Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Being Indian: Independence

Whenever I feel the need to blog here, I have to find that perfect moment when I am angry but not absolutely overwhelmed by anger. But today, as we approach our Independence Day in a few hours, I am f***ing angry, just knowing how unbelievably false this day is. The one day when we paint our profile pictures with tricolours and finally come around to respect our country and celebrate it. This year, maybe we should all go out and find the first house party and beat everyone up. We should find a young girl on the road, strip her naked and try to grab every inch of her skin; for I am led to believe, that is what Indian culture is.

This year alone, I have had three experiences that have shattered my faith in the fact that I am safe on the roads of this country. Let me begin by the most common one. I was at a restaurant with some friends at about 12:30 am, buying dinner after attending a concert. As I walked towards the food counter, a middle-aged man in a lungi grabbed my crotch as he went past me. I turned around and yelled “Bastard!” and continued towards my friends. It then struck me that that wasn’t punishment enough and that this man would probably go grab some other woman again. So I went on to find him.

When I found him, I asked him “Why did you touch me?” His friend began to defend him as the man in the lungi stood sheepishly behind. I continued to explain that he had no right to touch me and demanded an apology if nothing more. At this point, two of my male friends had joined me and a crowd had gathered. My friends began to shout at them and I explained that I would like to deal with it by myself. Following the apology I received, as I walked away, another man in the crowd exclaimed, “Abey! She just wanted to make a scene!” So, I turned around and asked him if he would have made a scene had I been his sister. At this point, the man happened to push one of my male friends and the next thing I know they are about to get into a fist fight and I am being escorted to safety by a security guard. The man had a knife. While, my friends got away safe, he had absolutely no qualms about bringing the knife out to protect his ego. A knife for his ego and a sleazy comment for my dignity.

As we proceeded to leave the restaurant, I sat by the parking lot just trying to wonder how me demanding my right to safety turned into an ego clash between two men. While many of my friends came and applauded me for having “balls”, one went on to tell me that I didn’t need to be such a drama queen. To date, I try to understand the rationale behind that statement. Somebody, please explain to me how telling a man that he had no right to grab my private parts without consent is being a drama queen.

A few months ago, we parked our bike outside UB City at 10:15 pm. After returning in barely fifteen minutes, we found that the bike was punctured. We wheeled it down the road and walked back to UB City where our friends offered to take us back home in their car. As we waited for them, five men on three bikes went past us, made a few comments and parked ahead. We crossed over to the security cabin and waited for our friends, quickly realising that those men were going to follow us. As soon as our friends arrived and we got in to the car, the men got on their bikes and started them. They followed us for a while we slowed down to let one of them overtake us and noted down the number of the bike. A friend in the car couldn’t control her anger any longer and hit the man on the bike with the car door, yelling at him. He scooted and minutes later, so did we towards the closest police station, just in case.

The following day, we took the bike to a puncture shop and asked to see the tube. There were two clean slashes on the tube and they had appeared to have been made with a small blade. The men had punctured our bike in an attempt to handicap us and probably then attack us. After filing a police complaint against the bike, we went on to ask a few people around the parking lot if they had seen anything. They hadn’t seen anything but were happy to provide us with free advice “That is why you should not go out after 9, madam!”

If you ask a woman how many times she’s been felt up at all hours, wearing all kinds of clothes, the answer will be countless. We can’t even count the number of times we ‘have been subjected to street sexual harassment; it’s an experience that we have been “warming” ourselves up to since we were 12. I have been angry for years about being a target simply because I’m a woman. But recently, after watching the news, watching the Guwahati incident, watching the Hindu Activists thrash innocent men and women in a home stay, reading about the deaths of a number of women who are targeted simply because they live their lives differently, I am scared. And I don’t want to be scared because then they get the victory.

The reason I started this blog was to explore what Indian culture really is – the many deep trenches in our society that we hang on to for the sake of tradition? Or is it the way ahead? At this point, I don’t see a way ahead. Unless, everybody stands up against street sexual harassment and moral policing. Unless, women educate their sons and daughters that sexual harassment of ANY kind is an absolute wrong. Unless, the media stops running after the story and calls the police instead.

I mentioned three experiences and illustrated only two. My third experience is every day. Every day, I look at people on the streets and everybody looks like the Hindu Activist, like the moral police and I won’t deny that I am scared. But, I am not completely broken. I will NOT change my lifestyle, my choices and give up my freedom. I know today, that when I walk out of my house, my dignity is a target. My safety is compromised. While all of my posts on this blog end on a positive note, sadly today is not the case. How am I going to celebrate this special day? By going and buying myself a can of pepper spray. That, my friends, is how I am going to celebrate Indian Culture. Pepper spray. Who would’ve thought! Happy Independence Day.


  1. Its like you've read the minds of every single Indian woman.
    Hurrah for democracy.And Happy Independence Day.

  2. I relate so much to this. what 'freedom' are we celebrating, really? One that excludes all Indian women, perhaps, because we can't go one day without being disrespected, harassed, groped, molested, raped, or killed before we are born.

