I’m a day late to participate in the BlankNoise Project – I just found out about it. Amit Varma wrote an overview of the daily harassment that Indian women face in the streets of India, which led me to this campaign.


This is my story. This is the story of every woman in India who does not have private transportation or ‘protection’ on the streets.  These are the reasons I feel like an exile, sometimes, from my ‘own’ country, my passport country. Varma says,

Till recently, I didn’t quite understand the extent to which women are
violated every day in India, in so many different ways, and that there
are no exceptions to this — you step outside the house, you’re a body.
I’m not sure I can understand what it must be to be treated like meat.
Never happened to me.

When I walk with female companions in crowded places in Mumbai,
like railway stations, I often walk directly in front of them, to clear
the way, or behind them, to make sure they don’t get felt up. So many
of my female friends, when I ask, tell me stuff they’ve gone through
that seems shocking to me, but is everyday to them. A touch here, a
grope there, push, squeeze, hold, pinch, being reduced to tits and ass.
Bloody hell, I’m lucky to be a man; and a part of me says I should be
ashamed to feel that way.
Why are Indian men in Indian cities so free with their hands? Well,
because by a lack of adequate condemnation and punishment, there is a
sort of social sanction for it. Now, while men probably can’t imagine
what women go through in crowded buses and trains, they can put a stop to it. Instead of turning a blind eye to what is happening around us — minding our own business, avoiding trouble
— we can raise our voice, and even our hands, if we spot someone
violating a woman’s space. Every time one of us does this, shames a
molester in a public space, we change that public space just a little
bit, and make it harder for the next guy to go overboard. And even if
we don’t know the woman we’re helping out, we’re making things a little
bit easier for the women we do know and care about.

Go and read the rest, do something when next you’re on the streets in an Indian city. Here are some that stood out. Jabberwock. How Many Roads. Bellyache. And why I wrote this.

It’s kind of amusing in retrospect that it took me three years in Chicago to go from being nervous travelling around the city after dark, even at 7pm, to jauntily taking the ‘L’ back home at midnight after parties by myself.

[Update] Rita pointed out this post from Himangini Gupta (yay! for the Gupta khandaan 🙂 and here’s a very powerful snippet,

I called my mum after I left the cop station the first time. I said,
"Do you think I over-reacted?" And this other voice in my head laughed
at me, and our society. A strange man, touches you twice in the middle
of the night, and your greatest worry when you screamed and complained,
is, "Did I over react"?!


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3 Responses to Exile

  1. Hilmir says:

    This was quite an issue here too in Singapore, around the time of festivities; Christmas, New Year, and the Lunar New Year. Many ladies regardless of race or stature were harassed by Bangladeshi workers. There were tales of girls who were groped, pinched & poked, all in public.
    An unlucky friend had “silly-string” and felt hands under her skirt. She went home crying, after only spending 45mins in Orchard Rd, walking only approximately less than 500metres on the packed walkways. And it completely ruined her outing, as the male friends who were with her got agitated & retaliated.
    It all takes place in busy crowded areas, opportunistic acts veiled under anonymity. I don’t really understand the psyche of it, but these men, I’m sure they have wives, sisters, mothers, would they allow these women to be groped too? How do they react to it, when they see other men trying to cop a feel from them? Or do they let it happen, since hey, they are guilty of it too?
    In Singapore, eventually the government would sanction a fine or even a jail term, or correctional service, to discourage such acts should it get more rampant, but in the first place if it is not reported and just quietly tolerated, no noise is being made about it, then it is virtually an impalpable problem.
    Good move, and about time too.

  2. niblettes says:

    Interestingly (and this is relevant far beyond India) gender equality is strongly correlated to economic preformance. More equality, better performance.
    So let’s forget about the pure right and wrong of the matter (just for a moment). if India, or any other developing state, aspires to join the developed world, perhaps they should ask the economists and businessmen to please be leave the room for a moment while while they start to make right the wrongs inherent in their culture’s anachronisitically regressive perspective on women.

  3. niti bhan says:

    Hilmir, yes, they can take the Bangladeshis (or South Asians, to be less particular) out of their homeland into a safer society like Singapores, but you cannot change their mindset or thinking about women. That’s really sad because you and I both know how safe it is to walk home late or take the MRT at 1am with no problem unlike other parts of Asia. That’s the first thing we yelled in India “what? you have no mother or sister at home or what?” in order to shame them, but what to do?
    Niblettes, Yes, absolutely right and it’s been brought up by everyone including Amartya Sen in his lectures and his book The Argumentative Indian. Take the example of even more repressive nations and cultures, the role of women, and how they are percieved plays a big part in their own progression and mindset. And Sen points out how women’s literacy, poverty and malnoutrition can be correlated to society’s as whole as well.

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