A few days ago, I was talking to a friend, and the conversation somehow turned to sexual harassment. (Yes, that does happen!) I asked him if he’d ever been sexually harassed. “Not as far as I remember” he answered.
I began narrating my first encounter with sexual harassment, as one of those incidents in your past that you look back and chuckle at. Before I knew it, instance after instance flooded my mind, and I began recounting every single time I had been sexually harassed: in school (multiple times!), in buses, rickshaws, crowded places, you name it. And this was without even considering the times I had been leered or whistled at!
As single incidents, they had seemed inconsequential, trivial even. Why get riled up about something that was now a part of daily life? But grouped together, they implied one simple thing that has been overlooked for too long. There’s something terribly wrong with our society.
I had always heard the stories, the statistics. Joked with my friends about how getting harassed in public places was a part of daily life. How it happened at least once to every girl. And since this was not going to change, how we had to learn to protect ourselves.
I still remember ‘holding the bag’ technique, which my mum had taught me that when I was barely 12, as men kept ‘accidentally’ touching my chest as I followed her around the crowded market. You basically maintain a guarded stance with your hand crossed in front of your chest and your elbow jutting out, under the pretense of clutching your bag. And whenever a man brushes too close by, you hit him with your elbow or fist, just enough to keep him at a distance.
I thought nothing of it at the time. Until last year, a friend from Chennai came to stay at my place for a few days, and I had to teach her the technique. “Warrior pose” she called it, laughing at my serious face as I insisted she maintain that pose whenever we were in a crowded place.
But “warrior pose” was an apt term for whatever that was. Because although we don’t realize it, we are at war. We’re at war if every time we enter a public space, we are scared, or worse, oblivious to the ‘male gaze’. We’re at war if sexual harassment is so common, we don’t even recognize it as harassment anymore.
And that’s why India needs Feminism. Because no person; man, woman or other, should feel uncomfortable or unsafe in a space that’s fundamentally meant for everyone.