In the quickened steps as darkness falls.
In the eyes that look downward rather than upfront.
In the empty folder that shields against unwelcome advances.
In the revulsion that rises up the abdomen as a guy flashes himself on a desolate road.
In the fingers that feel my back in a crowded bus.
In the fear that cloaks the body sitting in an auto at 5:00 AM from the train station back home.
In the helpless anger when a cyclist grabs me as I carry two heavy suitcases.
The mute rage I feel days after a woman died from a gruesome rape-murder in Delhi stems from years of bottling up the memories. Memories of being harassed subtly and overtly. It brings back the feelings of fear and man hate I developed over the years trying to fend off the feeling of helplessness in a society that coerce women to be the weaker sex. Every single time I hear or read of a rape, I swallow back fear. Fear that accumulated over the years. Instead of being taught that the perpetrators were wrong, I grew up believing the onus was on me to not attract attention. If somebody harassed me, it was my fault. I quickly learned to make myself invisible. I melted in the crowds, covered myself in baggy clothes, unerringly spotted safe places to wait in bus and train stations and became adept at stirring at the lightest of sounds on night trains. I remembered to cover myself with a blanket in the sweltering summer nights when taking the train from Chennai because one learned fairly quickly that safety far supersedes comfort.
A decade after moving away from home to a suburb where crowds are a thing of the past, I shed the fear little by little over the years. I even learned to sleep soundly through the night. I now view my childhood and adolescence with objective eyes and realize how much the attitudes around me shaped my fears. As a mother to two little girls, I see how scared my mother must have been sending me away each day wondering if I would reach home safe. I only wish she had spoken of her fears and armed me with confidence instead of drilling fear and making me believe that I was only as safe as the clothes I wore and how invisible I could make myself.
The reason the Delhi rape resonates so deeply with me is because I think a decade back, it could have been me. For all the times I stood at a bus station late in the night to take a bus on an overnight journey. For each time I boarded a near empty compartment comforted by the fact that I had a friend who was a guy for company. For every time I took an auto early in the morning going to and from home to train station. Nothing has changed from when I was that 23-year-old.
I see celebrities tweeting in support of the protests in Delhi and wonder if each one of these public figures took a stand how different the following generation could be. If every superstar there is refused to act in movies that objectified women or trivialized sexual harassment we could go a long way in molding the impressionable public that forms their views based off these movies. If every production house with a conscience refused to fund ventures that portrayed women as sex objects or glorified violence against women in the name of culture, we could actually make a difference. If the protesting public refused to watch such movies or patronize GECs that perpetuated these notions through their soaps, we could actually make a difference.
I watch social media and the online world erupt in support and shake my head in sadness knowing unless we have grassroots change, there will be countless other vigils and protests. Only the names, places and dates will change.
Today a new year starts and I see countless resolutions being posted on Facebook and twitter. I never usually make any knowing I don’t keep them. But today, I feel perhaps is as good as any day to start. My daughters will not get to watch movies or television that trivialize violence or portray women as objects on my watch. To the best of my ability, I will teach them to be confident and make sure that they learn self-defence. I will keep my eyes and ears open for the subtle and not subtle messages that the world around me sends and be an aware parent. I will stand up and speak out when something bothers me among my friends and family. Burying my head in the sand does not cause change, speaking up may.
The list is endless but today I have a request. If you read my blog and are in a position to influence the circle around you. Please do.
Happy New Year!