As much as I remember, I did NOT ask for it when I was just 14 years old, decently dressed in a salwar kameez, holding my mother’s hand, trying to enter a crowded ladies compartment of a train, when a male hand, with long, sharp fingernails groped me, pinched me and disappeared into the crowd, leaving me badly hurt and shaken. I also did NOT ask for it, when I got spanked in a crowded street by a boy, who was out to have fun with his rowdy friends, leaving me thunderstruck. And, I certainly did NOT ask for it, when, as an 8 year old, I was violated by my tutor – the teenaged son of our family friends, whom I looked up to like an elder brother.
Each and every ‘incident’ (and some more) happened years ago, but I remember it so vividly, as if it were yesterday! The disgust, the shame and the guilt attached to it came without an expiry date. Even now, it leaves me feeling nauseated. So, when I think about those unfortunate souls, who have been harassed and tortured in worse ways, I shudder to think, how long, before they breathe freely, sleep peacefully?
Such incidents rarely, if ever, get erased from our memory. The fear, the trauma that stays behind, breeds a wariness of people, that refuses to die with time. Each time I hear about little girls being tutored by a male teacher, I pray the teacher doesn’t have a devil hidden somewhere within him. Every time I see young girls, lost in thoughts, or listening music on their iPods while walking through a busy street, I pray for their safety. Not all are capable of fighting back. I wasn’t. I was too young and terrified when it happened.
I know, after reading about my experiences, people might wonder why I speak about such embarrassing incidents. There will also be others, who might say,”Such things keep happening. Why didn’t she slap the guy?” Well, first of all, it wasn’t I, who committed the sin. Therefore, I don’t feel ashamed speaking about it. In fact, I think we must voice our experiences, so that we know we aren’t alone. And, secondly, does ‘such things being quite common’ give permission to men to behave lecherously, and treat women as objects meant to be pawed at?
However, the worst part of it is, when the victims get blamed for such crimes. I agree, that not every place is a safe haven for women to roam freely, dressed as per their likes. But, not every sexual assault takes place in a dark and dingy lane, where women are found loitering around in the skimpiest of outfits! These crimes take place in broad daylight, in the busiest of places, among known people, and with women covered from head to toe in traditional outfits. Correct me if I am wrong.
It’s time we pointed fingers at the culprit, instead of finding faults in the victims of sexual harassment. Let’s not forget there are daughters in every home. Heaven forbid, if someday, some of those little girls fall prey to such evil, won’t you hunt down those beasts for their blood? Or, will you ask your girls, why they weren’t dressed appropriately, or reproach them for having asked for it? Or, ask them why they simply stood there, instead of retaliating?
Victims of sexual harassment deserve a sympathetic understanding of their ordeals, and not those accusing fingers pointing at their ‘flawed characters’. Just peep into those hearts, which thudded with horror, when their bodies were being attacked in such brutal ways; just feel those wounds, which were inflicted on those innocent souls, and which are still raw and hurting. You will feel the pain they experience when inundated by scornful statements, which get sprinkled liberally at the first instance of an attack on their modesty.
Today, we strive to make our society a safer place for women. But, will we really be able to achieve it unless we punish – and banish – the devil that resides in every mind? Shouldn’t we be making the laws stricter for the perpetrators, than ordering a decent dress code? Shouldn’t we be shaming the culprits, and bringing them out in the open, to be skinned alive in order to teach the rest of them a lesson?
A little change in our attitude, a lot of change in our laws, will definitely work towards ensuring a safer world for every human being. Is that a lot to ask?