Valuable lessons in fighting back...

Valuable lessons in fighting back...

Valuable lessons in fighting back...

Whether the leaf falls on the thorn or the thorn falls on the leaf, goes a popular saying in Malayalam, it’s the leaf that suffers. The wisdom has been passed down generations, ensuring that girls — even as tiny tots — are taught to live ever so cautiously, in fear of the all-powerful ‘thorn’. For, prevention is better than cure, isn’t it!

So, girls are taught to dress decently, get home before sundown, not get too friendly with boys…the list is rather exhaustive. However, despite all these precautions, girls and women endure ‘thorny’ encounters every day. And how do we deal with it? Often, by ignoring the abuse, or wishing it away.

Ladies, it’s about time we learn to say ‘no’ to abuse. Instances of everyday
harassments on the street and on public transport are just as damaging as those that happen behind closed doors. Here’s looking at some vital lessons in fighting back from real-life experiences of urban Indian women.

Touch me not
I felt the hand grab my right breast. It was 5 pm on a Thursday and we were walking home from the daycare. The lane was deserted. I saw him stop the bicycle less than 50 metres ahead; he turned, looked me in the eye, and smiled. That’s when it struck me; it wasn’t an accident.

I howled and ran like I never have in my life; he started to pedal. We played the
cat-and-mouse game for what seemed like eternity in the many by-lanes of the residential area – with some curious onlookers peeping out from the comforts of their homes. In the end, there was no way I could catch up with the boy in the red T-shirt (he looked like a teenager), but his smile had disappeared.

Would he do it again? It’s hard to tell. But I doubt he’ll be so cocky about it. In retrospect, I wish I had the presence of mind to kick the bicycle; he may have lost balance and fallen down. Nonetheless, my molester was obviously surprised to see me run after him – with my four-year-old daughter in tow. Perhaps, I was expected to pretend like nothing happened and walk home. It makes me wonder if that’s what his past experience has taught him…    

Stop the manspread
Anyone who has taken public transport knows of men sitting with their legs spread wide, encroaching on their co-passengers’ seats. It’s a nuisance, really. Yet, most of us simply shrug our shoulders, or mumble a silent curse, and live with it. Day after day. Not Radhika Pendse. She makes no bones about telling manspreaders (that’s what they are called) to keep their legs to themselves. “I don’t spend my hard-earned money on an AC bus pass to have some inconsiderate guy take up half my seat,” says the 30-something PR professional from Mumbai. While there are men who pay no heed, most do oblige – even if grudgingly. “I always say it politely, but in a loud and clear voice so that other passengers on the bus can hear me too,” she adds.

What inspired Radhika to speak up was an article in The New York Times a couple of years ago about a Metropolitan Transportation Authority campaign against manspreading on the subway. “They had some awesome posters put up on the subway. One of them said: ‘Dude…stop the spread, please.’ Until something like that happens in India, we need to stand up for ourselves,” she avers.

Tell off that roadside Romeo
Three years ago, when Reena D’Souza moved to Bengaluru, she lived through an agonising period of harassment. “I would see him around the neighbourhood on my way home from work; he would just keep staring at me. Gradually, he tried to talk to me. I continued to ignore him. Until one day, he attempted to kiss me,” recounts the interior designer.

It was only then that Reena — at the behest of her landlady — decided to lodge a police complaint. “As a single woman in a new city, I didn’t want to get involved in any hassles…I guess, I was just wishing it way,” she admits. “After that episode though, I no longer wait for the situation to get out of hand. At the very first instance, I make it amply clear that I won’t take any nonsense. Because, at the end of the day, all this essentially boils down to power games,” she says.

Be your own hero
When you have matinee idols glorifying it on celluloid, it becomes a challenge to condemn the act in real life. Eve teasing – an umbrella term used for everything from lewd comments to inappropriate touch that women have to endure on a daily basis – is so common in our country that most women have decided to make their peace with it. So, when a roadside Romeo croons item songs for us every day, we simply look away. When someone ‘accidentally’ brushes past us, we choose not to retort. When a discourteous co-passenger takes up our share of public space, we learn to adjust. But how long before we say ‘enough is enough’?

Equality ought not to be limited to the right to education, franchise and governance. It’s time we stand up for our dignity, claim our share of public space, and stop being hapless victims of abuse. We have to be our own heroes.

I don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world of misplaced ‘leaf and thorn’ analogies. That evening, when she ran after that cyclist with me, I hope she learnt an essential life lesson: always fight back.