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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  • Jas

    This also happens in Manipal. These guys should stop n think, wat if some other guy did the same to their sisters n mothers.

  • Sambit Dash

    Incidences like this can only reduce (not stop because morphed mindsets will always exist) when EXEMPLARY punishment is meted out. Sometimes vigilantism works too.

  • This makes me recall an incident one of my friends was subject to a few years ago in Manipal. It was exactly the same, she and her friend were walking down the road behind the Central library in Manipal (the manipal.edu building) and guys on a motorbike just came, touched them and just carried on as though it was a normal thing.

    It’s a shame actually. Education and upbringing at home play a huge role in shaping a person. Even though our literacy rate is improving, the education is surely lacking going by the number of such incidents.
     

  • Such a sad incident.. i think in India EVERY girl faces incidents like these more than once in her lifetime. They just get away having their fun, leaving behind a girl having no faith in the outside world! 

    • Gauri R

      “i think in India EVERY girl faces incidents like these more than once in her lifetime.”

      True that. One night my cousin (female) and I were chatting and somehow we got to the topic of sexual harassment girls in India have to face. We ended up spending probably the whole night describing each incident that happened to us. When we thought about it we realized just how pathetic things are in our country. As Dr Vishaal Bhat said, education and upbringing of the people plays a major role in this. 

      • Khushboo

        I wouldn’t completely agree with the education and upbringing part of it though, the guys who form a crowd outside our hostel are all from well reputed schools and colleges of Mangalore (yes, some of them are in school uniforms) and I don’t think anyone is taught by their family to disrespect women in this demeaning way. In my opinion it’s just the knowledge that girls are left helpless in such situations and that such people don’t have to bear any consequences are the reasons why their heinousness is increasing in severity by the day….

        • Gauri R

          Yes, you’re correct. Probably not education, but there’s a big role of upbringing. They might not be *taught* to disrespect women, but most of the time they are not taught to respect them either, and what they observe at home and the environment around them are that the male species is the dominant one and the women are objects to be used by women. I hope you agree that this is the culture that most of the guys are brought up on.

        •  Education is not just going to a reputed college. Education is using what you have learnt in the right way!