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#dnaArchive: How Safe Is Your City - Women break the culture of silence

Friday, 30 May 2014 - 4:30pm IST | Agency: dna

Here are some first person accounts of the women who have had enough of being stared at, harassed or sexually molested, and have decided not to stay quiet anymore.

Despite the attention that the December 2012 gang-rape garnered, shedding much-needed light on an issue Indians have always refrained from talking about, sexual harassment and rape continue unabated in the country. The only silver lining we see on this otherwise darkening cloud is that women have begun to speak up.

Anonymoustourist travelling on a bus in Haryana.
I was travelling through Haryana, near the village of Budha Khera Lather, on a sleeper bus. The man responsible for checking the tickets kept opening my pod door and harassing me. When I got off the bus at a rest stop to use the washroom, he attempted to drag me away into the fields nearby. Thankfully a family saw what was happening and rescued me.

Anonymoustourist at Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh.
I was staying the night at a hotel in Dharamsala, close to the bus terminal. The hotel clerk who showed me to my room forced himself through the doorway and refused to leave. He began to say inappropriate things to me and would not leave. I became more and more afraid of what he would do and began yelling at him to leave the room. I finally managed to push him out. I pushed a table against the room door and barred it shut, and did not sleep the entire night.

Anonymoustourist at Palitana Jain temples, Gujarat.

While visiting the Jain temples in Palitana in Gujarat, I wandered off from the rest of my companions to take some photographs. A guard followed me into one of the dark inner temples and grabbed my breast. I panicked, pushed him off me and ran away quickly. I should have reported the incident, but I was in shock.

Anonymous, Rathifile bus station, Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh.
This is not an isolated incident, and I’m not the only victim. Rathifile bus station, near Secunderabad railway station, has long been area where women are groped, both in buses and at the bus stops, indecently stared at, stalked, and had their bodies rubbed against by men. I have had to take buses from this station for two years, and there has hardly been a day that such sexual harassment does not occur. I only hope that with better lighting, maintenance and the presence of policemen will change the situation.

Niharika Puri, 21-year-old content writer and movie critic living in Mumbai.
I would not want to burst the bubble on Mumbai being a safe city for women, but recent crime statistics have proved a disheartening deterrent. It had me reflecting on some of my own unsavoury experiences that happened at a time when the city was still a haven for the outgoing.

I was fresh out of school and just learning to get a handle on public transport to travel to junior college. Despite the ‘big city kid’ tag, I was still daunted by the throngs of people piling into the BEST buses. That took a while to get accustomed to. But what I could never get used to were the leering glances of men when I boarded. My college was in Vile Parle, a half-hour bus ride from where I live.

The stares were a daily occurrence, but there were some occasions when the voyeurs wanted to do more than just stare. God forbid if I did not get a place to sit! There were sleazy things being whispered into my ear, a scraggly arm trying to invade my personal space, and let’s forget the inappropriate brushing. One can do little in a crowded bus, something these sick people take the fullest advantage of.

I did not object at first, terrified at the thought that the faceless man (I never got a good look at their faces) could have a whole group right behind to support him. That thought was a result of reading a news item about a woman who had struck down the perpetrator’s advances only to have his friends gang up on her.

But that was the wrong train of thought, I came to realise. The more vocal you are about your displeasure, the quicker the ‘romeos’ tend to back off. (A few Delhi friends tell me this is more effective in Mumbai than Delhi, where the molesters are far more unrelenting, but that is another story.)

However, the incident that shook me the most happened in 2010 when I was sitting for my junior college exams. I was standing at a deserted bus-stop, waiting for my bus when a motorcyclist rode to the turning and parked at the corner, and began watching me in the rear view mirror. When my bus did not arrive, I took a rickshaw to college. Sure enough, he followed me.

It happened the next day too. I received little sympathy from my acquaintances, who were shockingly accustomed to such behaviour. “They eventually get bored and go away,” I was told. Apparently, their parents did not know they were being followed or did not do anything about it.

The motorcyclist followed me the next few days. It unsettled me to see that he knew where I lived and where I studied. My parents were naturally worried for my safety and went to lodge a complaint at the local police station. There, they were met by apathy. The local inspector said it would be unfair for them to take action as the stalker had not actually done anything (physically or verbally) to harass me.

