During one of my pms-ing blog hopping routine, I came across this site - The Blank Noise Project and spent the next very disturbing two hours reading it. This was just after the shameful new-year eve Mumbai molestation that got all the wrong type of publicity. I continued to be disturbed for a couple of days after that, going through the day with sheer routine, with thoughts jumping between incidents that had been hitherto pushed to the dark recesses of the memory. Now with the dam opened, they flooded my entire being. I kept oscillating between writing about all that was shaking me up and burying the thing whence it arose. Terri's comment on an earlier post was the clincher.
I was all of seven years old. One day in summer, I accompanied by mom to Vishranthi, the old-age home that she served in. After a hectic day, I was tired. We returned by a public bus. There was no place to sit, and I stood jostled by the crowd. Suddenly I felt it. Something really hard against my shoulder. Why would anyone keep stones in their pant pocket, I wondered. And the stone rhythmically pressed against me. I had a feeling something was not right, but had no clue what it was. This continued for all of five minutes. I reached home, vomitted vigorously and burned 102 for the next week. Mom thought it was the strain of travel to and from Palavaakam.
Two years later. Summer holidays. We were on the train to Mangalore to visit my uncle and aunt. I was still naive, innocent and a child in body and mind. I slept on the middle berth. In the dead of night, I felt something move up my thighs. I first thought it was my blanket. And as it persisted, I opened my eyes to see a man feeling me up. I was too paralyzed to scream. Seeing me awake, the man quietly went back to his berth, lay down and went to sleep. When I got my senses back, I climbed down to my mom and hugged her as sobs shook my frame. Mom thought I had had a nightmare.
Five years hence, I had "grown up". Another vacation in Bangalore. The entire family in a theater to watch a movie - forget which one. Half way through the movie, I feel a hand move over mine. This time I knew what to do. With the nails that I had forgotten to cut the previous week, I pinched his hand hard for one whole minute. He slipped away silently, in the dark. During the intermission, I rushed to the toilet to wash the blood of my fingers. For a long time, I could feel blood in my nails.
One guy grabbed my breast once. One chap followed me through the ten minute cycle ride to school everyday for six months.
I fervently believed that I had sinned in my earlier birth for these bad things to be happening to me alone. And when we started talking in school about boys as teenage girls are wont to, I realized to my relief that I was not the only one. Every single friend I had had been through at least one form of sexual harassment. From then on, we developed a sort of antenna - an extra sensory perception to recognize a potential offender from yards away. We would be on high alert the moment we stepped out of the safe haven of our homes and school.
Those were the memories that tumbled out. But there are things that troubled me more than these memories. The fact that no matter which part of the world you lived, you were an object of entertainment. The number of people who talk about their experiences is no joking matter. SEVENTY people molested one girl in full view of public. SEVENTY sons, husbands, brothers, friends, lovers.
My knee jerk reaction to their latest post calling for volunteers for their blank noise project was to join it. But more level headed thinking warns me that it is one issue that involves enormous commitment. Of time and energy. There is no going half-way here. If I photograph a perpetrator in action, I MUST be willing to face the consequences - lose my camera to the perpetrator, be manhandled etc. I am not sure if I am willing to do it, and that worries me.
Another disturbing message I get from the site is this :
I am thankful to add that unwarranted sexual advances have not happened to me for the last ten years (touch wood, cross your fingers and do everything to not jinx it). Which is more than I can say about a friend of mine, who says she is being constantly harassed during all the travel that her job requires. Maybe the fact that I mostly wear saree in public and am rarely seen without my mangal sutra, metti and vibhoothi on my forehead adds to the stay-off-mom-type-woman image.
Terri, you are right. These thoughts DO bring out negative emotions and palpitations. But getting it out does help fight the devil.
I would strongly recommend all to visit the blank noise project blog and pass the word around.