The Faceless Hand In The Crowd

Call it eve-teasing, call it street harassment or just talk about SlutWalk. I’m adding my voice to this cry.

I live in Mumbai, famed for the crowds, the fast pace of life…and how safe it is for women. I am thankful for it. The city I call home, gives me the safest possible space to live with some degree of freedom. I have stayed in Delhi and in Chennai and I know the horrors of eve-teasing in both these places. Mumbai is too crowded and too busy for these. I can and do travel alone, at most times of the day (and night). I use public transport and don’t require to be dropped home most of the time. In a lot of ways, I wonder if what I have to say is significant considering the much worse experiences that women face in other cities.

What I have to say is this: There is nothing called an absolutely safe place for a woman.

I’m not being paranoid or overly feminist. I have grown up in safe Mumbai and I can testify to the harassment that this ‘safe city’ metes out to its female population. I am not going to talk about the rising rape statistics or the recent surge in horror cases, each more gruesome than the last.. I am going to talk about small ways that a woman is made to feel cheap and small, every day…every single, damned day. Harassment happens in Mumbai, just like in every other part of the world. And it has no face. Like everything else, it is swallowed up in the teeming masses of this city.

Mumbai’s train travellers have a code of conduct of their own. There are rules to get in, to positioning your bags (and yourself) and getting down. When the train arrives at the station, the crowds draw close to the track, getting ready for the run. And as the train nears, the tension is palpable. One section of the crowd moves back a good two feet from the train. Those waiting to enter the ladies’ compartment. It just is not safe to stand within arm’s length of the train. Of the crowds hanging out of the train, hands reach out to grab, to slap, to grope…to just touch any woman. And there’s no way of knowing who did it. There is a reason the women are willing to forsake the coveted spot close to the entrance of the train.

When I walk down the road, virtually unconsciously I assume a certain posture. My bag is held in front of me to cushion those blows. There are times I wish I could wear some kind of armour with daggers lined down the front to stab those big, hard bodies that deliberately collide into mine when I’m walking. My elbows point out to keep those shoulders from brushing mine and I know I look menacing and angry. It could be coincidence but there is the fact that my softer, gentler looking friends frequently get prodded and groped up in these same situations.

Auto-rickshaw drivers amuse themselves at signals by staring into passanger seats of the autos next to them, cruising alongside never taking their eyes off and on occasion singing along. I particularly detest auto-rickshaws that have a mirror above the driver’s head and pointed to the passenger. I’ve taken to glaring into that mirror to ensure the driver keeps his eyes to himself (and on the road, hopefully) because it is almost a given that the mirror was put there for a reason. It doesn’t always work.

Incidently the ‘safety’ of this city does not take into consideration the starers, the whistlers and the singers. Harassment happens with hands, elbows AND with the eyes. I can’t begin to explain how it feels to be stripped by a total stranger. Does it matter whether he actually tears my clothes off in public, or does it in his mind and makes it very clear what he’s thinking? The fact is that he does it with utmost DISRESPECT, with no fear of being pulled up. He is willing to demean me mentally and he would, physically too, if he had a chance. Staring is rude, we are all taught as kids. Why? Because it makes people uncomfortable. This is someone who doesn’t give a damn about making me uncomfortable and what’s more….he wants to watch me squirm.

Do I deserve to feel bad?
To be embarassed about my gender?
To downplay my appearance?
To move furtively and quickly when I am alone?

I used to get my salwar-kameezes tailored by a popular darzi close to my colony. At one fitting, his young assistant groped me all over, on the pretext of getting my measurements. I had been seeing this guy at the shop for a couple of years and he had measured me before. I didn’t say anything. I tried to forget the episode and hoped it wouldn’t happen again. It did. And I stopped going to him.

I wouldn’t call it street harassment. Because it doesn’t stop at the street. It follows me into train compartments, where the men in the bogey adjoining mine leer through the grill and whistle. There is a reason I don’t stand next to the grill…too many fingers and eyes, too close for comfort. It follows me out onto the roads, where truck drivers speed up their vehicles and brush by me, making me jump, when I try to cross the road. It shadows me in the guise of the bus conductor who hands out tickets to the people behind me, each time ‘inadvertently’ brushing my breasts. It sneaks up to me when the security guard who lets me into the office leans over my shoulder to flash the card at the door and tries to look down my neckline. It is all around me all day with people whose eyes stay fixed to a spot about 3 inches below my chin….they are canteen boys, watchmen, courier boys and yes…even friends and colleagues.

