When my mother was pregnant with me, my grandfather and the entire family were sincerely hoping it would be a girl. No, they had no issues with a boy either, but they wanted a ‘princess.’ Growing up in a family which regarded women at par (at times even better) than men, I had naturally believed the world is a better place. Except for the occasional discussions with my mother, where she would mention how unsafe this society is for girls and I need to be ‘alert’ at all times, I had never realised the magnitude of the problem. As I grew up to be an independent young woman, and only after I was away from the protective shield of my family, I realised what ‘harassment’ is.
Yes, like all other women, I have been harassed. Everyday. Right from the inappropriate ‘touch’ while travelling in public transport to that ‘male gaze’ that rips your soul apart, each one of us have been through it and continue to do so. Worse, there is no defining or recognising ‘bad people.’ They could be anybody – not just the shabbily dressed people with big eyes, roaming on streets as we believed in our childhood; but the monster could also be hidden behind a well-dressed and educated colleague standing next to you with that evil smile, after touching indecently on the pretext of a handshake.
If ‘inappropriate touch’ is not enough, there is this typical mindset which continuously points fingers at you. Hanging out with some male friends? ‘Bad character.’ Working late at night? ‘Something’s cooking’?
Recently, while I was sitting with two of my ‘male’ project partners, and discussing an upcoming project, with a laptop on table, in front of the 15-odd other people at a café near my office, an acquaintance, a senior to be precise, walked in with a couple of his friends. I greeted him and satisfied his urge to know why I was here and carried on with the meeting. Next, I saw him with a camera (through a reflection), hiding and clicking our photographs. Well, he had to show some proof in the next ‘masala gossip’ with the office guys! Character-shaming is also harassment.
What I have felt over the years, is these discussions on what to wear, how to talk, how to sit, how to walk, etc etc, has no connection with harassment.