Hi, I am a woman in India, and this is my story.
Growing up, I was raised to be more conscious of myself and my actions. When I was little, I always used to wonder why didn’t my brother get the same lecture from mom as I do.
It didn’t take long for me to understand why.
I remember it, albeit faintly. People started looking at me differently. I was maybe 7 or 8, but somehow, I was the focus of men much older than me.
It was around this time mom had a talk with me about modesty. I barely understood it, but the stares were getting longer and more frightening, and I just wanted them to stop. So, I accepted whatever she said as ‘rules to live by’.
But then, everything changed. I hit puberty.
The rules got stricter for me. I wasn’t allowed to enter certain parts of the house during my period. I had to put up a smiling face even when I was having cramps, just so that everything ‘appears’ regular.
However, the stares got longer and more frequent. But funnily enough, those became the least of my worries. Suddenly, I was being called out on the streets, whistled at. I felt like I was an object, something to be consumed. The world got scarier.
But it didn’t stop there.
I remember the first time I was groped quite clearly. It was at a family event, in my own home, by an ‘uncle’. The smile that he gave me after groping me was something I will never forget.
How stupid was I that I didn’t tell anyone about it. I didn’t know any better. I was just a 12-year old girl who was molested by a man four times her age.
But after that incident, I understood why I needed to be cautious. I didn’t want to feel like that ever again. But I understood one thing – it’s not going to get any easier.
Going out became especially difficult.
The constant thoughts of ‘am I wearing something too revealing?’ and ‘maybe I should’ve worn something else’ became a regular thing while going out.
I had to somehow adjust to all those hungry stares and the occasional catcalls. I couldn’t fight everyone.
That’s not to say I didn’t. I fought more times than I can count. But those ‘accidental’ brushes in a crowded bus, those suggestive expressions, those gropings, were too many for me to take on.
But still, I tried.
Then, I moved to another city. I was ‘independent’ for the first time in my life. That meant I was now solely responsible for my safety. Whatever happens, I have to deal with it alone.
A world where almost everyone is stronger than you and can overpower you at their will is a scary one.
Today, the world is still scary. But I’ve gotten used to it.
Yes, those crowded train rides where anyone can put their hand anywhere are a nightmare, but they are still better than those uncertain empty streets.
Going out at night is still a gamble. You don’t know how it will end. And you always need a man to accompany you. It’s funny when I am accompanied by a man, most, if not all, of the stares and catcalls stop.
I wonder why women here need this territorial cover from the opposite gender. I wonder why they are belittled to the extent of actually feeling like the weaker sex.
But at least it’s safer. Even if it makes you feel weak.
Other than all of this, it’s nothing new.
The stares do not stop. The gropings do not stop. Men ‘accidentally’ touching you doesn’t stop. Needing a man you trust to go out with you at night doesn’t stop. Getting scared of getting into empty cabs doesn’t stop. The constant need to look over my shoulder doesn’t stop. Feeling helpless doesn’t stop. Feeling powerless doesn’t stop.
Being a woman in India doesn’t stop.
But why am I telling you this?
Because I want you to know that I belong to the lucky few.
I am lucky because I was born and raised with a family that cared for me. Many don’t make it.
I am lucky that my parents decided to educate me. Many get married off before hitting their teens.
I am lucky that no one threw acid on my face because I rejected his advances.
I am lucky that I wasn’t sold into prostitution.
I am lucky that I wasn’t raped and then blamed for being characterless.
But many women in India aren’t that lucky.
Many face hell on a daily basis.
Quite a few of them must be going through it as you’re reading this.
And it doesn’t matter if you’re 8-month old or a 100-year old, if you are a woman in India, you’re never 100% safe.
Sadly ‘women empowerment’ in India is short-lived. It does not last longer than a TV ad, a movie celebrating some twisted definition of feminism or a candle march. Once the trend dies, things go back to how they were.
Maybe you’re guilty of that too. Maybe you’re reading this article only because it popped up in your timeline. Maybe it’s women’s day and you just want to be a part of the trend.
How hilariously bad things must be for women when all the brands, Facebook pages, corporates, politicians – the whole country – pretend to care about your issues for just one day.
The truth is that for a woman in India, the world is a very scary place. Regardless of the type of clothes she wears, the city where she lives, the time she goes out and especially, how old she is.
We need to change.
India needs to change.
Because other women in our country aren’t as lucky as me.