I have a little cousin who’s just started kindergarten. So everyone she meets gets a dose of Teaching. Nursery rhymes, the alphabet, folk songs… you know the drill. And oh yes, the disciplining. I need to sit quiet for five minutes before her patience gives out and she proclaims me a good girl. And if I speak out of turn, I earn her wrath and she pronounces me a bad girl.
One fine day, she noticed my fingernails. And immediately proclaimed me a bad girl and rapped me on the knuckles. For I have well-maintained, long, long nails. I had to tell her I lost my nailcutter at home and immediately she proceeded to search under my bed saying it would have fallen just here… or just there.. oh thank goodness for my camera; she let herself be distracted by it.
But I guess the image stuck. Soon everyone got the story of poor me having lost my nailcutter and hence having to remain a bad girl. The comments I got ranged from “You should trim it, really… in the interest of hygiene” (I have long nails only on my left hand) to “Hello Kitty!” (Nah, they aren’t retractable). I’m so inured to these that it didn’t make a difference to me.
Not very long ago, I had an overnight bus journey I had to make alone. A single seat, that was no problem. Nor was getting to sleep. The cold would have troubled me a bit, but I wrapped myself up like an Egyptian mummy, except for my hand holding the handrest to prevent myself from falling off.
In the wee hours, I suddenly felt my sister waking me. It took me a few minutes to come to my senses and realize my sister couldn’t be here. Alien hand on mine… I let out a yell which strangely no one seemed to hear, cursing the owner of that hand to eternal damnation and calling him, among other things, an illegitimate offspring, a lecher, and of suffering from the Oedipus Complex. And then I did the first thing that made sense to me. I wildly clawed that hand with all the energy I could muster. The hand retracted. I should have probably raised a hue and cry, but I just went back to sleep.Besides, it didn’t seem likely anyone would even bother to get up and beat the handOwner to pulp… I’d yelled abuses so loudly and still no one as much as stirred!
Later in the morning light, I saw I’d lost a nail and there was blood and flesh under the others. I certainly hoped I had touched something rusty the night before, so that there would be one new victim of lockjaw now.
I’ve quit expecting others to stand up for me. Though, I do stand up for others when they are being harassed. I try my best to be polite, but sometimes it’s simply not reasonable. Balls to goddamn ahimsa. Gandhi should have been a woman in Noakhali when he so ‘heroically’ toured the damn place after partition…. and THEN if he’d spoken of ahimsa and godforsaken Satyagraha, I might listen out of curiosity. In the past, I’ve threatened to break arms, call my brothers, call the police, and occasionally shouted for all I’m worth, slapped folks a few times… oh, what the bloody hell is this society that it makes a violent girl out of a normally calm one?
I know the alternative – to ignore, to not react. But for how long? I’d probably consider that alternative only when I’m alone and outnumbered. Oh, and there are other alternatives too – never go alone, always go to safe places, don’t stay out late. I am more than just ashamed of such a society that denies me these basic freedoms. And the prize alternative that is the pet of hostel authorities, maiden aunts and assorted other MCPs – dress conservatively.
So the shawl I had on wrapped around me provoked the handOwner somehow? Or the salwar-kameez with a neatly pinned dupatta the other day on my way home was provocative that someone had no choice but to pass sickening comments? Oh, shame not all of us wear burqas.
Oh, and to learn self-defence techniques. Effective, but aren’t we descending to the law of the jungle again, that might is right? And now I have to beat someone into submission before he respects my basic rights as a woman. How brilliant.
A few of my female friends are so inured to such harassment they’ve even stopped fighting back. So some jerk can pretend to lose his balance and fall all over them each time the bus jerks, and they won’t say a word. They’ll try moving more and more away from him, but they’ll ask me to calm down and not make a scene if I ask the damned dirty dog to rot in hell, or even if I politely say this is the ladies side of the bus and no matter how much he pays for the ticket he can’t hang around here.
They are being shamed into silence, what with the whole stigma of “She also must have done something… there is no smoke without fire”. What saddens me the most is that the ones who spout such lines are mostly women.
The ancients decreed that women be treated with love and care, for they are the ones who nurture new life, and woe be upon all of us if they all are hardened and embittered by the harshness of life so much that they lose faith in living and in society that they do not anymore want to bring or nurture new life into this cruel world. Considering what most of us have to put up with, the world must be turning into a sadder place with every passing second.