What does it feel like to be slapped in the middle of a road? Very bad. But, not when it’s for a good cause. Like I got slapped some 15 years ago.
The road to my school, in Chennai, passed through a deserted area. One evening, when a few of us – some few girls and I – were returning home, one of the girls drew our attention to a group of boys saying that they had been passing comments about them for some days.
Some days later, when the catcalls increased, one of the girls asked me, “Why don’t you tell them anything?” At first, I hesitated. But then I walked up to the grown-up boys and confronted them. Their reply was forceful: They gave me a tight slap and told me to buzz off. My classmates rushed to my side and began to shout at the boys. Sensing trouble, they left.
The next day, the boys were there again. But they only looked at me, like I was a loser. However, there were no comments.
When I think about it today, I wonder where the girls got the courage from to take on the boys. And I can see a similar phenomenon in the protests against the gang rape of the 23-year-old paramedical student who died on Saturday. A fight for someone else, that draws strength from the anguish that each one also suffers silently.
A pertinent question is, why do men harass women? Can’t they understand that a girl would only hate them if they harass her? Only in the films of the 1980s-90s would a girl fall for the hero who teases her; this does not happen in the real world. Violent acts will only alienate men from women. And if and when the government compiles a national database of sexual offenders, there will be no place for the men to hide.
To the average man in the neighbourhood – not the depraved ones who derive pleasure from assaulting women – this simple question: Where are you? You are certainly not at the venues of protests in Delhi, or Mumbai, or any other city. For, if you had been there, you would not have allowed those who created a nuisance or groped women during the protests, to get away.
This is also the time to remember the friend of the 23-year-old woman who fought the attackers. It’s time for boys to take courage from the example by Reuben Fernandez and Keenan Santos and be men.
This statement is bound to infuriate a few women, who would say they are not asking for protection, but an end to such a crime. But till that time when we have such a society, it’s for the men to stop others from passing remarks at girls, or to stop anyone who brushes by women, as if innocuously, or harasses them.
It’s time for us to make our girls and women feel safe on the streets — remember, it’s their space as much as it’s ours — and warn the beastly criminals that they will have to face us first before they look at the girls.