We watch unpleasant things in the media. We prepare ourselves for the worst circumstances. We arm ourselves with pepper sprays, knives and rape whistles. But in reality, our mind and body is never prepared unless we have first experienced how it is to feel violated.
It happened to me when I turned 16, innocent, fresh into the grade 12, overburdened with studies and unaware about the cruelties of mankind. It was my first time in a public bus because my grandmother had decided that it was time for me to come out of the cocoon and face the challenges of the real world. I scoffed at her thinking that I knew what was coming; crowdy, full packed buses with sweaty handles and sweltering and suffocating heat. I was a little miffed at her for taking away my comforts of a carpool and pushing me into a more annoying and challenging way of travel( if you ever boarded S24 you will know what I am talking about.)
She was there to accompany me to school the first day after which I would I have to travel on my own. Somehow after boarding the bus, we got separated by the crowd. At Ruby, a man of about 30 got into the bus holding a little girl child (probably in kindergarten) by her pinkie and positioned himself right in front of me blocking the exit as well as making my grip on the handle difficult. When my stoppage was about to approach I asked the man if he was getting down next so that I wouldn't have to push past him to get down. Suddenly I found a hand pushing against my private parts. I tried to ignore it assuming it to be the mistake of the jerking bus. My biggest fault! He took it as a signal to touch me more obscenely. I was petrified. Mind stopped working, mouth went dry and hands stopped moving. I
thought he was a good man with a little girl.
Aah the irony! Violating another woman while having his little girl at his side! Trying to overcome my paralyzed condition and mind clouded with fear I let out a squeaky voice, “Ki korchen apni!”( What are you doing?) No one cared to hear. No one batted an eye. No one turned my way. Needless to say he didn't stop. My stoppage arrived. He got down. I couldn't let that monster get away. I had to say something. Get my grandma to thrash him and give him a piece of my mind. I got down too and angrily followed him, my heart overflowing with anguish and rage. The man fastened his pace carrying the child with one hand. He was trying to run. I trodded after him urging my paralyzed legs further; screaming at him internally. I have to do something . I looked around and spotted a policeman standing across the street. I planned on screaming at the molester so that I could attract a crowd as well as the cop’s attention. I planned on trying to beat up the pedophiliac monster. I planned on so so many things.
My throat went dry. My chapped lips refused to budge.
The pedophile ran farther away from my sight. I lost.
Trailing behind me was my confused grandma. “ What happened?” she asked me. I looked at her with a lost, agonized face,“Nothing.”
While walking towards my class, my mind ran a 1000 thoughts per second. Why was I such a weakling? Why couldn't I say anything? Damn, why did I even have to talk to him. What could have possibly given him signals that I was available?; and most importantly what compelled me to hide this encounter from my grandma. Was I ashamed of myself? Was I ashamed that I was touched and now I will be judged. No this isn't my fault. If anyone should be ashamed it should be that disgraceful molester. I was in shock only because I faced this for the first time. I am going to change myself;I will be more bold and outgoing.; and nothing was a signal today other than the part where my lips refused to open vehemently against his act because of which he got the audacity to do what he did.
No child was more unfortunate than that little girl. Who knows how he treats her!
Still shaken up, I shared this incident to my desk partners.
I received a perky laugh and a nonchalant shrug,“Yeah there are some ill-mannered men.”Thats all what she said. The other two decided to stayed mute.
“Thats why I wear the Burkha, it keeps my face and body hidden from the leering men. That is how you keep yourself safe.”advised another one. This was all the consoling I received. Apart from the anguish and rage, I felt bewildered, disillusioned.
I thought this incident would cause an uproar within my friends who give humongous speeches about woman empowerment in the assembly.
On reaching home I immediately divulged about this incident to my maa and grandma. They just showed some sympathy and spoke about their own share of incidents ; a fellow old man spilling semen on mom’s feet, a relative groping my 7 year old mother.I was appalled by how normally she said it, like it wasn't a big deal at all.
My mom’s story was more grosser than mine and she was calm. But she was strong.
But I developed a fear of buses.
The next time it happened, I wasn't aware of it. A jam packed bus full of sweaty people; I was getting late for school. A 50 year old man started a conversation with me. He looked kind. I replied to him. After a while, he started making uncanny movements with the jerking of the bus while pressing against me. Again I was too naive to understand the gesture.
He groped me again.
I failed to raise my voice again.
“Be calm dear, these situations will happen now that you are older. Your boldness has to compensate for your size. That is when you are going to get respect. Instead of getting embarrassed, embarrass your molesters in front of everyone. Use that nasty tongue of your to create an impact on at least one mind. Remember, the world may seem very generous and loving, but in the end you are your own protector.”
At night, when the world returned to its deepest tresses, I stayed awake. This time the man was older. All men are the same, I concluded. All men view females as mere sexual organs displayed for their own pleasure; be it the age of their daughter or sister. After my mom’s faulty marriage, I could not help but come to this conclusion and generalize men. A deep hatred began to develop within my heart.
I have a small figure and a childish face which made me easy targets to pedophiles. But nothing beats a personality filled with raw power, boldness and gravity.
I knew where I was going wrong. All this time I expected for the people around to protect me, and take charge. I expected them to punish him. I also realized I had fear paralysis. The fear of men prevented my faculties from working altogether.
With a fresh intent in my mind I finally closed my eyes.
Once when I boarded the bus with a compass in my pocket to stab molesters in alleyways, a middle aged man caught my hand and pulled me up. I immediately charged up to shout at him for touching me but it soon appeared that he did that to hurriedly give away his seat to me. I got confused. But men were bad, right?!
A teenage boy offered me his seat again and stood a long way before reaching his stoppage.
A man in his thirties, offered to carry my bag; when I refused he gave his seat away to me.
Another middle aged man tried his best to cover the window to prevent the rain from splashing onto my face. I was torn between hating and being grateful.
I thought all men were bad.
This time a man of 60, trying to snake his hands around. But he was unfortunate because I was ready. One strong glare filled with contempt, rage and power was all it took to back him off. I mentally danced at my first victory.
It did happen again and again but I don't feel the need to mention those incidents anymore because I am no longer frightened of men. I changed my demeanor, posed myself as bold and challenging as opposed to innocent and naive; and most importantly I got over my fear paralysis. Although a spare sharp compass remains in my pocket, its mostly my snarky tongue that comes to use. My dear women,
Never be ashamed.
Never be afraid.