I have been volunteering at a child shelter for years and I have been part of rescuing and rehabilitating children. But, I never did anything entirely on my own. The brave thing I have done is I have given back to eve-teasers whenever I have faced one. (Considering I am an Indian and travel by public transport often means my average is quite good). And the bravest has to be that I did it for someone else.
2008, I was coming back from college in a Delhi Transport Corporation bus. A school girl (13-14 maybe) was sitting in the seat front of mine. As the passenger next to her got off, a young guy sat next to her. After a while, he started shifting closer to her and almost cornered her to the point she was pressed against the window. Then he threw his arms around her casually and slid his hand in her shirt. I could see all this as I was sitting right behind her.
I waited for the girl to raise her voice. But she kept mum,hugging her bag tightly to her chest. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I stood up and tapped his shoulder and asked what he was doing. Angered by this disruption, he asked me what my problem was and why didn’t I mind my own business. (Apparently, this is what we Indians are best at doing, “minding our own business”)
I looked at the girl, she didn’t even have the courage to stand up and continued hugging her bag. I asked her why wouldn’t she slap the guy, she looked down and didn’t utter a word. The most awesome part being, all this while the passengers on the bus (it was a jam packed bus) nobody uttered a single word and watched as if it was a free matinee show. Indians are oblivious to eve-teasing, usually non-vocal when they witness it and later protest against rising cases of rapes because “that” happens behind their back.
The guy gained some confidence and started shouting why I was being such a “jhansi ki rani” (warrior princess) especially when the girl had no objection. He started hurling abuses at me. My face was red already, I knew that I won’t argue with the shit bag a minute longer. I gathered all my courage, grabbed his collar and punched him in the face with all my might. I didn’t realize the impact until his nose started to bleed profusely and he started howling (abusing me more). I am sure he would have hit me back if both his hands weren’t holding his face.
Now, “this” shook the passengers and the conductor up from their deep slumber of ignorance and made them rush to save him. I asked the driver to pull over at the next police station. But he refused and said that “itna toh chalta rehta hai bus mein,adjust toh karna padega” (all this is part of traveling by a bus, learn to adjust).
There was a collective agreement, someone also believed that he had been hurt already for a “small” mistake, somebody also gave a piece of his mind by blaming the parents for “allowing” their children to commute by public transport, someone cribbed about the unnecessary fuss and people being troubled..
I used to witness and experience such incidences almost everyday while commuting and I never saw anybody reporting it. (Can you imagine the steep graph of crime against Indian women if such incidences were reported on daily basis?). An old gentleman suggested I should call police and get rid of all the mess. This time I did. By now, there was a huge crowd surrounding us. The police arrived and asked the girl to narrate what happened. I feared that she might keep her silence, she had all this while. Scared, she started crying and begging to let her go as her parents would pull her out of school if they come to know about it.
My friends were already there and they suggested not to press for a complaint as it would be a lot of hassle (filing a police report in India is a harassing affair especially for women, they chose to live with it than register a complain). I got an award from the local NGO. (Can you beat that? I always dreamt of getting one for a bigger cause, saving the world from a zombie apocalypse maybe. But for something as small as standing against eve-teasing!? C’mon! Isn’t this one of the things that every person is suppose to object?)
Neha Jha – Bat-chelor in Batman Science, University of Victoria.