I don’t often tell my family about these things. They would tell me to come back earlier from work, not go out at night, not wear certain clothes, not talk and laugh too loudly, not attract attention…..for all purposes be demure, unobstrusive and as hidden away as possible. I know they worry. Which is why I keep my silence with them and find ways to deal with it myself. Its like trying to fight a school of piranha fish that are hidden underneath the depths. I don’t know where the next blow will come from. I don’t know whether it will be a blow or yet another tiny bit of my dignity being shredded away. I haven’t the energy to slap every hand that gropes, silence every lewd comment and out-stare every humiliating look. I try and avoid getting too close to the source. There is a reason I look angry most of the time.

————————————————————————————————–

* An earlier version of this post was written for Blank Noise Project’s blog-a-thon. A version also appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

** This post was featured on BlogAdda’s Spicy Picks, July 16, ’11.

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About IdeaSmith

IdeaSmith is the digital doppelganger of Ramya Pandyan (intrepid train-traveller and frequent spouter of post-midnight rhymes and rants). As IdeaSmith she battles obscurity and slays boredom with her stories about men, books, digitalia and Mumbai. She performs live and also blogs, tweets, Instagrams, Facebooks, +G’s, Youtubes and Goodreads all as IdeaSmith. Ramya is a blogger, digital storyteller and spoken word performer. She also runs a forum for aspiring writers called Alphabet Sambar. Tweet-bomb her at @ideasmithy.

Posted on July 15, 2011, in Featured, Harassment & abuse, I'm An Indian Woman, Vanity Unfair, Yahoo! and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 55 Comments.

  1. thanks for writing this. guys will never understand unless they are born as a woman

  2. There is a solution for this, following are simple criteria if put into practice can eradicate this menace from our nation to a great extent.
    If all of my sisters can put their clothes to the below filters, and I am sure all western clothes will be filtered out.

    1. Complete body should be covered except the face and hands up to the wrist.
    2. The clothes should not be so tight that it reveals the figure.
    3. The clothes should not be transparent so that you can see through it.
    4. The clothes should not be so glamour that it attracts the opposite sex.
    5. The clothes should not resemble opposite sex.

    So the sisters, the ball is in your court so it’s time for you to decide either to take it to the direction which you wanted or leave it to the crowd.
    Hope this helps.

    Note: These criteria are extracted from the teachings of Islam.

    • There is a solution for this, following are simple criteria if put into practice can eradicate this menace from our nation to a great extent.
      If all of my brothers can put their clothes to the below filters, and I am sure all antisocial behaviour will be filtered out.

      1. Complete face should be covered, especially the eyes, and hands up to the wrist in large unwieldy gloves that do not promote groping and staring.
      2. The clothes should be baggy and loose around the ankles to prevent fast movement for stalking women.
      3. Large bright markers should be worn over clothing to notify women, when you feel you are unable to exert any self control.
      4. Chastity belts are a must if you are unable to control yourself.

      So the brothers, the ball is in your court so it’s time for you to decide either to take it to the direction which you wanted or leave it to the crowd.
      Hope this helps.

      Note: These criteria are extracted from the teachings of GrowtheFuckUp.

    • @Isfar:
      Guess what, MILLIONS OF WOMEN in India dress just as you have suggested and IT DOESN”T CHANGE ANYTHING. These same conservatively dressed and acting women are still groped, eve-teased, even attacked. Study after study has shown it is not what women are wearing, it is what is acceptable (or even showing off to their friends or seeming more ‘macho’) for men in a given culture, that promotes them being disrespectful to women.

      Let me ask you- if i go around just as you say (which i very often do) and still i am harassed, eve-teased, grabbed, whatever, THEN WHAT? This is the behavior of many men, we should focus on changing that and not constraining women more and more.

      Also i want to point out that these restrictions required for women by Islam have the implication that men simply cannot control themselves. Is that true or don’t men just do what they want because the larger culture does not punish them enough?

