"One of the first times I felt empowered this way was while walking down a crowded Brigade Road with my parents in 2003. A man pinched me and started walking away. Totally unrehearsed, I turned and grabbed his collar. Just a few minutes later - yes, fair Bangalore has its fair share of roadside romeos who all seem to be on this road - there came along another guy. I communicated some pretty unflattering things to him too. But what I remember most is being drunk on the knowledge, for hours after, that I had done something. The exhilaration heightened since this had happened in front of my parents, who had possibly never before seen - whom I had possibly never before allowed to see - me as a sexual being - being harassed, giving it back."
I’ve been harassed and I’ve protested the harassment several times since Sep 2003, yet this incident stays at the top of my head, perhaps because it was one of the earliest incidents of my being vocal. In fact, come to think of it, most of the incidents since this one are a blur in my head, indistinguishable from each other. I can’t remember distinctly how I was harassed or how I responded, and that is a little scary, because it could mean I’ve begun to normalize the violence in my own head; begun to treat it as a matter of course! (Note to myself: Get outraged about every incident of harassment, “small” or not. Talk about it with friends, lover, mum, brother, fellow writers, fellow activists.)
Then there are the times I haven’t spoken up, times I’ve walked past, pretending to not have heard a sleazy comment thrown my way. Because it takes energy to confront, abuse the bastards, look daggers even; because I think, “It’s not worth it.” Isn’t it? Am I just being pragmatic and getting on with life with no-fuss, or am I selling out? Am I turning into a cynic? Am I letting down my feminist + BNP sisters and brothers? Am I letting down the harassers by taking away an opportunity from them to engage with a reaction? (Note to myself: Talk back.)
Sexual harassment is so pervasive and institutionalized in our societies that we have to make a conscious effort to treat it as a singular incident in our day, to not fall prey to the notion that it’s “normal”, to not brush it aside, to notice it, to commend ourselves when we talk back, to tell stories about both the harassment and our fighting back. Which is why it’s fantastic that the Blank Noise Project is asking women to tell their stories about the times they got their own back. Hurrah, BNP!
And I’ve just remembered the last time it happened to me: Last week, it’s ten pm on a weeknight. I’m in the park next to my house, the same one I’ve bragged is safe to walk in even at three am. A man enters the park from the flyover side through a gap in the fence. He stands in the shadows and mutters something when I pass him. I ignore him for two rounds, but on the third round my blood boils and I yell at him. He says something incomprehensible but menacing, drunk to high heavens. I’m quaking a little when I return to the spot on my fourth round, ready to take flight at the slightest provocation and to call the neighbouring guards. But he’s disappeared. I suspect because I yelled.