Harassment of women

I'm still pained by the Bombay incident of New Year's Eve, and wondering what is going on in our 'shining' country. What makes matters worse is people like the Police Commissioner who say, "Oh, my wife and daughters know not to step out of the house in the evening." Is that what it has come to, that women should be imprisoned, because you can't trust the men to behave like civilized human beings? That women should be confined, controlled and restrained because the men can't control their baser instincts? What's the difference between the advocates of the burqa and these people? What the difference between the Police Commissioner in Bombay and the magnanimous king of Saudi Arabia who pardons the woman who was raped and then sentenced to being punished for it by stone throwing because she was in a car with a man who was not her husband/ brother/ father, and says that "She has learned her lesson"?

Sadly, somewhere in our women's genes, we too end up holding ourselves responsible a lot of the time for the things that we suffer. I remember when we moved back to India from South East Asia and I started college, dad would always ask me to wear dull clothes and not wear even artificial jewellery. He was trying to keep me safe, because he knew all about what typically goes on in the streets of our cities. Not that that helped in any case, but somewhere the lesson stayed in my brain.

Many years later, I was at an office party, our annual party which I and A used to organise. I had just had my hair cut stylishly short and was wearing a chic red dress with long sleeves but off the shoulder. My mom had just bought these gorgeous crystal earrings for me and I felt incredibly glamourous and got loads of compliments from friends and colleagues. The invitees at the party used to be company employees and their families as well as associates - photographers, film makers etc. While enjoying myself on the crowded dance floor, I suddenly felt someone grabbing hold of my face and pulling me towards them. I couldn't see who it was in the fog that nightclubs send out and struggled but the guy was too strong. A couldn't even see what was going on so he didn't come to my rescue. I flailed and pushed and kicked but the hands inexorably pulled my face towards the guy's face to try and kiss me. With a giant effort, I managed to twist my head around so the slimy kiss landed on my cheek rather than my lips, and just at that moment the fog started lifting. I wriggled out of the guy's grasp and tried to get a look at him but he melted away into the crowd. I just stood there feeling so violated, so unclean, just wiping that horrible ick off my face and imagining it was like a brand burnt onto my face...

For ages afterward, I stood and shivered in the loo and argued with the mirror about how I had 'invited' it on myself by being dressed up, by wearing make-up, by wearing a certain type of attire. I couldn't bear to even face myself in the mirror for a long time. I kept thinking...if only I had worn ordinary clothes...if I hadn't had my hair cut in a flattering way...if I hadn't worn make-up...if I hadn't worn those earrings...It took me a while to stop thinking of myself as being at fault and to pin the blame squarely where it belonged.

Somehow, be it in conservative India or even the West, the blame for such a thing is always first sought to be pinned to the woman who is the victim. Even in the US, until recently when it was outlawed, rape cases spent most of their time focussing on the character of the woman in question. In which other crime does this happen, that the victim is considered responsible for being the victim? Does anyone try the character of the corpse in a murder? In which other crime is the victim supposed to bow his head down in 'shame' - does a robbery victim feel 'ashamed' of being robbed?


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