Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Daily Harassment faced by Women in India

Annie writes
Streets, stories, strategies

I had my doubts about blogging this - writing about street harrassment.
After all, it's as common-place as paan stains, as ubiquitous as spit.... Will my saying 'NO' to harrassment prevent it? How does telling my stories serve any purpose?

Some things, you learn to expect, growing up a girl.

You expect to confront harrassment as surely as the sun in May and the fog in a Delhi December.

When you leave the house, an invisible snake of alert suspicion will wind down from your shoulders down your back and become a clenched fist in all public spaces, through all journeys.

How optimistic you're feeling about man-kind, on any given day, determines whether you take a bus home, or just hop into an auto, or a cab, knowing you cannot really afford it. If you really cannot afford an auto some day, you will not take the bus at rush-hour.
You'll let bus after bus after bus go past. Waiting is tiresome. But waiting is easier than bristling.

You didn't always expect to do this, of course. One learns these things, by and by.

I began learning in Bombay. Yes, that delightfully sprawling city that is so kind to its women.
My first lesson was delivered atop the railway bridge at Andheri station when I was 13 years old. My first visit to this city by the sea. The first brush with the overspilling local trains. The first time someone grabbed my 13-year old breast.

After all these years, I cannot forget - his face pudgy, more fair than dark, moustache, white shirt, briefcase in hand, big belly, must have been about 40. Old enough to be my father. I remember he had walked into me - or pretended to - and while I struggled with the shock of what he'd been doing under the guise of walking into me, he calmly walked past... just a regular uncle-ji hurrying home after a hard day at work.

What did I do?
Nothing. I kept walking on, beside my brother.... My 17-year old brother who might have picked a fight if I'd told him.... What could I have told him?... It was too late anyway. The crowds had swallowed all of us up so completely.

For the whole post which is definitely readable, visit
Streets, stories, strategies

I think this is a very courageous effort by Annie to write about it. All of us women, know that it happens. But a sense of dirtiness/guilt/embarrassment prevents us from talking about it openly.
My first bad experience was when I was 13 in Mysore. We had gone for the Dusshera fair at the Palace and in that crowd, someone grabbed me. This had never hapenned to me before. As a young teen I had absolutely no idea what had hapenned or how to react (especially coming from a small town where every1 knew every1 & hence "behaved") The crowd was so dense that I could not identify the disgusting bastard who had squeezed me.
The physical pain was just one part of it. The mental & emotional confusion lasted much much longer. It wasn't something u could discuss with your dad or your mom. Why worry them when there was nothing that they could do about it?

I've had to face this silent oppressment from unknown men in a lot of cities after that. Delhi is the worst oppressor since women have no status at all and every man is related to a politician or a policeman. Mumbai perverts have a free run because of the anonymity of the crowds.

In Delhi, I was most comfortable when I wore the most unshapen clothes & covered up in umpteen layers. I recently heard the true story of a call centre cab being chased and smashed by a sumo full of haryanvi jats. The only occupants of that cab were the driver and a long haired male employee. Only after they had smashed the cab did the "men" realise that it was a male employee & left (note left not fled) the scene.

In mumbai the local trains and transport systems offer the worst security. Sometimes U feel a ladies compartment isn't enough. We need a ladies platform or a ladies only station.

I now have the luxury of travelling in my car with my driver. In general the Mumbai male is polite and respectful, but something happens to him when he is in a crowd. Unlike a mob mentality, it is the anonymity of the whole process that lends courage to him & he behaves like a depraven disgusting piece of shit who doesn't deserve to walk the face of this earth.

What have I learnt ?
i have learnt to walk with my elbows sticking out at the waist & give a really hard shove to anyone who walks too close to me.

I have learnt to scream & shout in overnight buses {where men with extra long hands think its easy fun to paw a woman (in the seat in front or at the side or when walking down the aisle) } until the conductor either gets the man off the bus or the man is humiliated in public to an extent that he will think 10 times before doing it again.
Some of my aunts who would rather not bring attention to themselves, keep themselves armed with large safety pins & draw blood from wandering hands.
The problem in Chennai buses is so bad that some bus operators don't accept women travelling alone even if u r willing to book 2 tickets.

