, the memories are blurred….
My largely happy existence was punctuated with the odd bump of this horror, but I learnt to adapt, I learnt to repress. At 10 after a lot of pleading I was finally allowed to walk to the lending library two streets away alone. Armed with a couple of Nancy Drews, my chest swelling with pride, I set out on my first independent walk. A cyclist pinched my ass and was long gone before I could even grasp what happened or see his face. I wonder what perverse pleasure he derived from the touch of a child’s flesh. I reported the incident to my family, and immediately lost the privilege of walking alone in the neighbourhood for no fault of mine.
8 years later, at a cultural fest in REC Calicut, a male friend and I were walking between venues when one of the host college students ran by me, and grabbed my breast. In his eagerness to make a quick get away, he did it with great speed and force causing me considerable pain. I yelled, and alerted my friends who chased him. Before I knew it I was surrounded by the host college students (all male), asking me not to make a scene, that they would make the molestor apologize and I should not report the incident. I was in considerable shock, and the strange boys who had surrounded me were urging me to let it go loudly, not letting me think. Shamefully, I have to admit that I did, I was just thankful to slink back into my college group, taking refuge in the familiarity of friends.
Another 7 years down the line, I had just shifted to Ahmedabad. I decided to go for a run, to fight my losing battle with fitness. As I slowly jogged through the residential streets, leading to the park, I noticed a young teenager on red scooty pass me twice. He must have been 15, with a rat like face which was showing the first signs of facial hair. I presume he was on his way to a tuition class, as he was carrying school books. He drove into a side street and I knew he was waiting for me. Luckily for me, he was young and a very amatuer molestor. He drove out of the side street slowly, and reached out for my breast, while struggling to maintain balance of his bike. I saw it happening in slow motion and managed to deflect his hand with mine. I then yelled for murder as he sped away and threw a well aimed stone at his bike.
I was extremely shaken, what made a boy, who showed signs of being well cared for, go into a side street to contemplate molesting a women almost twice his age ? Who taught him that ? Have the pleasures of wooing and dating girls of their own age, slow dances and first kisses been denied from teenagers, are they so repressed that they have resorted to this ? Has the objectification of women in movies and advertisemnts lead to this ? What is this boy going to grow up to be ? I wish I could get into their heads, and break down what that fleeting touch, that causes so much mental and physical pain to the victim brings to them.
Thankfully these sum up my worst experiences of sexual assault ( I am not using the term eve-teasing, on purpose), but there are countless incidents of cat calling, lewd comments often accompanied by singing all jumbled up in a mesh. But the possibility of the horror has always loomed in the background, there is always the fear of rape.
The other will request me to wear a ‘salwar -kameez’ to the old city, my mom will call to check several times if I am travelling alone by auto after 8 pm, she has already gently suggested that I should rethink joining dance classes which are between 9:30 -10:30 pm. As women in India, many of our actions, from the way we dress to the routes we take, consciously or unconsciouly reflect the fear of sexual harassment, and rape.
This is our contribution to evolution.
This time, with the girls life being detroyed in Delhi, something has happened to everybody. The gore and brutality of it has done something that the group molestation of the teenager in Guwhati, and the murder of the lawyer in Mumbai had failed to do. The country has woken up, there is unrest, there is anger, there is a call for justice.
But for me, I am unable to forget. The horror has become real, it has taken over. Apart from wanting horrible things to happen to the people responsible for this, I want safety. I want to be able to walk on the streets without constantly looking out for possible molestors. I want there to be a cage in every public place in a city, where the cat-calling swaggering offender is retained for a day or two, so that passers by can shame them. I want stricter rape laws. I want the objectification of women to stop, and most importatnly I don’t want to have to ask for equality or respect.
From now on, I will not forget, I will not adapt. I will not lower my eyes or cower in fear. I will fight.