India at 66: Freedom to Harass in Mangalore?

Recently, we all celebrated India’s 66th glorious Independence Day with flags, tricolour, anthems and other paraphernalia. But on the eve of this historic day, India’s historically ignored grouped –members of the “esteemed female gender” were at the receiving end again. I don’t think anyone involved in the incidence would be calling herself “independent ” any time soon.

Two friends were walking back from the central library to the hostel, and knowing how “safe” that shady poorly lit road is, they decided to leave well before curfew time (all that being gawked at everyday on the stairs in front of the hostel we all call “stutta seedhi” has made us too worldly-wise too soon…). They were chit-chatting, when suddenly A stepped into a puddle soiling her new chappals and screamed “Aww man, what a bad day”. B couldn’t help but laugh, but they had no idea how much worse the evening was about to get. They continued on, when they saw a man walking towards them from the opposite direction – they realised that it was going to be another one of those evenings when every jobless guys on the streets made it his prime occupation to sit on one of the stepping-stones of the stutta seedhi and check out every girl who passed by from head to toe. They were mentally preparing themselves for this daily dose of creepiness (which sadly every girl in India has had to develop a tolerance for) when A shrieked and started running, all too distressed. When B caught up with her and asked, she couldn’t even compose herself to say anything, only after two minutes did she fumble-“How can people do that?”

“But what happened? ”

“That freaking jerk just touched me!”

B was too perturbed herself to be in a position to comfort her friend.

“Breathe A, are you OK?” was all she could come up with.

She could see the helplessness in her friend’s eyes, that feeling of insecurity and pure disgust so strong that it churns every girl’s stomach in a knot.

“Lets just get back to the hostel”

And on their way back, they noticed a policeman standing a little ahead, completely ignorant of what just happened. Justice is truly blind, probably deaf too.

A later told B that the man who passed them by actually had his hand outstretched few steps beforehand, so it was no accident that he banged into her and groped her.

This is actually an everyday story, an everyday walk of harassment and ogling.

A few days ago, my friend was coming back from Aerobics classes with her earphones plugged. It was broad daylight, and out of nowhere, this random creep turn up in front of her and says, “Hi! How are you?”

She somehow managed to say, “I’m sorry I don’t know you, you must be mistaken”

But that persistent jerk went on-“No, you live in Nandagiri right? You’re in 2nd year,MBBS. Quick, Take my number. ”

When she refused, he started screaming at her, and she saw this horde of guys closing in around her. She ran for her life, following her first instinct. All this happened a few steps away from our hostel.

There are innumerable such instances that force me to say that if in India there is any freedom at all, it surely is an unchecked freedom to harass.

Authorities say that it’s a public road and it’s not in their jurisdiction to close a legally opened shop (even if ironically, it is illegal in India today to smoke in public). So what we end up with is incessant fear and vulnerability, as constant as the smoke they keep blowing into every passerby’s face. We have to always be super vigilant (if only God would bless us with Spiderman’s “spidey” senses that tingle on sensing trouble), walk in groups (as if we were Jews living in Hitler’s Germany!) and still end up getting beaten up by self-proclaimed moral policemen for dressing up indecent.

Where are these moral policemen when a guy just makes it his hobby to go around eve teasing girls? And are we just supposed to get accustomed to living our life around such weeds instead or getting them eliminated? After 65 years of freedom, is it too much to ask when we ask for freedom to walk safely on the streets? Or are the “revered ”daughters of Mother India just too above such elementary needs? But I guess in a country like ours, most questions like mine, generally remain unanswered…

This is a guest post by Khushboo Kamal Taneja, a Second year MBBS student of Kasturba Medical College Mangalore.


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