“Does one need to wait for something to happen before we protect our daughters?” my mother protested. Nobody listened.

When the behaviour continued for the next few days, my father took matters into his own hands. I alerted him when I next spotted the motorcyclist. It took a long drawn out confrontation, where my father gave him more than a piece of his mind, to finally frighten the youth away. We never heard from him again.

I wondered if it was because he saw that there was a man standing up for me... there are countless women in the city who do not have the protection of their fathers, husbands, boyfriends, or sons. Where would they go, I wonder? Especially with crime against women on the rise.

The 2012 Delhi rape case may have opened the common citizen’s eyes towards a woman’s safety, but other shocking cases prove that we still have a long way to go. It is more than just a woman’s fight. It is a societal issue born from the patriarchal mindset and the audacity to believe that one can get away with it. And we all need to unite. Here’s hoping the New Year spurs on greater social awareness and a larger need to overcome the systemic apathy that delays justice to the survivors.

Anonymous, Rohini, New Delhi.
This incident happened on 8th November, 2013, around 8.15 pm in Sector 13, Rohini. On my way home after tuition classes, I went to the local shop in my neighbourhood to pick up some groceries. The road to the shop is not lit by streetlights, but I didn’t hesitate as I go there almost every day. While I was walking, I heard a man call me a slut. Since the road was dark, I didn’t realise he was on a motorbike. The lights of his bike were also switched off. As soon as I turned around, I realised that he was right behind me. He swerved so close that he drove into my right leg. Before I could come to my senses, the man had driven off on his bike, leaving me standing in a dark lane with an injured leg.

Anonymous, Kollam, Kerala.
I normally travel by auto rickshaw but I also occasionally take the bus. On one such occasion, a man got onto the bus I was in and stood right behind me. I was standing near the seats reserved for women, with other women surrounding me. Despite the women around me, the man standing behind me opened his zipper and was leaning on me throughout the bus journey. I asked him to stand with the other men but he ignored me. He eventually got off the bus at the same stop as I did, but not before slapping my backside.

This was not the only incident of harassment I have faced; but since then I haven’t felt safe using public transportation. I now only travel in auto rickshaws and that too with a family member accompanying me. I’ve told my family about my horrid experience, but they don’t take me seriously.

Anonymous, Jahangirpuri, New Delhi.
I was attacked by five men on November 18 last year in the heart of New Delhi. It was 5:45 pm when these strange men surrounded me. They used surgical instruments to slash my hand and grab my mobile phone. They also tried to take my wallet but, thankfully, two young men came running to help when they heard me scream. Seeing them, my attackers took off on foot and managed to get away. Except for the two youngsters, no one else came forward to help me; the other bystanders were content to silently watch the action. When I approached the nearest police station to file an FIR, they refused to help me. Instead of filing an FIR against the men for stealing my mobile, the police forced me to file an FIR for a ‘lost phone’. Even three days later the police had not investigated the scene.

Anonymous, Kollam, Kerala.
I have been sexually harassed by auto drivers on multiple occasions. One such incident was when I caught an auto rickshaw from the stand near my house. I had to visit the hospital with my father where I needed to get a scan. My father had asked the driver to wait for us at the hospital to take us home after we were done. While I was changing into the hospital gown I had to wear for the scan, the auto driver yanked opened the door to the changing room. The only reason I didn’t yell at him that very instant was because I didn’t want to make a scene. After that, I convinced my father to take another auto. But as I made my way to the auto stand, he was there again. This time he exposed his privates to me and he was even wearing a condom. The only reason the man had the gall to harass me the way he did was because my father wasn’t with me at that moment; I feel terribly exploited.