      Ask the women in your life to tell you truthfully how it is for them, and then see if you can’t understand better what we are saying. Trust me, YOUR mother and sister, wife and friends have ALL experienced this – they just don’t tell you because probably you would make them feel ashamed and that it is their fault. Please think deeply and change your thinking on this.

      • @Isfar: XXFactor does not deal with religion or faith so kindly keep anything relating to these two, out of it.

        @Taan, mandaravan, Neha: XX Factor deals with issues of gender & relationships. My blogpost only looks at the actual experience of a woman who faces street harassment. While I understand that it is difficult to dissociate beliefs from actions (especially when provoked), I’d appreciate it if you still kept matters of religion & faith out of this space. Please understand that this does not imply my agreement (or disagreement) with any religious beliefs. But those discussions are for another space, not XX Factor. But thank you for commenting.

        Other readers, commenters: I would like to keep this comment space open since obviously a lot of people have much to say about this topic. Since I cannot close individual discussion threads, I’m going to request you to not continue this particular one. Use the comment space responsibly and share your viewpoint. Thank you!

    • U know Mr.Isfar.. I dont want to hurt your feeling but does ur religion provide any ‘simple criteria’ that men of the society should follow..
      men have all the right to wear anything they want to wear,how so ever they want to wear..
      then y dont the same right prevail for women..Y r u possessing different parameters for the two “equal” creations of God??
      I would request you Mr.Isfar instead of letting ur sisters follow the “simple” criteria u just mentioned above…Let ur brothers follow a simple criteria ::: RESPECT THE FEMALES…
      thank you

      • Dear Neha,

        First, sorry for too late to give you a reply, actually I visited this blog only today, since I had commented around 2 months back.

        Actually my comment had mislead you, and it’s my duty to give you the right message else I will be caught on the day of judgement since I had passed the part of the information which actually mislead you to make some assumptions like men don’t have any restriction in Islam.

        The criteria which I had posted were not for women alone, it was for both men and women. Only the first one differs for men and women. For men, minimum body should be covered is navel to knee. Rest of the criteria are for both men and women.

        And just FYI, In Islam, First Men has been ordered to lower their gaze and protect their modesty and then for women. Al-Qur’an [Ch:24 V:30-31].

        It’s my humble request to you is please don’t judge any religion by the followers, It is as though you have put up a bad driver to test the new model BMW series car to test the performance or the features of it!

        For any other informationn feel free to ask me: mohammed.isfar AT gmail.com.

        @IdeaSmith, Sorry even after your request, I am commenting. But I had no other option to convey the right message to people like Neha and others which had mislead them.

        Since this post talks about the problems women of our country are facing, I was just suggesting a solution which I know from my religious teachings.

        Thank you,

      • @Isfar: XX Factor looks at relationships and womanhood. Religion is a vast topic that XX Factor’s authors do not claim to have adequate knowledge over, so this blog steers clear of any references to it. I respect your right to your beliefs and opinions. So please respect my request to make no religious references of any sort. Any comments that pertain otherwise to the blogpost are welcome here. Thank you.

  3. Nice Article.

  4. Very accurately expressed. I, in addition to those elbows sticking out, lash out vocally at men who do such disrespectful acts in the bus, on the roads, in the autorikshaws. I literally feel i risk my life every time i have a man thrown out of a crowded bus, but i do it. hoping that they won’t repeat it at least for some time after being kicked out by a crowd. I imagine that if parents and schooling institutions stop asking girls to act demure and instead make them feel strong, many more women and girls out there would be able to attack these every day instances more vocally.

    The slut walk is surely a step forward. I hope this walk happens successfully, encompasses women (and men) across different age categories, and thereby empowers women to react strongly to such instances in there everyday lives. This will affect the ‘change’ people are talking about in responses. At least it will be a beginning to the long process of bringing that change.

    • @Ritu: I don’t know if a single event like SlutWalk can make any noticeable difference. But it does get people talking. And in that talk, there will be some views expressed that could make people think. That’s how conversations can influence thinking and eventually, actions. Thank you for sharing your experience. I hope you’ll visit XX Factor again!

