The audacity of a non-consensual grope

We have been made to believe that “tehzeeb” is akin to the SPF 50 that you wear before going out to the beach. Ironically, going to the beach in swimsuits is a sure shot way of getting assaulted, according to the Hitch hiker’s guide to women safety written by the uncles and aunties of India (read: perpetrators of misogyny).

“Pull up your shirt, your cleavage is visible.” “Dude your strap is peeking.” “Cover your head, there are elders in the house.” “Where’s your dupatta, there are strange men here?” “Why is your dress so tight?” “You didn’t share the cab location?” “Were you wearing make-up?” “Why did you stay for another drink?”

These are just some of the things one hears from family and friends, if one happens to identify as a female. We have so many responsibilities to take care of and to make sure that we’re safeguarding ourselves from what ever ugly stuff happens to us in daily life…it’s amazing that we can get any work done.

Some well meaning and all together functional human beings will always preach that rape is apparently a choice that women make. They were careless, dressed inappropriately, inebriated, asking for it, going out of the imaginary line of “maan maryada” (customs). But I don’t want to write about rape. In stead I want to write about something that I consider to be a “gateway drug” for the inappropriate behaviour. Groping.

Sadly, I don’t know any women who haven’t faced a sex pest lecher in life. For us the encounters of the perv kind are as ubiquitous as holy cow on the BJP manifesto. I don’t wish to discount the experiences of the queer and transgender people, as well as many male victims of sexual offences, but I will keep my opinions to the stuff I have personally experienced rather than preach about the stuff I don’t know.

I first experienced the shit show that is groping when I was 14. A cute boy of 16 went with me in the same school bus. I was never very talkative when he was around because of the huge crush I had. One day I sat next to him by happenstance. Suddenly I noticed that his hand had was on my leg slightly above my knee. Not a place where it could’ve been placed by mistake. No no. He had managed to slide below my school bag, pull my skirt up a bit and keep his hand on my bare leg. The journey home lasted 25 minutes and I was acutely aware of his hand grabbing my leg. I couldn’t move. I didn’t want this. I have thought about it so many times, and all I can recall is the nausea I felt all the way home. I froze because in my childish mind, I thought, “Look, you liked this guy, and now he’s touching you. Don’t complain.” Like I have somehow manifested this undesirable behaviour from him.

I locked this incident somewhere in the back of my mind, and never spoke about them with anyone until a couple of years back when my partner and I were discussing some traumatic experiences from his childhood, and this came up.

I can easily recall several other instances of grabbing, pulling, cat calling, etc. when I have been walking around with female friends or in the bus/ train or even while cycling down the road. Although my experiences do seem a bit lack lustre compared to some other creeps out there.

At what point did everyone become au fait with this audacity? I’m not claiming to be a “survivor” here. It fundamentally changed my outlook and behaviour even though I consciously never thought of those incidents for years afterwards. I find the connotation of being a survivor to be an act of heroism that I didn’t partake in. I was a victim of my vulnerabilities, and those are still there.

The vitriol against women and the need to punish our “indecency” that is being strewn around by the likes of Mohan Bhagwat, and if you’re unlucky, your daily family WhatsApp groups is both scary and sadly unsurprising. I say this because the person on the bus was only two years older than me, and yet he knew he’d get away with it. When did he learn about his power?

Published by anubhutib

Graduate student in Finland navigating through PhD and trying to have some fun along the way.

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