  3. It's pointless to talk about Indian culture. No one 'understands' it. It has just become a lame excuse for men to continue patriarchal society. The incidents which you have mentioned are just attempts towards that. Don't talk about Indian culture as people don't understand the logic behind our customs. Don't talk about Indian culture Vahini, their's nothing 'Indian' in it anymore; it's just culture, the one which I don't like. People have forgotten that happiness stays in home only if woman of the home is happy. 'Her' importance is being forgotten. Don't you think it's a paradox on the one hand we worship her while on the other hand we rape her. By the way, Happy Independence Day

  4. Excellent Blog and really food for the thought....for all those crazy people who believe its Independence day...With things like this going around, i am a mother of 3 girls and I really feel that my kids need to be taken to a rather civilized world...I don’t care if I could raise them with Indian Culture...I don’t think that is of any benefit to them, however I am determined that I will raise them to be bold girls and teach them self protect...that's all they need in the world today !!!

  5. Excellently written! :D
    Loved the ending!

  6. totally with you. i will celebrate the independence day when we deserve to be celebrating. till then, i pray for all the victims of various kinds of injustices in this land.

  7. Thank you! i couldn't agree more! Every day im called a feminist or femi-nazi for defending myself against "eve teasers".....No Independence day till women can go out at all times without worrying if her clothes are provocative!

  8. Very well written. You just gave a voice to what each one of us is feeling, Vahini.

  9. Getting groped, eve-teased or leered at has become so common now that we aren't even shocked at these everyday occurrences.

    Why should we be the ones forced to change our clothes, attitudes, our lifestyle to suit the needs of those criminals? And why, oh god why are we called drama queens for calling them out for their actions

    Thanks for writing this excellent article and giving all of us a platform to vent our outrage.

  10. Thanks for sharing. I had a similar incident on a bus. i had taken a ladies seat to warrant extra safety, was wearing a baggy-enough-to-fit-two sweatshirt and i hugged my bag as I slept warily. I had had multiple ogling episodes on night journey buses.
    At 4am, i felt some one grope by reaching for across my bag!! i woke up and tried to grab his hand but he got away as it was pitch dark..i woke up the lady next to me and told her this...
    'What can you do yaa...go back to sleep'. I was seething in anger, my body burnt as i knew i had been violated.
    I could see other people wake up and just stare at me as if I was the guilty one. Men the age of my father did nothing.

    I sat ...wondering how i would forgive myself if I let this slide...No I could never do that..
    So at 5:30 am as the dawn broke i barged upto the driver and reported the incident.
    He pretended not to understand hindi (bus from hyderabad to bangalore!) ...then he said..clearly describe what happened, obviously to embarass me further.

    I explained...my voice shaking..no use..then i looked at the rest of the bus- a bunch of educated but BLANK faces...staring at me.
    2 youths - helped me translate into telugu what happened...
    Anyway to cut to the chase, i did identify the groper... and there were just 2 young men who decided to help me...

    the uncles and aunties of the bus just STARED. i dont know what broke my heart that day - the fact that it can be so easy to be violated in my country...or the fact that majority of my beloved country men and women would not bother to HELP. :(

    I salute the youths who did , and so i can say that...there is HOPE...our generation has some shred of humanity left in them.

  11. Yes u might have to use pepper spray
    Yes you might have to take up martial arts..
    But ours is a nation where women are taught to give more than what they receive..and not get any credit for it.

    Yes we are Drama Queens...But we'd like our privates to be private for sure.
    If demanding that is making a scene, so be it.

    I think my views will influence at least 10 of my male friends who will know better than to violate a woman.
    If we are vocal and vehement about it - make some noise and spread the word.
    If you are violated don't let it slide..

    the whole bullSh** of making things taboo when they aren't has created a bunch of sex starved maniacs who think women are objects.

    I think we have to collectively make NOISE. Don't take crap lying down people.

    Teach your daughters your mothers your sisters your friends...to be proud, smart and safe.
    And teach your sons, brothers, husbands and friends that you have a mind and body of your own.

  12. well.. anu im proud of u for having shared such personal and sensitive incidents in such a strongly worded n opinionated manner for the world to see.. i remember saying this to u when u came over to mumbai that u deserve a lot better, i meant that for everything..

    i do agree that this 'societal habit' is wrong, that women should voice themselves.. but unfortunately that does not change much, a groper remains a groper even if he is insulted n punished publicly.. cuz unfortunately this shamelessness stems from a patriarchal, chauvinistic thinking that has objectified women for centuries, almost ingrained in the Y chromosome.. i have experienced episodes where i have raised a voice n also where i ve not bothered to run after him and ve seen him walk away into crowds.. n have come to the conclusion that for my own sake I avoid buses (mumbai) cuz they r the worst.. theres also a defending position that players adopt in football (right hand covering protectively ahead and left hand back) that has sort helped me keep some distance while in crowded places..

    honestly as much as we progressive independent women seek freedom, respect and acceptance, it is important that we are wise enough to be safe, precautious and tactful..

    N to all women id say be brave and be smart!

  13. sorry i guess this blog post is by VAHINI RAO n not by friend anu.. so vahini proud of u .. n anu - thanks for sharing this article on FB.. n Smita - hang in there girl.. ur stronger than u think..