Thursday, January 3, 2013

“Bhay makes Nirbhayaas”


“Bhay makes Nirbhayaas”

We fail to teach our children, especially girls, that it’s not their fault…

When I was a child about to reach the age of puberty, I found myself arguing with my mother. My question was why were my cousins (boys) allowed many things that I was not. These were simple things. Like they could go to see an Amitabh Bachchan movie in the theatre and I could not, not even with them. They could go to the nearby market by themselves but I could not. My mother tried hard to explain rather than just say NO. She started, “Beta it is not safe for girls.” “And it is safe for boys?,” I replied.

“You think someone can kidnap us, but they can kidnap boys too,” I added. My mother replied, “It’s not just about kidnapping…” There was an exasperated look on her face, she did not know how to explain. Finally she said, “It’s different with girls, it’s the way God has made you. Some day you will understand”. Angered and unable to see her logic I stomped out of the room. I had lost the first battle. 

Kanpur was a city known for its rowdy, slimy, sick and uneducated boys and men. Eve teasing was a norm. No girl, no matter what the age, could escape it. Growing up in Kanpur I learnt what it was to be a girl in India. At each step I waged several battles and I lost several of them. Today I am reminded of some of them as I attempt to weave them together to see how and when the problem with women really starts.

Some years later, I went with a friend to get a dress stitched and I got a knee length straight skirt with a coat stitched. All of 15 years, I was thrilled and believed it was the best dress I ever had. My mother however ripped me apart when she saw it. “Tum aise kapde pehan kar rickshaw pe baith ke ghar se bahar jaogi?” (You are going to wear these clothes and step out of house and travel by a rickshaw?) I argued. But in vain. I was never allowed to wear the dress as long as I stayed in Kanpur. I had lost another battle.

I moved to Delhi for my graduation and was on my own for the first time in real sense of the word. Though I lived with relatives but being on the road on my own was a new experience. I was given a list of things to do and not to do by my folks at home. “Don’t venture out in the summer afternoon or after dark,”  “Don’t take lonely, arterial roads,” “Don’t take crowded DTC buses”…  Among all the instructions none said, “Carry a safety pin or a Swiss knife,” or “Shout out loud if someone misbehaves or report to police or at home.” So instead of facing things upfront, and shouting at someone when they pinched, or standing up against eve teasing, I would silently suffer. I would avoid crowded places or when I couldn’t avoid places like the Trade Fair at Pragati Maidan, I would just feel humiliated and come back telling myself that I would not go there again. I never spoke at home for the fear of my freedom being curbed and even more sanctions put on me. By now I had lost so many battles I had lost the count.

After that several times, with known and unknown people, at a friend’s house, on a train from Mumbai to Delhi, at bus stops while waiting for chartered buses and even in the office (where my boss always scanned us up and down before assigning us some task ), numerous instances happened and I suffered all of them. I never had the courage to talk about them for the fear that I would be scolded. “Why did you get up from your seat of the train?”, “Why did you go to your friend’s house so late in the evening?”, “Why were you wearing such tight jeans?” At every step I felt that if I spoke up, my rights would be curtailed further. I chose to suffer for the little freedom that I had earned in all these years.

The last instance in this fabric that I am trying to weave is of a man, (supposedly a friend), who kissed me without my consent. The look on his face, the feeling he left me with…it all hit me only the next day. The first thought that came to my mind was I should have said No to him coming home, “Na wo aata na ye hota” (If he had not come, this would not have happened). This time I suffered but not in silence. I shared it with a friend and with my sisters. All were supportive and asked me to confront the person but I did not have the courage. In my heart, I felt that maybe I had invited it, that I did not choose my friends well. I had lost yet another battle and almost felt like loosing a war.

As women we lose these battles right from childhood. I do not blame my mother or relatives for telling me what they did. We all want safety for ourselves and for our children. Hence we have to tell them to be careful, avoid lonely patches, be aware etc. But what we fail to teach our children, especially girls, is that it’s not their fault. That they can come out and speak and that they should if need be use a pin, a knife, a pepper spray or whatever. For, as parents and as women too, we know that it’s best to stay away as much as we can from the police, lawyers, etc… We know that they are all somehow part of the larger picture. We know that road rage is the in thing and if you kick the male ego once you can always live in fear of being stalked, of acid being thrown at you, of being thrashed or even overpowered and raped…

A statement I have heard every second citizen of this country say to someone, no matter where you live is “Arre bhaiya apni suraksha apne haath, in logon se kya pange lena”(Our safety is in our hands don’t get into trouble with these people). Till this attitude changes, till the time we can’t come out and complain without fear, till the time the oppressors do not have fear of punishment, humiliation, till the time the police and the judiciary are seen as people willing to help rather than in cahoots with the oppressors, more “Nirbhayaas” will happen. Some will cause a ripple, most will go unnoticed and we will feel the pain of each of these and silently think “Oh I got saved today, it could have been me…”

©Shubhra Chaturvedi, 3rd Jan 2013.

(Shubhra Chaturvedi is an Artist and a Photographer from Delhi)