I believe that growing up in the 80s, we lived in safer times. Or was it that my friends and I grew up sequestered from the big bad world outside? It is probably the latter and I am sure there were atrocities against women in those days too. They probably did not get as much publicity as they do today on the numerous media platforms.
The Me Too movement that enveloped India and the world, two years ago, brought to the forefront the reality of several men, many whom the society revered. Some of the stories were shocking, to say the least. It also brought out the narratives of many girls, who had suddenly found a platform to voice their cries and fight for justice. I was amazed at the guts these girls, including a young cousin of mine, showed to publicly talk about their experiences. I also have a Me Too story, one that I never felt comfortable talking about…until today. I think I have mentioned it only to one friend. But today, as a strong 37 year old who has seen more of the world, I finally feel bold enough to write about it. The incident happened in one of the most sacred places possible: the Guruvayur temple. The place is notorious for its jam packed sanctum sanctorum and long lines and it was in one of those lines that some cowardly man, who had the advantage of being in the midst of a throng of people, decided to grope a little girl. Once may have been an accident, but multiple times was intentional for sure. I guess he was part of the same line we were in and was being pushed along with us, much to his convenience. I remember the incident vividly, but nothing else — not the year, the occasion, nothing. At that time, I did not even understand what had happened, so you can imagine how young and naive I would have been. By the time I was old enough to understand it, it had became an unpleasant memory that lay dormant in the back of my mind. I do selfishly consider myself lucky that way, because I never had to experience anything like that ever again. In my heart of hearts I hope it’s not true, but I have a nagging feeling that many of my friends may also be holding on to such experiences, suffocating without being able to talk to anyone about it. If I can, so can you! And if you want someone to simply listen to you, my ears are all yours.
That’s out of the way and I feel lighter and ready to move on to a much less traumatic subject. Something that annoyed me throughout my teen years was that I was never allowed to go out alone until I joined college. I never understood why, and always fought with my parents, mostly with my mother — I get it now. There were many occasions but a couple of them are fresh in my memory. I have adored Shah Rukh Khan ever since my teens. It was 1998, Kuch Kuch Hota Hain had just released and a couple of friends and I wanted to watch the movie in the local theater. I asked my parents for permission and the immediate response was “No”. I pleaded, fought, and cried but to no avail. Finally, my mother took pity on me and said that I could go, but she would accompany us. Apparently, this was not just my experience but that of many of my peers too. A week or so ago, Ms. G told me how her mother had her stay home but allowed her brother to go for a movie with the entire class. Like me, she also thought that it was only her plight, but soon realized that there were other seventh graders who had not been allowed to go too. I don’t feel so bad about it anymore :-).
The second episode happened towards the end of 10th grade. Our school had organized an excursion to a nearby hill station (I think it was a 2-3 day trip) and yes, you guessed it right, I wasn’t allowed to go. I remember how I had a ray of hope, right until the night before the trip, that my parents would change their mind…I also remember how bitter I was about not being sent. Well, their actions make sense to me now, but to a 16 year old, it was pretty much the end of the world. Anyway, fast forward to my post graduation days and there came another excursion, this time to Goa. To my pleasant surprise, my parents had no issues letting me go and it turned out to be a wonderful experience, thanks to the company and the destination.
I just remembered something that I did not understand then, and still am not too clear about. Why did I have to “behave like a girl”? I know these are embedded in our culture, but why should there be a way to sit, a way to talk, a way to dress only for the girls? I also have trouble comprehending statements such as, ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘don’t run like a girl’. When I see a man cry, I would first console him and then appreciate him for being able to express his emotions without inhibitions. And there are so many girls out there who run better than boys, why should their style be ridiculed? Would someone care to elaborate?
As I conclude this week’s ramblings, I’d like to say that I now completely understand why my parents and their peers feared for their daughters’ lives. They were aware of the atrocities that happened in the society, while all we wanted to do was to go out and have fun with our friends. Women’s safety is still a concern, regardless of whether you are a 16-year old returning from school or a 40 year old traveling alone to work. What can we do? Our generation can take it as a responsibility to raise our kids well, teach the boys to respect girls and teach the girls that they are worthy of that respect, no matter what. I hope that we can soon see a day when parents will no longer have to worry about their daughters’ safety.
Here’s to a future when girls can wear whatever they want, go where ever they please and come back home safely, without having to look over their shoulders every minute.