I remember the long queue outside the cinema in my hometown Dehra Dun. My friend and I, happy 9th graders, had skipped our extra classes to watch the THE movie of the year. Outside the cinema hall, it was a mad rush to get in, the moment the doors opened. Even as we waited for the crowd to clear, we somehow found ourselves being pushed towards the entrance, surrounded by this crowd comprising so many men.
And then it happened...I felt a sly hand on my back. I would have given it the benefit of doubt had I not felt it again. This time, bolder than before. I squirmed, and as well as I could manage with my restricted hand movement, I quickly adjusted my bag to cover my back.
I didn’t enjoy the movie. What was it I felt? More than anger, it was shock. I had returned to India from the Gulf a couple of months earlier. This was my first brush with the ‘inappropriate’ touch.
I didn’t tell my friend about it. Nor did I share it with any family member. I realised that a part of me was ashamed, very ashamed that something like this had happened to me.
Of course, today, in India, a woman, who has managed to avoid being groped, raises more eyebrows than the one who hasn’t. What may be changing now is the level of tolerance towards such abuse. After the tragic death of the 23-year-old gang-raped woman, many have asked: Why did she have to pay with her life for the country to wake up to such brutality? History is replete with uprisings; one incident does what years of abuse couldn’t do. It is called the last straw. But that’s not where they stopped. They fought till they got what they wanted.
One emotion that comes across ever so strongly in whatever has been written over the last week is fear; fear that all protesters at Jantar Mantar who have been braving the Delhi chill for over 10 days, will finally tire of it and go back home; fear that the government will do nothing about making women feel safe while our kind lives in perpetual fear.
As for rapists, molesters, and their kind, what do you do about these perverts who grope women even while they are demanding capital punishment and castration for those accused of sexual crimes? What do you do about those who molest a teenager, on a bus, around the site of protest, on a day when the last rites of a woman who was brutally gang-raped on a bus, were performed? What do you do about those who believe that women enjoy being groped? What do you do about those who are so anxious to shift the blame onto somebody, they are convinced that watching actors hugging or kissing on screen makes men want to rape women?
Even as we believe that given the large scale of protests across the country, every single man must have sat up and taken notice, we are clearly mistaken. Not every man who is planning to rape his neighbour has sat in front of the TV and thought: “Oh, this is clearly wrong. I shouldn’t rape her.”
So, what should we do? Like I said before, don’t rest till you finish what you have started. You want to see change? Make sure you see the change. Begin at home, begin with yourself and if you haven’t already begun, start today. We can go out on the streets and protest, but before that, are you sure your house-helps, drivers, watchmen are all aware of the change we are talking about? Every person you educate becomes part of the change.
Surely, things won’t change overnight, but every time we say it’s too late now, we have taken a step backward. You don’t want to be asked: “What if it had happened to you?” You don’t want to wait till it happens to you or to someone you know. After having come so far, it is only fair that you see it through till the end. But first, be the change you want to see.