6-12 March 2015 #748

Living in fear

Women are taught to be fearful and shameful for things they have no say in
Tsering Dolker Gurung
KENJI KWOK
Since I was first hit by a balloon on my way to school 12 years ago, I have always dreaded the week before the Holi festival. If it weren’t for the rain that doused pre-Holi terrorism this week, I would have reached work, drenched, multiple times.

For the first few Holis, my defence tactic was to just ignore, and walk away. After all, that was what my mother taught me. Every time I came home, angry at having been hit by a water balloon, she’d say: “There’s no point arguing with losers. They’ll never stop.”

I thought she was right, so whenever I saw a kid, a boy, a man with hands hidden behind his back, I’d run as fast as I could, and duck when the missiles whizzed past me.

But it was after high school that I really began to question this method of saving myself from being hit. It wasn’t me who was in the wrong, so why was I running? I decided then that I would not let a hooligan who took pleasure in throwing water (and eggs and tomatoes) at strangers keep me from going about my life. If they felt it was their right to stand on the street and abuse passers-by, I too had the right to walk the same streets without getting harassed.

The first time I decided to shout back at a kid, whose water balloon hit my butt right on target I was a bit nervous about confronting him. Even though I had a few years and inches over the little guy, a part of me was fearful that his ‘gang’ of friends would retaliate with verbal abuse which would only embarrass me. He slunk away. Since then, I give earfuls to strangers who catcall me, or tell off those man-spreading in a crowded bus, or give a sting eye to someone whose eyes are glued to my chest. But when incidents like the horrific acid attack on two teenage girls last month happen, the fear returns. Especially because the culprit is still free.

My friends and I often discuss how unfair it is that a male friend can easily set off on a solo adventure in the middle of the night when we'd have to think a thousand times before doing the same, and in the end concluding our safety is more important than an impromptu getaway.

Last month, on a trip to India, determined to check off as many 'must-see places' on our list, my girlfriend and I decided to start at the Taj Mahal. We were driven to Agra in a rented car we shared with two American journalists who we met at our hotel.

The driver was chatty and entertained us with jokes. Then he began to talk about the Delhi Uber Cab rape case, questioning the victim’s credibility. “Why did she take so long to file the complaint?” he asked, accusing the woman of being bribed by rival cab companies. The camaraderie he shared with the culprit who was in the same profession made him unable to see the outrageousness of his remarks.

We met our second female-shaming hypocrite, an elderly man, on a bus to Jaipur. My friend’s loud laughter bothered him, prompting him to suggest she not laugh like that in India because people would think she was “loose”, but he didn’t miss out on touching her leg every opportunity he got.

Having to carry a rock and a pepper spray in our purses for the duration of our trip was standard operating procedure – an indication of just how unsafe it feels to be female in India, or anywhere in the world.

As I write this comes news of the Delhi bus rapist Mukesh Singh telling the BBC that his victim was to blame for being out so late. He added: “If she hadn’t decided to fight back, we would have let her go.”

Singh’s comments may have generated wide backlash and outrage on social media but he is not the only one with such repulsive views. And, that's what makes the world a lot less safe for women.

@Chenreeyang

Read also:

Three-fourths of the sky, Editorial

Corrosive laws, Binita Dahal

Acid victims want justice, Devaki Bista

Statue of denial, Mallika Aryal

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