  5. Very accurately expressed.

  6. Excellently written. It is really shameful. I admit this happens all times and to women of all ages.

  7. Mam, frankly speaking its a bit too much feminist…..any inadvertant touch cannot be considered groping!!! May be 50% of wat u said happens all d time with women….but d remaining 50% was exaggerated….it plays in the mind……Someone staring at someone doesn’t necessarily mean they gonna strip u at d next moment….too harsh for d men folk…we r not animals!!! Maybe u take ur bag infront if u wen u walk….a lot don’t and they are not shoved and poked all d tym by all kinds of men possible…..and “slut walk” ….well if dat is ur perception of guys dn it wld be a treat to their eyes not a lesson…….if u want to make a difference…educate people…..starting with ur male friends and colleagues…..tell them beauty lies 3 inches above the chin!!!

    • @saptadeep: Has a tailor ever grabbed your crotch on the pretext of measuring you for a suit? Have you had fingers grope your genitalia while traveling by public transport? And if you have, would you put that down to ‘inadvertent touching’? Let’s get real here. Every woman in the world is not so paranoid or vain to put down a single glance to molestation. We’re talking about prolonged and obviously intentional cases of molestation here. Talk to your female friends and relatives sometime. Or just read some of the comments on this very thread.

      I’d also be interested in knowing what your reaction would be if a woman told you that her beauty lay 3 inches above her chin. Would you tell her that it was all ‘in her head’? And if that’s the case, why do you suggest that women do the same to other men?

      • Well I’m not out here to abuse anyone, nor I’m here to pour any venom…..I shared my mind here…if I wouldn’t have accepted what u said I wouldn’t have shared ur link in my FB account…..but mayb if ur readers dnt share ur views, the abuse below by ur fellow reader & u is what approaches them…..I have actually discussed what u said with my friend…..& evn she says dat all men cannot be generalised in that category……mam men r not dogs as suggested by fullmoonearth….their fathers n brothers too would then fall into that category…..s I said “slutwalk” is not the solution “education” is….n that needs to be provided by family n friends…….if u feel ur male friends and colleagues make u feel degraded with their stares…..share ur thoughts with them…..if they are friends…they wld understand n mayb evn educate others just s I did with ur post….n yes evn we r groped in d pretext of security concerns……sometimes u hv to stand up n fight….women r the weaker sex is what hv been taught 2 us all this while n so dis molestation…..women s a whole shld rise up n change this thought starting with their own families…..change would definitely usher.
        N yes I dnt fight personal jibes…..so it would b my final comment…….n if I still seem like a dog (to fullmoononearth which u agree to with ur laugh) I would say m sorry to bother u all.

      • @saptadeep: You need to understand that this post touches on a very sensitive issue for most people. Every women has a horror story to tell, of molestation and most, of the indifference & even blame laid on them by their friends & family. If then, you accuse them of making a big deal out of inadvertent touching or that it’s ‘all in their mind’, you align yourself with the people who support molestation (albeit by passive condoning). Laughter is possibly the least offensive response to such a case. Sensitivity works both ways.

        Perhaps your earlier comment was misunderstood. If your stance is merely to talk about it, to share this thought with the men close to us, obviously no woman can have a problem with that. If you read my post again, you’ll note that I don’t accuse all men of being molesters. The post is merely a chronicle of various incidents that have happened to me, in the course of my daily life. That certainly does colour my perceptions but it doesn’t make me rule out 50% of the human race as worthless. I have enough of good men in my life to keep me from doing that.

        I don’t make any apologies for what my readers say, nor for laughing at comments that seem funny. You’re welcome to take that as you see fit. Of note, commenters contact details are kept private and I have no intention of flouting that. Thank you for commenting again.

      • rakshit singh

        yes Ms Ideasmith.. i have felt lots of times intentional (but done with unintentional looking face) touches on genitalia in crowded public transports by ladies,specially when they are in good numbers. Many a times passing by coming out of the door and going inside , they put their hands straight down and brushingly touch or with pressure touch the private parts of us. THIS HAPPENS. You are living in your own dreamland of a Perfect woman and a demonic man , but world is not such a black and white, most of the world is in colors other than black and white.

      • @rakshit singh: This is a post against street harassment (a phrase that you note is gender-free). I shared my experiences as a woman being subjected to unwelcome attention from the opposite sex. Your experience does not nullify mine or vice versa. I’m letting this comment pass as it is your first one. Please refrain from personal attacks in the future.

      • rakshit singh

        @Ideasmith.
        you seem yourself to attack and accuse anybody who just even replies to your own question in a way, which do not fit to your notion of an issue, as personal attack.

