This New Year, 10,510 kms away from home, I was surrounded by a mass of humanity which had welled up into this lane near the Sydney Opera House. People were inching forward, in anticipation of the world’s most famous fireworks and I was stuck somewhere in the middle.
I hate crowd. No, I hate crowds where genders mix. I feel uncomfortable with unknown men pushing and prodding me. The jostling, the lack of guard, just the lack of space makes me conscious, makes me want to be protected.
I come from a country where there is a ladies queue wherever I go, an exclusive ladies coach for women on trains and even in the church the women do not sit with the men. I am no sociologist and have no insight into the genesis of this distinction for women. In my humble opinions this distinction is not for the women, but for our men who cannot behave!
I would have been 13 or 14 years, just discovering teenage. It was a crowded bus. Me and my cousin had skipped the last class and travelled about 10 kms to catch the latest romantic flick that had wreak havoc on the box office. On our way back there were college guys on the bus. A truckload of them. We were dressed in our uniform- blue skirt, white shirt. Slowly I felt the pressure of people on my body, I kept moving to a corner, making as much way so that the crowd would ease on me. I dint realise when a circle of guys surrounded me. A numb shock overtook me when they lifted my skirt to hold my thigh. Luckily for me, my cousin wasn’t in shock. With a safety pin used to secure our rescue, she appeared by my side. She had poked all these guys away. I don’t know if they were annoyed by the poking or the attention she was drawing while she was doing it. They moved away, I am still in shock.
Over the years I have become smarter- I raise my voice, even my hand if I need to. I hold my bag in front of me to guard me or cross my hand in a kung-fu like position when I walk on crowded streets. I stare down men who ‘accidently’ touch me as they pass by. I have even slapped a guy who thought I was his pillow.
I have heard way too many scary incidents and the local media, and now even the international media, is mired with rape stories from my country. I know of a friend who complained about a group of guys who verbally assaulted her. The police accompanied her to where the guys were, asked her to slap the nosiest of them and then told her to let the case be. An FIR will lead to nothing apparently. I remember my friend was ecstatic, but is a slap enough to stop them?
This new year’s eve, when I walked through that crowd of thousands, where several ethnicities mingled with ease, where there were no separate queue for men and women, where there were no policing on the time of the day and the clothes you wore, there I realised that Men can behave. I let my hands down.
Under the thousand sparkling lights that burst on the firmament that night, I wished for a country where I can move freely. Where I am not always on guard, where the idiot on the road in his dirty shiny bike does not feel that brushing against my chest as he drives by is fun!
Till then, I will save my free walks for another geography and continue my kung-fu like stance on Indian streets.