So conditioned have I become to this roving hands phenomenon, that I am extremely uncomfortable on packed flights when I have checked in late & had to sit between 2 men, that I spend the whole flight literally with my arms wrapped around myself. I'm still paranoid & cant feel comfortable resting my arms on the armrests on these pokey seats. I think its time to reserve ladies seats on flights too.
I havent' had a bad experience on a flight yet, but it could be because of the no-nonsense expression on my face. But yes u do have the occassional co-passenger whose head drops 2 the side when he is catching a short nap & u never know if it is deliberate or intentional so U wake him up never the less & tell him to stick to his side of the seat.

I have had worse expereinces in my earlier days. They have become almost nil now. Whether its because :
- there are younger & better looking prey available
- I have a no-nonsense or I'll punch u HARD in the Face or worse in the Groin look about me.
- I have become more cautious & consciously avoid putting myself into risky situations. (waiting for 3 more trains to pass although I might b late for my morning meeting)

At least now I am not subject to the guilt & frustration of being a woman in India.


Anonymous said...

The not-so hidden language of Sex.... []

Online communities have a language of their own,
especially when it comes to soliciting sex. It takes
the form of seeking friendship to blatant porno sites.
If you are a girl in any of the
Orkut/yahoo/rediff/Ryze communities; chances are; you
know what I am talking about. If not, let me refresh
your memory.

Hi... wanna be friends with me? "

The most used and abused sentence online. Not that I
don’t like it : many of my online friendships started
that way. But potentially dangerous as may lead to a
variant of the following phase.


Kim said...

Just saw Scarlett Johanssen being grabbed by an interviewer on a Red Carpet for some function on live TV.

Bipasha Basu also had complained about a similar incident at a night club.

Does being a celeb ensure less sexual violence or more ?

farrukh: copywriter & journalist said...

Hi Kim,

It's good that things have subsided. Parents have told me that it is always better to orient and prepare your children for facing the world before someone else does.

Liked what you wrote.

rita said...

And to think we live in a Democracy!! Makes me so livid. Living in Bangalore I have rarely come across such instances, but an aunt was narrating an incident in a Bangalore bus when she felt a teenage kid rubbing against her. She truned and saw to her horror that he had his know what out and was touching her with it. My aunt is a buxom 60 year old so you can imagine young girls.

Anonymous said...

Frotteurism is a disorder in which a person derives sexual pleasure or gratification from rubbing, especially the genitals, against another person, usually in a crowd. The person being rubbed is a victim. Frotteurism is a paraphilia, a disorder that is characterized by recurrent intense sexual urges and sexually arousing fantasies generally involving objects, the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one's partner (not merely simulated), or children or other nonconsenting persons.
For treatment to be successful, the frotteur must want to modify existing patterns of behavior. This initial step is difficult for most people with this disorder to take.

Behavior therapy is commonly used to try to treat frotteurism. The frotteur must learn to control the impulse to touch nonconsenting victims. Medroxyprogesterone, a female hormone, is sometimes prescribed to decrease sexual desire.

Its actually mental sickness which requires treatment.

Frotteurism is a criminal act in many jurisdictions. It is usually classified as a misdemeanor. As a result, legal penalties are often minor. It is also not easy to prosecute frotteurs as intent to touch is difficult to prove. In their defense statements, the accused often claim that the contact was accidental.

PakGirl said...

I am a Pakistani girl and I lived in my country for several years during my teen years. I am presently living in Dubai. Unfortunately because of the huge south asian population low-level street harassment is growing even in Dubai.

The Causes of Street Harassment:

Every south asian person (men and women) I talk to agrees that street harassment in India and Pakistan is the result of Bollywood films since the early 1990s showing the aggressive pursuit of women in the street. Middle and lower class South Asians are addicted to Bollywood films and the heros are their idols and role-models.

As they receive no education about how to treat women the films fill up the void in their minds.

When I have been harassed I find that the men usually imitate phrases, attitudes and even sing songs of characters played by actors like Govinda or Amir Khan.

