Despite experiencing lack of acceptance to the learning moments when so called ‘strong women’ like me happen to speak up or write, nothing deters me from doing what I need to. When L’oreal and Hollaback teamed-up to empower women across the world to speak up against street harassment, I knew I had to muster the courage to share mine again. And I sincerely hope that this is just the beginning of an end to this societal disease.
I am blessed with great genes. So I thought. At ten I looked like I was fifteen. The perception and attention were also of that of a teenager and not a child. It started with bus attendants refusing to give me a half-ticket because they claimed I was voluptuous. My mother would end up picking fights each time we traveled by public transportation. The autowalas would adjust their mirrors to look at my chest. Thus began my journey into what is now called street harassment.
Around that time, I became fully aware of the burdens of being a girl child. My father became overly protective and insisted I wear full sleeves, long length salwars except when I went to school which was a catholic convent. And despite the conservative education it was liberating as I could wear the school uniform which felt like was appropriate for a child. My father was not old-fashioned at all. He was just looking out for me.
When I was eight, I was exposed to indecency albeit unknowingly. Those detriments still haunt me. A relative who was eight years older, asked me to close my eyes, took my little hand, fondled his ‘weenie’ and asked me how his ‘thumb’ felt. Another one, probably three or four years older than me, undressed me to feel my ill-formed nipples while pretending to be my husband. My mother noticed that something looked horribly wrong, came to my rescue and sent that fella back to his place.
Later the same year, in a packed public bus where the women pushed little kids in between so they can avoid touching the indecent men who grab opportunities to harass, a friend’s and my ears were continually used as crevices for maturbating middle-aged men. One fine evening when I had just enough, I grabbed his balls till it almost killed him, much to onlookers’ horror and against my father’s advise. Since I was not old enough to comprehend what happened, there was no pain then.
One evening when I caught a later bus home and was walking through the deserted streets, a group of eve-teasers hooted, slapped my back hard, pulled my hair and pushed me time and again till I ran towards a street light. I couldn’t tell my parents what happened because they were much older and my father was retired already. Knowing my immediate kith and kin, and that I’d be blamed for provoking the street harassment anyway, I kept quiet. But my parents, despite not knowing why I behaved the way did, protected me with all their might.
The gush of hurt came back when a guy, hurled a bicycle chain at me. The scar of which I still cherish as badge of honor for fighting back with cusses that night. In order to feel secure, I surrounded myself with guy friends and was the most misunderstood, character assassinated and disreputable child ever known during those times. I walked like a guy, talked like one and even carried a pocket knife to have that pretend strength. I confided in my parents when I was twenty years old. We all wept quietly that day.
My father admitted that no matter how I dress, or be well-behaved, for the virtue of being a girl, I would have to make myself stronger to combat harassment that came out in new flavors with changing times. And my mother continues to commend my bravery till today. I’ve not experienced street harassment in two decades, but each time I raise my voice for awareness, I still get some cringes, shaking of heads, eerie noises of loathe and some prospective grooms even called me ‘damaged goods’ during my arranged marriage process.
“Every woman knows that any man engaging in street harassment can switch to anger very quickly and that anger goes to rage and their rage is their masculinity being threatened. We’re scared for good reason.” As a community, if we don’t deconstruct this behavior, it will continue to victimise and bring down healthy civilizations. Those that are awaiting to share their story, please don’t wait any longer. There is nothing to be ashamed of, it will only inspire others, atleast those that need.