Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Saved by the bell.

The Kite Runner is a must read book. Khaled Hosseini has used the simplest of words to convey the most complex emotions in their purest form. One such emotion is betrayal. (Sorry for being a spoiler) In the book, when the protagonist, Amir, watches his best friend being molested, he walks away without doing anything simply because he is terrified to intervene and is guilt-stricken for the rest of his life. That chapter of the book shook me completely and Hemangini's post here got me writing this post.

Sexual abuse is more common that we all think it is. Cold Spring Harbor labs had its own "Sexual harrassment awareness" program which is mandatory for all new employees. In the program, they say that Sexual harrasment is subjective and sometimes arise out of cultural divides like that between the oriental and occidental parts of the world. An inappropriate joke, an uncalled for hand gesture or even something as simple as shutting the door with only you and someone else in the room can be perceived as harrassment. But the kind of harrassment that is most violating and revolting is physical. Rape is a superlative of this kind of harrassment but "feeling up" incidents are more common.
I was eighteen at the time it happened. I never found the strength to talk about this with anyone until a few days back. It was Hemangini's post that I found here which nudged me to finally discuss the incident with Shri. I was on a bus from Bangalore to Chennai and I was harried enough even before the journey began. My uncle who dropped me off at the bus station ensured that I was sitting next to a lady before he left. Later that night though, the lady switched seats with another man so that she could sit with her husband. I didn't pay much attention to it since all I wanted to do was sleep. I drifted off to an uncomfortable slumber soon enough, only to be woken up twice again. The first time, I woke up because I thought I felt someone touch me. I shuffled about a little in the confinement of my seat, attributed my waking up to the jerks of the bus and closed my eyes in wait of sleep. The second time I woke up from my semi-consciousness was when I felt someone touch my breasts. I waited for a moment to make sure that this wasn't a figment of my imagination. It wasn't. The guy in the next seat was definitely feeling me up and I was disgusted and angry enough to slap him.
I regret not doing that even today.

The only reaction my brain offered at the time was to stand up, which was pretty hard considering the legroom available in Indian buses, and without looking at the man (who sat unabashed and unmoving) I squeezed past him to the conductor to ask if there was anywhere else I could sit. And when he asked me why, I couldn't bring myself to tell him the real reason so I mumbled a lie about some noise and not being able to sleep. He said there isn't another vacant seat so I made my way back to the 2x2 hell I had paid three hundred rupees for and sat upright and alert for the rest of the journey. My molester eventually fell asleep. The rest of the night, I wondered if he was even slightly guilty about what he did.
To this day, I regret not raising a ruckus. I regret not complaining to the conductor. I don't know if it would have done me any good then, but I would have been at peace now that I tried to put a woman groping a-hole in his place. Perhaps I could have saved other girls from being violated.

Do such men reason with themselves about what they are doing or did? I don't know if there is one straight solution to this problem. But I do know that a lot of women are subject to this and they don't speak out. Why? I don't know. Maybe because we were taught to be submissive and run away from trouble. If the same thing happened to me today, I'd make sure the guy regretted it every bit. I wouldn't hesitate kicking him in the nuts (pardon the indecency) if I could. It is aggravating to see the effect such incidents have on women's lives. My landlady's sister was harassed on the subway and she was so shaken that she quit her job in the city and moved to Long Island. She was a successful lawyer in a big firm, confident and well-read. For the first 3 weeks after the incident, she walked around the house like a pale ghost barely speaking more than ten words a day. She now works in the city again but drives there and avoids taking the train whenever she can.

I am not sure if it would be sexist to say that its more common that women get molested as opposed to men. I don't have a significant data set to conclude that. The internet seems to suggest that. Either way, this is a site that everyone who has a such an experience must visit. The others should take a look as well. We talk about woman empowerment and reserving seats & rights for women in my country where there are filthy hypocrites such as my molester walking free. I can't and don't want to find anything other than the molester himself to blame such behavior on. Not even my favorite scapegoat, society.

Color: Blind
Song: Blank noise


Mohan said...

Sad to hear what happened. When there is chance to expose, it should be used. As much as 'men' are culprits, they also support women in moments of crisis. One lesson is enough for life, and also for onlookers.

S. Mohan

This way and that said...


I completely agree with that. And the more girls I talk to, the more horrendous the incidents get.
Its a "cause" now in India. That's how terrible this problem is.

Jyotsna said...

Gosh, that is shocking !
i had an incident in a bus once, in singara chennai. crowded 21G. i did create a ruckus in the bus. the guy just pretended to be deaf and oblivious to all the screams around him to move out of the way. am sorry to say that the conductor chose not to respond either.

the worst part is, the more horrendous incidents we hear are from the educated families.

Prarthana Ravishankar said...

Sheesh.. I'm just sitting here, shell shocked!
But you should know that this sorta thing happens not only in India but everywhere in the world...
Even in Dubai, I was never allowed to enter a taxi alone because of the countless incidents that keep happening!