        A) I have nowhere said that the incidents which you have said, does not happen. All must have happenned. I have not nullified your article.

        B) You have yourself asked saptadeep following question in your reply

        “Have you had fingers grope your genitalia while traveling by public transport? And if you have, would you put that down to ‘inadvertent touching’? ”

        and i have answered to your question by describing the touching by many women too in public transport. I hope this establishes the context. This in no way nullify your article, nor in any way your article nullify the truth in my comment.

        C) I have definitely also said that Perfect woman and demonic men phrase and the way all the men – all the men from street to home to office to … – have ALL been clubbed together. You have an opinion. And i can have an opinion on your opinion. This is in no way a personal attack. But an allowed comment which is equating man to dog and you making a encouraging laugh about it, is in every way worse than that and “does constitute a personal attack”.

        I still stand to my conviction that one can not club “ALL MEN” or “ALL women” in a particular prophet or demon category. All of these incidents do occur and there should be some way to correct the situation, discussing this is a first step towards solving this problem.

      • @Rakshit singh: The tone of your comment seemed to indicate a personal attack. However I concede I could have misread that and that it was no more than a valid answer for a question that I asked the previous commenter.

        Regarding fullmoononearth’s comment, I don’t think it was meant to mean that men were dogs. On the contrary, I think she was actually suggesting that human beings are not just creatures of blind impulse and it is silly to excuse bad behaviour as so. It was a sardonic and witty comeback to some of the sillier perceptions surrounding this issue and it made me laugh. I do not apologize for that. I believe my readers are adults and able to take responsibility for their words and their perceptions. This is a personal blog, with individual opinions. Ultimately, if you’re offended by any of the content here, I’ll remind you that you are under no compulsion to stay on the site.

    • @saptadeep: Does this seem like a fucking chatroom. Learn to write.
      And about the 50% truth in this article, are you virgin. Don’t you have a girl-friend.

      • @Sharath: Let’s refrain from personal attacks in this space, shall we? It only causes bad blood and doesn’t make the conversation interesting for anybody else. Thank you.

    • seriously??!? Gosh!

  8. fullmoononearth

    My mom complains that almost every time they sit for a meal or even a snack, our dog starts begging, whining and drooling. I told mom that it’s a dog and that’s what is in it’s nature when it sees food. Looks like someone above suggested the same.

    • @fullmoononearth: HAHAHAHAAHAHA!!!

      • Absolutely!!! Stray dogs loom around in public spaces in search of food available anywhere and fill their stomachs when they find some. I know this is an unfair comparison to the stray dogs, but just to testify.
        If we react to each and every bark or snarl on the road by dogs, its only us who will face difficulties in walking on the road. The best medicine is to ignore and tell them that they are not so important that we care or get upset about or try to change ourselves in any way.

      • @Ranjini Ravi: Purely for the sake of the civility in this discussion, let’s end the stray dogs metaphor, shall we? It appears not everyone is familiar with the concept of a metaphor.

  9. *sigh* every girl goes thru and learns to accept it as a part of her life.. it is either this or gng back to the 18th century *sigh*

    • @Winnie the Poohi: I want to think that we can fight back. Even if we don’t see the results in our lifetime, we may have started something that will benefit women in the future.

  10. When a face is put to such a hand, there is hardly any shame in such a face. When the tale is put to people with authority there is hardly any action. For a person who speaks up against such a tale there is hardly any support, in many cases even from own family. There was a time when awareness was what people were aiming for…I wish there was something to look for beyond awareness

    • @Rambler: I think awareness is a good starting point. Not just that it happens but that it is wrong. A lot of these perperators seem to believe that they’d done nothing wrong at all. Opening their minds up is a definite plus, wouldn’t you say?

  11. Mr.Isfar:: with such post of urs u r doing other than provoking hatred for ur religion..

    • @Neha: Leave it be. It takes all kinds (of people & opinions) to make a world. I’d be happy to hear your viewpoint though. And welcome to XX Factor!

