Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Stare back

Disclaimer: I am no feminist. I have never been very outspoken against male chauvinism, against their false sense of entitlement just because they possess a particular organ women don’t, against the ills that are meted out to women in our patriarchal setup, and against the atrocities which befall a number of women from varied walks of life across our country.

And, I bitterly regret the fact.

Being a dilliwallah since my birth, when my mom carried me over as a newborn from St. Stephen's Hospital at Tis Hazari to our Rohini home, I am proud to belong to the capital. Yet, sometimes, when I look at the worst kind of human beings possible sharing my city space, I cannot help curb the fury of hatred that seethes inside me. I cannot help recalling that it is because of them that my city has been dubiously branded the most unsafe city for women in India.

Alluding to the heinously barbaric Dec 16 gang rape of 2012 simply to be on the same page as you, I narrate a little, perhaps seemingly insignificant instance of harassment in the Delhi Metro. It is no big deal in itself; most of the women who commute by the Metro have faced numerous such incidents, but, it opened my eyes to some of my own weaknesses, and I am sharing this so you can overcome yours, too.

Nine o’ clock on the Monday morning of 20th July, when the Delhi University had opened its gates to the under graduates across various streams, I happened to board the Metro's yellow line to Vishwavidyalya.

A punctuality freak through and through, I wanted to reach my 9.35 lecture before time, so I caught the train Metro just as it was about to shut its doors to the hapless, and found myself in the last coach of the eight coach train.

With earphones plugged in to block the unwanted sounds of my surroundings, I remember having wished I had something to block unwanted stares, too. I was wearing a knee length denim capri and the 25 or so year old man in impressive formals had perhaps never seen one before. His eyes were glued to me as if I was the only other person inside that super crowded compartment.

And, he wouldn't stop staring. I am no stunner- an ordinary five feet tall 20 years old who wears specs and no makeup, not even a touch of gloss on her lips. It made me pretty uncomfortable, though such instances are as regular as a sunny day in June.

I avoided his gaze and looked down at my feet. Something about him freaked me out and I chose to ignore the entire situation, like most girls. Meanwhile, he continued to ogle.

Just then, a switch clicked at the back of my mind and I realized I was not the one at fault there. It was my city, my Metro and I had every god damned right to travel in any coach I desired, reserved or not. The city had been mine for the past 20 years and I wasn't relinquishing my rights to unwarranted shame on my part, and unwarranted shamelessness on that asshole's. 

I unplugged my ear phones, welcoming the sounds. I adjusted my specs and lifted my gaze. Then, I stared right back at the idiot, with five times more intensity, if I could supply an approximate measure. He hesitated and averted his gaze. I kept staring right at him. A few seconds later, when he looked back again, my eyes were still burning with indignation. I was so enraged that if I had a gun in my hand, and knew how to shoot, perhaps I wouldn't have given a second thought to pulling the trigger. Perhaps he got the message I had intended for him. Because, as I continued to stare as shamelessly as he had done, he got up, sacrificing his seat and moved back, hiding behind others at the other end of the coach.

I sighed with relief.

It was the very least I could do. It is the very least we all should do.

Because, sometimes, being afraid isn’t an option. Sometimes, turning a blind eye is not the solution. Sometimes, you simply have to stare back. So, ladies, next time if somebody tries to stare you down, stare back. Stare till you convince them of your not-so-healthy murderous intentions. Stare till they give up. Stare back.

And, to be safer when outside the Metro, carry a pocket knife and a pepper spray. Just don’t carry your fear along. Stare back, and give them the dirt they deserve.