As is the case with any new happening, a lot is being said about the Slutwalk being organized in Delhi. And as is the fate of any current happening, most of us are using it as another opportunity of wordplay and pun-making. What we are doing, in effect, is trivializing it. I will tell you why that is wrong on so many levels. It isn’t, as most of us think, a day out in the sun for some feisty women who are comfortable with their bodies or feel free to express their sexuality. It stems from something deeper; something far more primal. It stems from a fear women feel on a daily basis; a fear only a prey can feel of its predator. It is a rebellion against that very fear. A lot of men I know are very sensitive and politically correct people. Yet, they at times, unwittingly treat it as casual matter. Even I ignore it and move on, because the prejudice is so instinctive and set so deep that there is way too much effort involved in confronting it, let alone eradicating it. But I believe it’s high time.
Dear people, it hurts when you trivialize things such as these. It hurts deeply. I believe you don’t see the violence that a woman feels in these daily acts of sexual abuse. And when I say sexual abuse, I mean everything from eve teasing, to molestation (verbal and physical) to rape. I don’t think the rape statistics that get flashed into our faces ever so often seem real enough to you all. Well let me make it real for you. Let’s see if it makes any difference.
I studied for five years at the School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. I was all of sixteen when I left home and came to an alien city. Do you remember being sixteen? Well, you could try. I came from Indore, which was a relatively safer city and I hadn’t faced much sexual abuse; or maybe I was too innocent to notice. My college was spread across three campuses within the city. Two campuses were at ITO, one opposite the Vikas Minar and the other, half a dozen blocks away in front of the Indraprastha Stadium. The road from one block to another went through a by-lane on the side of a flyover. The lane was usually lined with lal-batti cars belonging to the bureaucrats working in the nearby government offices. And these cars were occupied by drivers taking a nap or playing cards through the hot Delhi afternoons. It was one of the afternoons in August of the year 2004. I had joined the institute and was walking alone from one campus to another at about 2.30 in the afternoon. And one of the drivers walked up to me, asking for directions to Laal Quila. I told him I didn’t know. I don’t know when during the course of conversation, he flicked out his penis from his zipper and started massaging it. IN BROAD DAYLIGHT. IN FRONT OF HIS MANY OTHER DRIVER FRIENDS, WHO WATCHED AND LAUGHED. That afternoon, I felt fear and helplessness like I’ve never felt before. And for those of you doubt, I wasn’t wearing anything remotely “provocative”. It was our ragging duration, and we were supposed to wear salwar kameez and chappals and oil our hair till it dripped and tie them in a tight plait. I came back to the room, and broke down. I’ve never been the one to share my problems with anybody, and this is the first time I’m telling anybody at all about that incident. And I’ll tell you how it felt. I felt violated at the very basic level of my existence. It wasn’t as if the man had touched me or hurt me in any physical way. But the fact that he could do it, without any shame or fear and get away with it was what bothered me. He probably went away with the sense of satisfaction at my expense of intimidating a girl, he would’ve even forgotten about it, or done the same thing to the next girl coming down his way, I’d never know. Have you ever been screwed over by your boss at work? Where they abuse their power and take credit for what you’ve done. Obviously you can’t do anything about it. Now take that anger and helplessness, multiply it by a hundred. That was what I felt that day; and almost every other day after that. Ever since that day, I could never move around fearlessly in that city. I lived in mortal fear. That man came SO close to hurting me in one of worst ways humanly possible. THAT was the moment it became real to me. What also became real to me was my acute inability to do anything about it. After that I always moved in packs, carried around a cutter, and was constantly vigilant about my surroundings. Trust me, it’s not a great feeling, living in fear. And every single moment I went around feeling that way, it was by all definitions, exploitation.
In another incident, I was traveling in an auto with two other girls and another guy in an auto. This was at about 9 in the night, not late by many standards. After we crossed the Nizamuddin station two bikes appeared from nowhere and started circling our auto from both sides. Drunken men were riding both bikes and they started making lewd remarks. In spite of ignoring them they didn’t go away and kept coming closer and closer to our auto. One of them lunged and tried to grab one of my friend’s arm through the window. Again, this is at 9 in the night, there was mild traffic and everyone watched and did nothing about it. Our auto driver sped up and those guys tried following but then I they simply got bored and abandoned the chase. NOT AFRAID, NOT GUILTY. BORED. Again I felt that same mixture of helplessness and anger. It is the worst kind of violence, this mental abuse.
Once I was traveling in a bus from college to Vasundhara Enclave in East Delhi. One middle-aged, middle class ‘respectable’ looking man, came stood next to where I was sitting and started rubbing his erect penis through his clothes into my arm. Again, I gave him looks and told him to stand away, but he wouldn’t listen. I saw many people noticing, yet turning their faces away. As if nothing was happening. In fact the conductor gave him a sly smile like a symbolic thumbs up on his conquest. Hence it was futile to create a scene. But I guess I was acting too restless, he went ahead and started doing the same thing to another woman sitting in the seat ahead of me. She didn’t respond at all, or worse still was completely unaware of what was happening to her.
I can’t even begin to count the number of times such incidents have happened to me. I’ve retorted, sworn at, and on two occasions, slapped these men. But never did I ‘get used’ to it. I learnt to ignore it, but it made me feel equally miserable every single time. Now imagine every woman that you’ve ever known; especially the women most special to you, your mother, sister, loved one or best friend. All of this that I described above happens to them, in worse forms, EVERY SINGLE DAY. They obviously don’t tell you, because what can you do about it. You can’t possibly accompany them everywhere they go and keep beating these men up all the time.
So when you make fun of rape, eve teasing or anything along those lines, it hurts us in deep ways. It is an insult to those mortifying memories that we carry around. It’s like making fun of someone’s cancerous tumour. Like one of my favorite men @cgawker put it, “i'm guessing the slutwalk is as much about the right to dress like a slut as the salt march was about the right to eat salt.” When the British were ruling us, the people actually facing true physical exploitation were few. What do you think made so many people leave their comfortable existence and come out in protest? What made them angry enough to leave everything behind and lay down their lives? Well, the sheer fact that there are worse ways of exploitation than getting whiplashes on your back, or being taxed unfairly; the fact that it’s not worth living, if it’s not a life of pride and dignity. The Slutwalk might not be the most articulate way of telling the story that I am trying to tell here. I don’t know if it will be able to achieve its objectives or simply be subject to jokes and criticism. But it will for sure be an outlet of fears and frustrations that women feel every living moment of their lives. Vamos slutwalk, all the power to you. And more.