I was interning in Bangalore during May-June 2014, staying in this PG in Shanthi Nagar. I had acquired the place by pre-paying a sum of INR 9,500 for a two sharing bedroom with a TV and breakfast-lunch and dinner facilities. I was appalled at what happened when I got there. On this one day my manager let me go by 2pm, I went straight home and slept. Around 4:30 pm in the afternoon, there was a knock on the door; I ignored it and went back to sleep but the incoherent person kept knocking till it turned into banging. I got out of bed dishevelled and annoyed, opened the door to spot one of the young men from the reception of the PG standing there with an agitated expression. He would have been about 22 or 24. He takes two steps towards me and his exact words to me were; “Please move, I have to show the room to someone.”
I am standing there in my shorts and spaghetti top, sleep-ridden and tired and this man barges into my room expecting me to allow strangers inside. I refused to let them in and yelled at him that it is a breach of my privacy to come to my room unannounced and that it makes me uncomfortable. I also told him that the next time he wishes to show anyone the room he should call and inform me ten minutes in advance. To that he retorted with a disgusted face; “There are 200 girls in the PG, we can’t keep calling each and every one of them to keep track.” Exactly one week later, I heard in the news about a Techie who was raped in her PG in Electronic City.
What are we to make of this? These are the people given the responsibility of our accommodation and well being; and for them it is merely a business and one which they’re doing an abhorrent job with. Give me food without salt and I will eat it, give me a dirty room and I will clean it up but don’t barge into my personal space and expect me to accept it. I can only imagine why our parents find it so difficult to let us go out on our own or even with friends, let alone send us to other cities to pursue careers.
The question here is not about the equality between men and women in India, neither is it about feminism. The question is humanity. A total of 24,206 rapes were reported in India 2011 by the National Crime Records Bureau. This is just the number of rapes reported. What about the rapes that were not reported? What about all the times a woman was molested or the times she was leered at or touched on public transport? What about our right to life?
In the past month, the newspapers have reported nearly 20 rapes in Uttar Pradesh of women of all age groups. Savage brutality is what is happening there. Sexual offences against women have nothing to do with age, colour, shape, size or the amount of clothing on a woman; neither do they have anything to do with the time a woman steps out of her home, how she walks and talks or the number of drinks she has consumed. Sexual offences in India are centered on the men that commit them; who cannot be profiled unlike the rapists and murderers around the world. I wish to meet one of them one day, so that I can ask them why they do it. Why they feel the need to reach out and touch me when I’m standing in the bus minding my own business. Or what makes them want to look at me continuously when I’m walking down the road. I don’t want to ask them about their mother and sister; it is none of my business, as am I none of his.
Us women, we feel unsafe in our own skin. Why should we spend all that money on an auto, trying to escape the men we might encounter on the bus or the train, when the autowallah himself might be your worst nightmare? Why should we suffer acid and morphed pictures on the internet when all we said was “No, I am not interested in being with you but let’s be friends?” It makes no sense for us to fear for ourselves and lament over the lack of policies to make quicker decisions about those who make us suffer. Action knows no time, it knows only intent.
This is not the time for us to be lamenting over what we are in for, it’s the time for action. We ladies have a moral duty upon ourselves to look out for each other, no matter how much we gossip about each other, we unite against a common evil. Buy some pepper spray ladies, carry it around with you. I make it a point to carry a Swiss Army Knife with me when I travel between cities by bus or train; it’s always secretly tucked away in my bra just in case I need it at anytime. Be warned, it is a dangerous weapon and you might get hurt if you don’t know how to use it, so make sure you have complete knowledge about a defence option before you purchase and use it. Sleep on time, and sleep enough so that you are mentally alert at all times. There’s always that one person we trust and rely on, keep them informed about your location at all times. When walking late at night, ensure that you are on the phone with someone, or pretend like you’re talking to your dad about his not-so-existent but very useful military job.
Self- Defence classes are somewhat of a fad these days; you can dab in Kickboxing, Krav-Maga or Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). These classes will help build your stamina, your strength, and of course teach you a couple of whip-lashing moves to take down those gangsters. They will also make you more confident of yourself. Remember, you are strong but not as strong as 5 men put together, or even two. I tend to lose balance when my gigantic Labrador, Bozo jumps onto me with full force. So, do not be afraid to RAISE YOUR VOICE. If you don’t like that someone is looking at you, say something or talk to the person next to you and point toward your perpetrator till he looks away. Don’t ever forget that your voice is your best asset, so scream if you are in trouble.
This friend of mine in Bangalore was travelling with her male friend in an Auto, as the auto stopped she took out her phone and took a picture of the registration behind the seat of the driver; immediately the auto driver pulled out his mobile and started clicking pictures of the girl. When her friend tried to stop him and let the girl leave the auto, auto wallahs from nearby came and held him and stopped him and the girl from disembarking. All this while, the driver was clicking away. There are two lessons to be taken away from this; one is that always note down the number without making it obvious. Second, raise your voice as loud as you can. You could also stop your auto exactly at a police chowki and get off.
There will always be hardships as long as you are in this country, but there are ways in which you can make yourself stronger. When going drinking, always make sure you are going with someone you trust so you can drink all you want or stay in control so you know who is around you. Don’t be afraid to tell your parents that someone is bothering you, they can help and they will never let their daughter come to harm. Similarly, if you are a parent, educate your children about good touch and bad touch. Tell them they can voice out if someone is making them uncomfortable and you will understand. If we tell them that you are there for them, they will find comfort in you.
It depresses me to say that the above tips are for women living in the urban areas of our country. There are still scores of young girls and women living in rural areas, which form 68.84% (Census 2011) of our population, who are being subjected to abuse and exploitation. I wish I could do something for them, but my parents would be too afraid to send me out there. You need to take your right to life. Be responsible for yourself and trust no one but you. Every morning I wake up and tell myself, I will not be just another crime report. You are important for us, we fight the common evil. Keep your head up, you will not be just another crime report.
Veda is the Chennai Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz and Freelance Correspondent for the Times of India.. Feminist by heart and writer by passion, she is also a singer and contemporary jazz dancer.