On New Year's Eve of 2016, I was roaming around Princes Street in Edinburgh with tickets to participate in the annual Hogmanay celebration. The Hogmanay is Scotland’s oldest New Year’s tradition and in Edinburgh, we welcome the New Year with a fireworks display from the foot of the Edinburgh Castle.
I was at the venue by 9 p.m and was treating myself to food and drinks, as very drunk passers-by wished both me and my husband a happy New Year. People cracked jokes, sang songs, danced and hugged random strangers while they waited for the fireworks. You will come across all kinds of characters at a Hogmanay, and my personal favourite was a man strutting about with authority in a Batman cape.
By midnight, I was standing in a spot right opposite the castle and to say that I had a wonderful view of the fireworks would be an understatement. I truly had the very best view and it was brilliant.
However, the minute the fireworks and laser display was over, everyone started moving at once, but nobody was really moving. We were a crowd of 75,000 people who had gathered in one spot and for about 15 minutes, we were all glued to our spots. There were times when my feet didn’t even touch the ground as I moved along with the crowd. There were times when I felt myself moving in the complete opposite direction. But for the whole 15 minutes that I was stuck in that crowd, surrounded by strange men and women of various ages, never once did I feel threatened. The people around me would often turn to enquire if I was alright, considering what a tiny person I was and at one point, a woman apologized to me saying that she was sorry for pushing against me but she couldn’t help but touch me. At that moment, a very dark thought crept into my mind but I quickly tried to brush it off. I thought about what would have happened to me, had I been stuck in a similar crowd back in India.
I got transported to a crowded bus stop in Kerala where I was groped by a man who was definitely older than my father. A bus had just stopped and a mob of people was rushing to get in. In that mob was an old man who nonchalantly came close to me, grabbed me, and then walked away. I’ve always been a tiny person but never one to let one of these perverts go off that easily. So I tried to follow the man. However, the crowd was too big and he was very good at navigating it. In that initial moment of shock, I couldn’t even scream or shout to gather people around this guy. Honestly, I don’t know what I would have done, had I managed to keep up with him. And even if I did kick up a storm, I’m not sure how many of those people who were in a hurry to catch that bus would have stopped to help me.
But like I said, when the memory of this incident came back to me that night, I brushed it off. I tried to get this image out of my head. I was far away from a place that is notorious for it’s catcalling, eve-teasing, inappropriate body language and ogling. I was far away and safe. Stuck in a mob of 75,000 people, but still safe.
But you know who wasn’t? Those girls in Bangalore who like me, were clad in “Western” clothes, who like me, were out and about at midnight. These girls, like me, were “asking for it” except that they got what they asked for while I escaped “punishment” because I was in a more civilized crowd. But I know EXACTLY what those girls went through because I have been groped in a crowd when I was in a setting similar to theirs. In fact, had I been living in Bangalore, I’m quite sure that I would have been in that very crowd considering how I wasn’t doing anything different in far away Scotland.
It’s revolting to think that this is the plight of every Indian girl living in India. We get out of our homes to hear the local milkman’s catcalling early in the morning, to endure the bus conductor’s inappropriate body language around us while commuting to school/work, to feel embarrassed by the classmate/co-worker’s inappropriate gaze on our breasts while interacting with them, and to ignore our neighbour’s passive aggressive slut-shaming when we return after dark.
I realise that in this article, I just stated a few facts and isolated incidents like everyone else does. In fact, when I read this Buzzfeed article, I realised that we’re all very quick to blame men and their upbringing as if this is a simple black and white issue. While starting from home would make meaningful and measurable differences to the quality of Indian lives, we must understand that this is not a simple or quick solution to such a complex problem. We are saturated with news headlines every day and as lazy humans, we tend to just scroll through them and move on to the next one. Surely, there’s a better way to tackle this issue than to preach out to thousands of internet users that ‘men are not educated at home’? I believe that we need to dig deeper and attack this problem from many angles.
This is not the time for us to dryly state facts or to even try and capitalize on this unfortunate reality. This is the time for the saner ones amongst us (and by that, I mean YOU who are reading this) to come up with ideas to deal with this reality. I have been a victim of molestation and groping in crowds myself and I must say that when it happens, you find yourself at a loss for words. In some weird part of your brain, you even feel ashamed that this happened to you. I, in fact, never even told my parents about this incident. Which is probably why I feel so strongly about this issue. To see it happen to others boils my blood.
Here’s what I would suggest that we do. Remember how I mentioned that I wasn’t sure if all those people rushing to get into their bus would stop for a second, just to come to my aid? How about we make sure that not even a single girl needs to doubt whether people would come to her aid. How about we make sure that come what may, we will call out this kind of behavior?
If any one of you reading this piece were to witness something of the sort, just because the victim is taking time to react doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. The minute you hear someone catcalling at a school girl, call them out. The minute you see that bus conductor trying to lean on the college student, ask him to move away from her. The minute you spot a colleague staring at a female counterpart’s chest, send him to the HR for counselling. And the minute you hear your own family member slut-shaming a hard-working woman, confront them. CONSTANTLY call them out and protect those of us who are sometimes just too shocked to react under abuse. Because at the end of the day, these abusers act out because they have no fear of repercussions. They’ve never been confronted before. In fact, they’ve witnessed stunned silences and apathetic crowds. They’ve witnessed the fear in the eyes of their victims while they slowly walk away scot-free. Call them out and mete out appropriate punishment by getting the cops involved, and they will be tamed.
But this was just my input. Are you aware of any other methods that have worked out well? Do you have any suggestions? Please voice them in the comments below.
I'm a blogger, podcaster, wife and feminist. I record snippets from my life on my blog, tackle social issues on my podcast and work with my team of fellow feminists in this space.