  12. Hi IdeaSmith
    Your article is excellent. The instances which you have written are so true and happen everyday to me, my friends and many other girls. The debate i feel is all about Equality, Respect and Humanity. Some fellow commenter above said that he is harnessed by females (although strange to me personally) but i can not deny it. However, everyone needs to understand that harassment is not something new that has happened to women. It has been happening since ages but its only now that women talk about it, protest against it openly . It would be insanely stupid to say that covering herself from head to toe would stop that from happening, its all in the minds and those who can not control their own minds they need to be taught a lesson. Raping physically or mentally is ultimately rape. Although i am not too sure how and when these things would stop happening. Yes I can confront the man when it happens say a physical touch, but ultimately I don’t have much control and don’t think would I be ever able to make others understand what is going in that man’s head while only I know and understand.

  13. ** This comment has been removed by the moderator for being abusive. **

  14. ** This comment has been removed by the moderator for being abusive. **

  15. ** This comment has been removed by the moderator for trolling. **

  16. I admire your bold writing style and wan to share the link in my post. Sometimes we keep seething from inside and just don’t find the right words to lash out. A discussion with my son and his anger on his blog post made me think of expressing my views. He was furious about an incident of eve teasing that happened in front of him and did what he was supposed to do. I only wished that he should have expressed the situation more boldly on his blog.

    I have experienced such attempts by my doctor in pretext of examining .How horrifying that can get?

    Hope you wont mind sharing the link to your post with due credits.

    Best to you. Blog bookmarked.

  17. Hey Ifsar!

    I wanted to know something. According to these prescribed rules, why does a woman have to cover her her knees to ankle and her shoulder to wrist while men only have to cover from their ‘navel to knees’? What is the reason behind this difference? I thought if men are supposed to essentially cover their private parts, same should be the case for women.

    And i have another question. The fifth rule/’filter’ says the clothes should not resemble opposite sex. I am not sure who defines which kind of clothing is for whom. Who defines whether the pair of Pajamas is for men or women, or even whether a skirt is for a man or a woman? In many ancient cultures (esp roman) the dress for men used to be a skirt or a tunic. So who decides what dress resembles which sex? Is there a list, applicable globally, across cultures?

  18. @ideasmith

    I wonder why, but i as a female living in this country feel very lonely n useless and at the same time, usurped. Even in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, girls could come out in miniskirts (read ‘came out’) to protest against sexist remarks by the Jakarta City governor. But in India’s capital city and ‘happening’ Delhi? the dress code was changed to ‘comfortable clothing’. it seemed to me that the participants and organizers themselves had to avoid ‘provocative’ clothing. Didn’t that mean acceptance to the notion that skirts or tank tops etc. are provocative? So what was the whole ‘movement’ about? …..

    In the aftermath of all this I feel lonely. And repressed. and worn out.

    Though i still hope change occurs in every household and in schools and colleges….like i said before. And at least my children live a little more freely, in a society less perverted than it is today.

    • @Ritu: I don’t think the concept of ‘Slutwalk’ has really been understood by the people it was targetted to, here in India. But perhaps that’s just a matter of time and persistance. Till then, I keep my fingers crossed and myself protected (as sad as that sounds).

  19. Aditya Pillai

    Hello there

    Thought Id drop in a line, say hello and ask for a quick favour.
    I am sending you a link, its a social campaign against Eve Teasing. That is where Indian men just stare at you on the streets, pass really lewd comments, molestation, even kidnap and rape. It is a horrible experience and no women should have to go through it. It is a form of public sexual harrasment of women and a real problem in the indian sub continent.
    Im trying to make ths go viral, Please please watch and share this with as many people as you can and tell them to watch and share it as well 🙂 This kind of violence against the women in India just has to stop. This campaign needs a lot of international eyeballs for people to understand how serious the problem is India.
    The campaign speaks to women from all over Mumbai speaking out against these men.
    The more people that see this the bigger the voice for women in India. All the Indian Languages been subtitled in English.

    Here is the link

    I really want to know whether you liked it so do let me know
    Thanks
    Adit

  20. Very well written! I couldn’t entirely appreciate the eloquence of the writing because of the morbid nature of the topic. Being a girl from Mumbai, I have had to go through the same horrors. To be frank, I don’t know what to make of this issue other than keeping the pent up rage in check. I know it’s cynical but I doubt if any campaigning is gonna work—lascivious men are gonna remain so. It’s us who have to change; not be afraid to create a scene each and every time there’s even the slightest risk; not be afraid to give his face a lasting impression of our hands

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