Triggered by S's post on her experience on being sexually harassed, and the obvious scars it leaves, some of us friends have been sharing over an FB message thread on what we have done in retaliation to being sexually harassed, especially in our school and college years. The discussion soon turned into what would be the right approach to defend oneself against molesters - ignore, laugh back (in order to insult), abuse, hit, hit and run?
As I read what everybody had got to say, I realized that no particular approach would work as a panacea for all kinds of molestation - simply because the molesters or harassers come in so many shapes and sizes, and each requires a different treatment - and from some, there is no escape at all.
Having traveled in Delhi for so many years, in every possible mode of public and personal transport, I have met so many kinds - all disgusting but with varying abilities to cause harm. Here's my understanding and experience:
- The Peer Group Kinds: Well, these are the college going guys - usually from not your college. They'll try to take the same bus as you, come and stand next to your seat, try to establish eye contact, follow you in cars or bikes, sing the latest bollywood romantic song for you, even give you flowers on rose day and chocolates on chocolate day, and maybe ask you for your phone number or zodiac sign on Valentin's day! But that's it. They will not get physical - no touching etc. They are the ones who are scared of your male friends, family, police, and the public. This kind is best ignored. And years later when you look back at these guys, you'll only smile in indulgence, unlike the anger and discomfort you felt at that moment.
- The Frustrated Uncles: This is one perverted lot. With their middle age evident in their bellies and hair, they are frustrated with their married life, families, jobs, government, essentially, themselves. And they think the best way to let all that frustration out is feel up young girls in crowded buses, trains etc. However, the upside? They are scared of public embarrassment. Shout at them, abuse them. If they are acting really dirty, hit them with your elbow, or a compass or an umbrella - and there they go running away. Funnily, this is the kind that the public will also be very happy and ready to beat up or throw out.
- The Road Side Romoes, infamous as RSRs: These guys may span across all age groups - from young 13 year olds to 70 year olds. Usually found on cycles or foot - they will instantly decide you are Madhuri Dixit or Aishwarya Rai, the minute they see you and pass comments, sing (once in a while, they might decide to hit you too). I remember one wobbly old guy in a rickety cycle asking me: baithogi? (will you seat). I retorted: "pehle khud ko to sambhal lo" (first, balance yourself). And he got so scared! So, that's the thing, these kinds are basically idiots and dumb asses. All it takes is a gutsy girl to make them go whimpering away. Shout at them, threaten to call the cops, and go after them if they hit you, to teach them a lesson of a lifetime.
- The RAPISTS: These are the most dangerous kinds - psychologically sick with deep rooted inferiority complex, and with no respect for any woman - the ones who will rape if they could. They are not scared of the law, have a gang to support them, use physical force or even weapons. This is the group that's the largest in Delhi/NCR, more than in an other city or town in India - and there is nothing a girl can do to get them off their trail. You ignore them, they'll follow still; you laugh at them, shout at them - they get bolder with the attention; you hit them, their ego gets hurt, they hit you back; you call the cops, they throw acid on you; you run, they rape. What can you do? Pray you never come across them.
I have come across the first three categories and have done what came to my mind at that moment. I have cried, shouted, abused and hit - hit many infact -mostly with umbrellas and compasses. And I hope atleast a handful of them were taught a lesson for life.
Those who argue against the use of violence, need to know that you can't implement a well thought out strategy in such a case. It becomes a question of survival and self sustenance. You can't rely on the good sense of the spectators, and let me not start about the callousness of the police. I personally know of girls who were slapped by cops when they approached the PCR (police control room) vans to report "eve teasers".
The verdict? As of now, in India, a girl's safety and sanity depends on her self defense and LUCK!