What is fear according to you? The unknown? The lonely stretch of road that people warn you of? The feeling you get when you put your hand into your pocket and don’t find your wallet immediately? The horror movie that have given many an audience a heart attack? The sudden power outage that leaves you confused for a while till you reach for the nearest phone, candle or match?
Yes fear is this and many more. But do you also know the fears I encounter on an every day basis? Let me list them down for you:
⁃ I’m afraid of stepping out or my house in a low cut blouse because on the metro, Every Male gaze is on my blouse and what lies underneath. From the auto driver who will lick his lips lasciviously when he hands you the change to the metro commuters who will take turns looking at you with an open lecherous look that only brings to mind horrific rapes and molestation. I’m afraid all the time of wearing a blouse that will keep me cool in the summer months.
⁃ I fear the hand that reaches out from behind me in a queue when it darts out suddenly to pay for theirs meal/ ticket in a counter. I cringe and shiver for a second that I was inches away from someone who could’ve violated my body yet again.
⁃ I fear that beep of a new message on my Messenger/ Instagram or Twitter DM that signals someone has sent you a message. They may be harmless but I’ve received way too many “Hi Babes! Want to see your bobs/ vagenes!” that I shrink back for a second when I hear the familiar beep. I’m fearful of opening those messages because do not want to engage in conversations I have not initiated and definitely in conversations that is aimed at my sexuality and my body.
⁃ I fear walking into any male members cabins in the office because we have all heard stories of women getting molested even at the workplace.
⁃ I fear that doorbell that rings shrilly when I’m not expecting anyone at that time. It maybe a harmless child playing a prank, or a lost delivery boy or a neighbor wanting sugar. But look at how my body reacted? My heart beats violently, I slowly crouch to see through the peephole, my brain is thinking of every object I can use in my vicinity to use to strike out, my muscles have all tensed into a tight ball in my gut and I’m sweating through every pore in my body. Any unsolicited doorbell puts me through so much.
I know I maybe sounding irrational. But just for a moment look at how all girls my age have lived among men. We are groped at in temple queues, ticket queues, public transport, at home by cousins, uncles, grandfathers and more. When we go to school, we have been touched inappropriately by a teacher/ peon/ principal and even the roadside cartwalla, we have had auto drivers/ van drivers masturbate in front of us, boys have tried to look up our skirts and compare us to each other. And all this without asking or checking with us. Then we manage to go to college and the pattern repeats. From the bus conductors to the security guards at the college, to the boys in the campus, everyone is watching my clothes and my budding body with an uninhibited and unguarded sense of entitlement. We go on to pursue our careers and we are met with more. Lewd jokes, sexist attitudes, deeply disturbing gaze on our bodies and the relentless pursuit of taking us out to coffee, tea and drinks.
This is not my story alone. Ask any girl/ woman next to you and she will give you at least one instance when she was afraid, not of the dark but of the hand that reached out and touched her inappropriately. Women have over the years, through generations, learnt some tricks to duck from those hands, but sadly were are not accurate 100% all the time.
Fear is a part of my everyday life. Constantly looking over my shoulder is a habit. Checking the locks at least 5 times every night is also a habit. Drawing the dupatta over my chest and ensuring it doesn’t fly away at any point is as natural as tucking away that stray hair from my face. Pinning my saree tightly and completely around me so that even an inch of skin is not visible to anyone is now the only way I have learnt to tie my saree. I’m complimented at how well I drape my saree but no one knows how much I struggle to ensure that the pleats and the blouse don’t “attract” any attention to some body part of mine. I wear my T-shirts loose so that my chest doesn’t seem too big and “in his face”. My jeans too can’t be too tight. That’ll only mean I’m asking for it. My skirt? I’ve stopped wearing them because some are too short, too long, too thin, too fitting, too attractive, too much! What I have now included are lots and lots of pretty scarves and stoles and dupattas. Not because it’s cold in this city but because they hide me from this city’s men. We walk in fear every time.