Shweta Shetty, 26-year-old working HR professional living in Mumbai.
This happened in early 2011, around 9.00 am on the Link road between Malad and Andheri. I noticed a man on a motorbike peeping into my rickshaw. I ignored him, thinking it was a one-off. But it continued for a couple of red traffic signals. He would park himself right beside my rickshaw, peep in and sing sleazy Bollywood songs. I couldn’t take it after a while and as I approached the Jogeshwari bus depot, I confronted him. I tried to be as civilised as possible and asked him why was he peeping inside the rickshaw, to which he responded bhenchod”. I couldn’t hold my anger anymore, and though he was probably thrice my size, I also started hurling swear words at him. He responded by trying to pull me out of the rickshaw by holding my top. I was wearing heels, I kicked him and probably hurt him.  He let go of me, but I stepped out and on seeing this commotion a crowd gathered. This scared him and he fled, but thankfully, I managed to note down his bike number on my phone.
I immediately called up Sanjay (my then fiancé). After visiting three police stations, we reached the police station in charge of the jurisdiction of that area. I told the person in charge what had happened and to my surprise, they were very cooperative and quick. He immediately called up the RTO and found out the address of the man who had harassed me.  Once they had the address, the inspector sent a constable to his house where they found out that he was married and had a two-year-old daughter! This just made it more disgusting for me. He was asked to reach the concerned police station within the next 30 minutes. When he arrived, he was beaten up and kept at the police station till 9.00 pm. He was asked to apologise to me. He even touched my feet. The hawaldar encouraged me to slap him. What struck me about this incident is that, unlike what many women face, the police were actually cooperative and helped me out.

Shreya Shetty, 20-year-old media student from a women’s college, Mumbai
This episode happened on my 20th birthday in December 2013, though I only found out about it later. My friends told me very little about it. We had gone clubbing to Royalty in Bandra West. While we were dancing, an older man, a foreigner, came up to one of my friends and felt her back. He then moved on to another friend and became very extremely touchy with her. My friend was clearly not comfortable with it. So the first friend went to the club’s bouncer and asked him to help.  He just said, “Till she pushes him away I can’t do anything.” My friend was shocked and asked him, “Even if he rapes her, you wouldn’t do anything?” The bouncer just shrugged his shoulders.

There was another incident, on 1st Jan, 2013, in Malad West, near Liberty Garden. A new day and a new year. Less than a month previously, the horrible Delhi rape case had happened. As I was walking down the street to buy something from the local shop, a really old man looked at me and made a disturbing gesture. He shook his head from side to side, which meant he would like to put his face between my breasts and do that. When I said, “What the hell?” he just smirked. It was just the first day of the year.

Shruti Shenoy, 22-year-old media professional and a frequent traveller from Mumbai.
As someone who travels frequently and on my own, even to unknown places, I have always been conscious of my surroundings, even more so after the 2012 Delhi rape incident. I’ve faced innumerable instances of sexual harassment, and as much as I hate to admit it, I have started getting used to it. But this is one incident that has really stayed in my memory. I still remember their faces and their smiles. This incident happened about six months ago (mid-2013), when I was getting home from an early dinner. It was about 11 pm, and I took a rickshaw back to Lokhandwala. I had to travel for about five minutes. As soon as I got into the rickshaw, two men on a bike nearby started following the rickshaw, hooting and catcalling. I tried my best to ignore them, but they were obviously out to make me feel as uncomfortable as they could. When I finally couldn’t take it anymore, I looked them straight in the eye and gave them a death-look. They responded by leering at me, and giving me the most lecherous smile I have ever seen. It still gives me chills when I remember this incident.”

Kajoli Persephone Anand, 22-year-old working media professional based in Delhi, hailing from Mumbai.
This happened in Colaba in 2012. I was walking towards the Taj Palace to meet friends. I was wearing shorts and a spaghetti-strapped top (not that clothing is relevant but social conditioning makes me think it’s why I was singled out). A man stopped me and asked for help with his phone. It was frozen. I told him to take out the battery, and walked into the Taj. Approximately an hour later, I was in Cafe Mondegar because I needed to use the washroom. When I reached the washroom, the same man exited the male cubicle. He said, “Hello, do you remember me? I’m the phone guy.” I gave him my piss-off/get-lost look and proceeded to walk into the washroom. He held the door and said he wanted to talk. I pushed him away and walked in. While I was using the washroom, I could hear him calling his friend, saying, “She’s in here!” When I came out, they were both standing there, and they began asking me to add them on Facebook. I was really angry and told them that I was not interested.

Orginally published on 3 January 2014

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