I asked my mother if this scale of harassment had been there for her when she was growing up in the 60s. She said no and that they didnt dare act like this. The Bollywood films of that time showed a decent courtship between two consenting persons. Men on the street minded their own business. Whether a girl wore a sleeveless kameez or a burka.

The Behaviour:
In Pakistan, the lower class men would actually stop whatever they were doing and stare at a passing female until she was out of sight. This was the case whether I was wearing western clothes (top with jeans), my school uniform of shalwar kameez & duppata or casual shalwar kameez. If they are in groups they would laugh and pass comments even if I was with my mother. In bazaars they try to brush past women.

In Dubai the labourers, delivery men, etc sing love songs as women pass by or shout cheap comments.

Indians and Pakistanis labourers go the beaches and sit fully dressed and stare at the women swimmers. I feel personally disgusted and really ashamed of my countrymen when I see the reaction of the other nationalities. I know that Americans and Europeans are right to make judgments. Our people are hypocritical perverts.

In Dubai not one Filipino, Chinese or European man has ever behaved like this. I strongly feel that India and Pakistan need to take stock of the situation because our men are getting a reputation. In most of the cases of molestation reported in the newspapers the perpetrators are Indians & Pakistanis.

Our governments need to take SERIOUS steps to educate the common man to stop harassing women.

I have been harassed whether I was wearing western clothes (loose top with jeans), my school uniform of shalwar kameez & duppata or casual shalwar kameez.
I have seen college girls in Islamabad/ Pindi wearing chadars and still getting harassed. There were two dutch girls that were assaulted in Lahore in the late 90s even though they were wearing shalwar kameez!

What is wrong with wearing a miniskirt in summer or a swimsuit in the water?
In summer men take their shirts off. Should women start pawing them?

Why is it that you can sit in a swimsuit in Spain or Italy and no man bothers you?

A man with a truly decent and normal mind (Americans and Europeans) would be able to see a woman wearing a swimsuit as simply being functional. You cant wear jeans and a t shirt in the water!!!They are not thinking about sex all the time.

Ashok's said...

im thinking to take pics of ppl who harass in bus and post them on the bus itself...let them hang themselves in disgust...

someday will implement..

Anonymous said...

If frotteurism is a medical condition needing treatment, I think India's cities must have a great many sick people.
As a child I have been violated once in a crowded bus and once in a swimming pool. I still remember the faces of those men. The first was an old man in his 60s. I had been chatting with him while waiting for the bus. I realised in one moment that old men were not all like my gentle granddad.
But general groping was an everyday thing that we suffered even into adulthood. The grabbing of a breast while pretending to bump into the victim or while whizzing past on a cycle is also so common. But the feelings of shock and shame and anger coupled with physical pain stayed for a long time.
As I grew older, I faced less of it perhaps because I was not as young looking or perhaps because I took other modes of transport. I also learnt to anticipate problems well in advance. When I saw someone making their way close to me in a bus, I always said in a loud and pleasant voice, "There is so much space over there. Could you please stand there." Perhaps some among those I spoke to were innocent but I wasn't taking chances. If I ever saw a man troubling a child, my anger and indignation rose to a level that surprised me.
I do not live in India now. My daughters can take the buses in relative safety.
I did not come to this site by accident. I was browsing for some information about why India has this problem, when I came across Anne's note. I could relate to it, and was relieved that my feelings were normal after all.

Poons said...

Having an afternoon drink with a friend last Sunday, we found ourselves sitting beside a trendy twentysomething couple whose conversation we could overhear all too clearly.
Actually, it was just a monologue by the young woman, who spelled out each of the banal uninteresting problems and worries that plagued her life.

All of her mind-numbing anxieties - about work, her friends, what to buy someone for their birthday - were articulated in excruciating detail over the next two hours in a grating, whining voice.
Read more: Why men and women have nothing in common (except sex)

suzie said...

I think I can write a whole book on this type of incidences on frotteurism. While I was in college, I use to travel by bus. Due this type of peoples have frustrated so many types and as a result had hit many mens on their face.

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