Subha Manoj

While I Was Away

Subha Manoj

Ring the Safety Bell before the cat gets you.

Since the time the young girl in Delhi fought for her life, soul and self respect, many women (and men) have cried with her and for her. I also cried, but more than that I also wondered, did our political and justice system really require such a nauseating, gruesome and inhuman act to wake up? I felt a blow on this very system when yesterday I read in the newspapers that the case file papers on this particular rape incident is missing! Am I even supposed to have faith in the judiciary? And why are we just talking about this issue only? There are rapes which are more or less of this intensity happening all over our country. Delhi case got reported and thus came into limelight. Many rapes go unreported and are they thus not happening? Laughable! What a pity!

As a woman, my peace of mind, safety and self respect has been threatened million times over in the past 33 years I have lived. Eve teasing, filthy remarks, bad touches, dirty looks, sickening smirks, I have faced it all during my growing up years, sometimes even today, when I am married and a mother of two. The thin, fading line between all the above and rape gives me jitters.

All said and done, what now? What is it that I can do for myself and for my daughter? What can you do? Or rather, what should we all do to combat the fear, the insecurity, the inability to wear what we want to, the fear of going out at 10 pm at night to buy an ice cream or pack of bread, just because some insane guy is out there?

Change and charity starts at home. What I believe that can bring upon changes on a micro level is pretty much do-able and practical. It all starts at home, within our families and society. Let me share two of my experiences to put my thoughts under perspective.

I come from sadda Dilli, where eve teasing is as easily available as gol-gappas (sadly). During my college days, I have across many creeps in the form of lecherous men.

Once, while travelling by a DTC bus, a guy had been lurking behind me for a long time. No, I was not wearing any skimpy clothes or skin tight jeans, (for all the decency police who are reading this post). When one of this particularly pathetic move made my self esteem jolt out of the blue, I started searching my bag for anything which I can use against him. There it was! A safety pin. True to its name, it came to my safety. I poked him with all my might. I didn’t know or care where the pin went in and what it did to him. But the bugger moved away in a jiffy. I did not even bother to see where he went or who he was, because I was shaking because of a mix of fear, thrill and the feel of tears welling up in my eyes. I came back home and after narrating my experience, was welcomed by my father’s words: “Serves him right. You did the right thing.” The shaky feeling inside me finally stopped.

The second incident happened when I visited my hometown: Kerala. Now, being God’s own country is all fine, and being the highest literate state is also an awesome thing, but this is one place where men are considered the mother of all.
My family and I were entering a newly opened mall near our ancestral home. The place was extremely crowded and I was wearing jeans and a T-Shirt. Yes, I guess I was one the extremely rare ones to wear a jeans and a T-Shirt about 17 years back, in a mall in Kerala. A guy came in from my back and did the unthinkable to me. Unthinkable and unexpected, because I was with my father, mother and cousins. Imagine his guts, in this case stupidity! Humiliation, sickening feeling, and a yuck-ness all over me, I spun around and slapped him hard. It was meant to hit him on his face, but I still remember feeling his neck on my palm. The guy, instead of reacting, simply walked away. I did see his back, but not his face. The shaky feeling came back to me. My face was red and hot. All this was witnessed by my mother only, as my father and cousins were well ahead of us. Amma was shocked and asked me what on the earth had I done! Finally we were back home, and when I recounted what had happened to my family, yet again I heard my aunt, uncle, cousins saying: “Serves the bugger right. You did the right thing!” The shaky feeling left me.

More incidents followed, but not as impacting. But I have learnt my lesson. What I have learnt, truly works.

1. Forget about the system, the judiciary, the helplines, the police and the third parties. Let them work or not work. But do your thing. Think about your own safety. Carry a pepper spray, a safety pin, a small foldable knife or anything sharp and don’t hesitate to use it.

The next two points are to parents:

2. Teach or don’t teach your kids dance, music, Vedic maths, swimming. That’s your choice. But teach them self defense. Any form, any self defense art. This holds true for boys and girls. For one, it gives self confidence.

3. Don’t tell your daughter to wear loose clothing, or not wear her favourite top or jeans. Tell her that it is okay if she does something to protect herself. When she comes back home and shares a bad experience and what she did to the creep, tell her that she did the right thing. She DOES NOT have to get used to molesters and eve teasers.

4. Listen and act upon when your child is telling you that the ‘uncle’ touched her there.   It does not matter that the ‘uncle’ is your best friend or your brother or a father to two kids. In this case, there is no second chance. Your child will never ever trust you again if you ignore the first time. And that is bad news for you.

Next point is for the schools and other educational institutions.

4. Sex education, self defense, strict action against bullying, ragging and eve teasing. I have studied in a hostel, away from home. People who say ragging helps you to know your seniors and peers. Go take a reality check. There are coffee shops and basket ball courts for making friends. Any complaint has to be taken seriously.

5. Lastly, get real, get practical. Is the walk alone on a deserted road or park really necessary at 10 pm? Do you really have to take that drink from the hot new guy at the party?  Can you ask your friend or a family member to pick you up after the late night movie or party? Ask yourself these questions before actually doing the thing.

Each of these points are do-able and must-dos. None of these require permissions from authorities or the Government. It can start at a micro level and can reach volumes and make our homes, schools, colleges, public transport, parties a better and safer place to be in.


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