This is my contribution to the blog-a-thon on Street Harassment organized by Blank Noise Project.

Mama says don’t go here, don’t go there
Dad tells me to stop ‘attracting attention’ with my clothes
Ma tells me she doesn’t have a problem if I look good; only that other people will think so too
Pa says I shouldn’t get caught alone and defenseless
My boyfriend wants to pick me up and drop me everywhere
And when he can’t, he says I should stay home

Last night I stood for 20 minutes waiting for a bus
And when it finally came,
I heaved a sigh of relief that there were enough of people in it
There’s safety in numbers…or so I thought
Till I felt that hand brush across my chest
And I froze right in the middle of the crowded bus aisle
It happened again
And I didn’t say a word to the people I was paying to ferry me through the city
Because that hand belonged to the conductor of the bus

I slid away, then managed to find a seat
But he didn’t stop…
A true master, using angles and gravity and crowds to full benefit
And I didn’t say a word because I didn’t want to be dumped off the bus
Onto an empty road.

I wonder if ma and dad aren’t wrong after all.
It is a burden to be attractive
It is a liability to be young
But most of all, it is a sin to be a woman.

The next time I stood right next to the reserved ladies’ seats
With a scowl on my face
And my shoulders hunched
But even that didn’t stop the assaults
With hands, with fingers, with shoulders
The nudges, the shoves, the seemingly accidental slipping forward

The hand that ends up on my back
And the eyes…the eyes that never relent
Glaring, staring, burrowing right into me
Accusing me with ferocity
Condemning me for my sin
The sin of being a woman.

But Mumbai is a safe city, we are told.
We don’t have the Delhi rapes or the Chennai assaults
The crowds give shelter
They also bring anonymity
To the hand that gropes in the crowd
And also to the sinners like me who are punished every day

The masses move
And I can lose myself and my shame in the crowds again.
The very same crowds that hide my assailant.

17 thoughts on “Hiding in the crowd”
  1. Hate to agree with Arthur Quiller Couch on anything but, apparently, this is the third time in as many days…or some such thing. Anyway, like he said, this issue does make me mad too. This is getting a bit repetitive now b’cos I’m doing this for the fourth time today, but, as far as I’m concerned, the bigger offender here is anyone who looks on while all this happens as blatantly as it does. There’s only one way to put an end to all this nonsense – everyone must get involved…and not just when it happens to someone we’re with or around.

  2. Hey,
    First time on ur blog and loved the post!
    Short an bang on!
    Guess thats what kills us all the time -our inability to shout out aloud, to go above the so called ’embarresment’ of it all and ensure that it never happens to anyone ever again!

  3. brilliant. vintage IS ..

    its amazin how many women have gone thru this, been repulsed by it..and yet..it still goes on..

    men need to respect women. it took a woman to make a man, after all. And for those with any doubts Im a full fledged testosterone driven alpha male!

  4. Hey Idea, this is something that makes me want to stangle these pervs and sickos. And sometimes I wish they’d know how it feels when they see one of their kith suffering due to it.

    Very moving, yes.

  5. One has to give back, give back nice and good. Either scream, or pinch the hand that paws. Kicking with heels is also effective. I used the elbow to dig in to the offender, and the fierce eye contact while mouthing Gaali , and felt successful!

  6. I cannot understand this…

    trying to be eloquent about stupidity.

    what is so poetic about keeping your jaw clamped about it?

    why the silence?

    why would you let a conductor feel you up and not say a word? what? do you think it’s some sort of twisted ode to your appearance?

    Which bring me to this — sexual abuse, harrassment, assualt has nothing to do with being ‘attractive’. It has everything to do with being ‘weak’, or rather, being made to feel weak. physically, economically, politically. In every way. watch how men will sport with a weaker man too.

    Which is why i don’t understand the silence.

    I cannot appreciate this drivel. it’s upsetting. you have a way with words, but your responses… they need a rethink.

    you want to be cynical about the way they [ma, pa, boyfriend] protect you, yet you are incapable of doing anything for yourself.

  7. anonymous: Since you didn’t leave behind a name or a link, I’ll make some assumptions. One, to be precise and it that you are male. If you were a woman, you’d understand why I’ve said all the above. In reply, what would you have me do? Beat up a guy towering a head above me? Slap a guy who very likely might toss acid into my face tomorrow? Make a fuss about it? Well…that’s a solution. The question is how often? Do I have the energy to fight the auto driver, the bus conductor, my co-passanger who brushed against me, the roadside romeo who follows me, the paanwala who leches, the watchman who keeps his eyes fixed on my chest, the man in the shop who keeps leering at me? The answer is…no, I don’t. If it sounds like whining drivel to you, well, you really have no idea what its like to actually experience it.

  8. no IS, I’m a woman too… and one that’s got pushed and jabbed and poked and rubbed up against too. Both, in Delhi and Bombay.

    You don’t have to be violent to define the sanctity of your space, and YES, it’s tough to keep fighting the urge to give in.

    At the risk of being labelled paranoid, I think it’s worth the fight to tell any intrusive man off – politely, sarcastically, without losing your cool, EACH TIME.

    Of course there are situations and situations.. times when you just have to swallow it.

    But the shame should not, never, ever be yours.

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