Note : I do not share such experiences to garner sympathy/pity - I've had bad experiences in life, and writing about them helps me cope with the cruelty of it all. Everyone has a right to heal in their own way, and writing is my way of healing.
When I was a minor, I was groped twice while cycling on a public road in Pune, the city I've been born and brought up in.
These are two memories that I've blocked out over the past decade. (I recalled everything again last year, when I shared my experiences with my friends at Far From Fact.) I'm surprised at how well I've been able to block out these traumatic experiences (maybe it's because I had to cope with worse trauma later), but that just goes to show how women in this country have learnt to cope with how creepy men can be, rather than feel safe in their own motherland.
My experiences :
Incident #1 : I was in the 8th or 9th grade (13 or 14 years old). I used to go cycling to a tuition class which was around 7 km from my house. At 8 pm, when I used to ride back home, there would be other cyclists on that road along with me, mostly men returning home from work. On the way, there is a steep slope which is quite difficult to ride up, so most cyclists used to walk with their cycles till they reached the top of the slope, or else cycle up really slowly, as it was difficult. (It's important for me to disclose that this road is the MH-CTC road, a very crowded and important road in Pune, and not some secluded area.)
One day, at 8 pm, I was riding my cycle slowly up that slope, when two men on a motorbike passed by, the pillion rider extending his hand to grope my butt. I was startled and yelled out "aye bastard". That's all that I could think of doing/saying. From what I could see, the rider of the bike didn't know what the pillion rider had done, so he was surprised when I yelled, and I guess he asked his friend and then scolded him. But the pillion rider was laughing, and they didn't bother to stop and apologize. I looked around at the other cyclists, but they cycled on, as if nothing wrong had happened. It all happened so quickly, that I couldn't take down the bike number or do anything sensible. I was scared, and being a very sensitive person, I cried all the way back home, and also while narrating the incident to my parents. Trying to be as optimistic as I could, I was glad that nothing more serious had happened.
Incident 2 : I was in the 11th grade (16 years old). I was cycling for the purpose of exercise, up and down that same slope. (I had moved on from the previous incident, and never thought that it would happen again.)
It was 7 am, and I had just reached the top of that slope. As it was early in the morning, there was nobody else on the road. A motorbike came up the slope and once again, the man groped my butt and sped away. This time I don't remember whether I screamed or not - maybe I thought it was of no use, since there was nobody else on the road and the man could do something worse if I yelled.
It was at that time that I vowed never to ride a cycle on Indian roads again, and 12 years on, I've stuck to it.
After reading this, you may have one of the following two reactions :
1. Wtf, that's scary! I'm so angry!!
2. Oh, so what, it's just a harmless grope, it's not like she was sexually assaulted.
If your reaction is the second, goes without saying that I have no respect for you. If it's the first, then welcome to the club.
I'm not alone :
A few years after those incidents I read a newspaper article about how many girls/women travelling by public transport or walking on the roads in India, especially in the city areas, get touched inappropriately on a daily basis.
To make matters worse, a few months ago, the Bombay High Court passed a very controversial ruling, which stated that groping a minor was not sexual assault under POCSO Act, as long as there is no “skin-to-skin” contact. The ruling has since been stayed by the Supreme Court.
Two articles worth reading :
As you can see, the second article was published this year, and sadly, not much has changed. In fact, things have only gotten worse!
It's been around 12 yrs since that last groping incident, and till now I get scared while walking on the road. I always look sideways every now and then while walking, especially if I can hear a motorbike or scooter approaching.
I have thought of humorous solutions, like maybe some sort of protective gear to cover one's butt, while riding the cycle or walking, so that if anyone touches you inappropriately, they get a mild shock or something. Haha.
But jokes aside, I have no clue how certain men have the audacity to touch a woman's body without her consent, oblivious to the trauma that she will have to live with for the rest of her life.
I'm sure many women have been touched inappropriately in public, and that these experiences aren't something they're very comfortable speaking about. But if you've read my blog, you know that I've always been very candid while speaking about the traumatic experiences that I've faced in the past. (Read 'Hey Boys, My Eyes Are Up Here.', 'Social Media Players.' and 'My Journey Of Personal Growth.')
I do encourage everyone to speak about their bad life experiences, as bottling everything up can be very damaging to one's mental health. If you ever want to share something that you aren't comfortable speaking about with others, you can always email me, and I promise to provide the most patient listening ear possible.
I hope that things change for the better, both in India, as well as all over the world where similar incidents take place. But till then, all we can do is be kind. We will never know of the struggles a person has faced or is facing, unless we give them the opportunity to speak up sans any shame or fear, and mainly without us being judgemental. Always be empathetic, the world can use a little more kindness.
Advice for those who witness someone being inappropriately touched : Please fight for the victim, stand up for her! At such times, the victim is often too shocked to react logically, and silence only emboldens the perpetrators. Society will never change unless we change!
Thank you for reading! Stay blessed!