My earliest memories of childhood have been prominently marked with recitals of the list of restrictions. The list which only grew longer as I grew older. The list contained 'preventive measures' for lecherous groping, unasked stares and although it was never spoken openly, the most prominent reason was to make sure that go through my life without being raped. We've lived in constant fear...yes, all of us. Our mothers, our brothers, our sisters, our uncles, our best friends, our teachers...all of them. They have all feared. They gave norms of female behaviour. Rules to follow if you want to continue being un-raped:
- Do not stay out till late in the night.
- If at all you have to stay out, stay in large groups. Never stay alone.
- Avoid travelling alone at all cost.
- Wear decent dresses.
- If you are eve-teased, do not respond. Ignore and move on.
I did not question any of them, they all made sense to me. A lot of sense. However, sometimes I do get a little annoyed when my mother would become completely paranoid when my phone went out of reach even for a minute when I was in a different city. How she started reciting the 'Crime Patrol' episodes to me and though she never directly said it, I know she silently feared that something similar happened to me! I remember feeling the need to urgently use the washroom at 1 AM in the train when I was travelling alone and the dilemma that I was caught in for twenty minutes because of a tragic episode of a girl which a friend shared with me a day back.
I remember putting my best friend's number on speed dial on my phone, clutching the umbrella with all my might, rehearsing mentally how I'll handle the situation because the auto driver seemed notorious and was passing obnoxious glances to a fellow on the bike. I was revising all the self-defence techniques I had read, seen or heard about. However, he was going through the right route. In five minutes, I reached my destination. I let out a sigh of relief. Not a rapist! I rebuked myself for over-analysing situations. This is how maniacal fear can turn anyone- it can make us label any man in a thinly populated area, beyond eight in the night as a potential rapist.
We all live with and through this fear every day...every single day. For our daughters, sisters, friends, students and sometimes for ourselves. We have lived in constant fear and we continue to live in it. The most painful part is that we do not find anything wrong about the fear any longer. We have accepted it as an essential part of our lives, an inseparable part!
What am I complaining about and why am I complaining you may ask! Have I had a very hard life? No. Have I been deprived of any opportunities because of my gender? No. Am I not happy with my life? No, I am. I have a very beautiful life, a great family, wonderful friends and a promising career ahead of me! So, what is wrong? Why I am cribbing. I am cribbing because of some UNNECESSARY(as you may call them) freedoms which I have been deprived of. Little cravings that I have of a solitary walk in the night having the breeze play with my hair. I wonder sometimes how it would be to travel all by myself to say, Pondicherry, to sit by the rocky beach at five in the morning and feel the waves splash over me as I think about the story of my first book. I have musings about dropping to my friend's place anytime of the night riding my bike without having someone to guard me. I wonder sometimes what it is like to be completely unguarded, I wonder what absolute freedom tastes like. I wonder what it's like to not ask my male friends to accompany me when it becomes late and to be completely independent. The thought of it seems very enticing, I visualise it and I fall in love with the idea of it over and over again.
I do not know how to go about making the change that I wish to see in the world around me but I know that I have to do something. I know for a fact that I cannot continue living with this fear forever. I know that I have to take steps, and I am unsure about what the first one will be but I know the solutions will come along. I need your help, of all of you, in stemming out the fear from each one of us.
I know the article sounds incomplete and the thoughts incoherent. This was a swell of emotions which had to come out. Pardon me, because I have no idea about what I have to do to make a difference. I just know that I have to do it and I will do it. I urge you all to help me and join me, we'll figure out a way. Trust me, we will!