The Rape Of My Image Of Modern India
December 19, 2012
Is a woman in modern India just like a bowl of chicken?
As a young girl in my early twenties working in Bombay, I found myself in a rather unsavory situation one evening. Having stayed late at the newspaper where I worked as a journalist, I had boarded the ladies’ compartment on the western suburbs’ bound local train at Churchgate station. Imagine my shock when at the very next station, hordes of men poured into the empty compartment. I hadn’t realized that at 9pm the entire train became uni-sex or oversexed in my case. I huddled in my corner seat by the window at the end of the compartment, trying to crawl inside myself, to make myself small enough to be unseen. The more I tried to minimize my presence the more I seemed to be drawing attention to myself, until it seemed that every single grinning male gaze was waiting for my next move. As my stop drew nearer my heart started pounding, in anticipation of the inevitable.
When I could delay no longer, I clutched my purse close to my body, hugging it as if it were a, oxygen cylinder, wishing it were one so I could use it to smash my way through the multi-headed-villains in my path. By the time I reached the exit every part of me had been squeezed, my shirt torn, and I had lost my hair band somewhere so that my unruly curly hair had escaped to fall into my eyes now pouring with tears. Sobbing and shoeless I tumbled out, my handbag still miraculously in grasp. I vowed that I would never set foot in a Bombay local train again—and never have since.
Twenty years later this incident still sends shudders down my spine. I can only imagine then, what trapped memories the endless nights and years ahead hold in store for the poor girl who was raped and beaten in Delhi a few days ago, aboard a luxury bus, its shrouded windows giving no hint of the altar of doom it had turned into.
I read the reportage of the incident in horror wondering how much the mother country had changed and yet how much it hadn’t. Some editorials here point to the sexy-out-there, provocative Bollywood dance numbers as a primary encouragement to men to just go out there and plunder. But I think it goes deeper than that. The land that invented the Kamasutra has long swung the other way when it comes to sex. For a billion strong population, which has obviously indulged in activities of the nether-regions, we have always had a close-your-eyes and pretend it does not exist attitude. Adding complexity to this is the fact that a tiny percentage of youth in the bigger cities are sexually far ahead. They look, dress and act with the confidence that comes with education, international exposure, and the security of knowing that they have a lifetime of things to do and people to see.
Cheek-by-jowl live those who don’t have the same. Not the assurance, or the instruction, nor the opportunities. Put them side by side and the equation of the have’s plus the have-not’s takes on a dangerously new meaning.
The situation feels like an explosive mixture of radical repression meeting extreme economics. Frustrated by what they cannot have, aggravated by the lack of opportunities, fuelled by what they then see on screen; (hordes of male hands reaching out for the scantily dressed heroine dancing suggestively, yet just out of reach); I wonder if like the bowl of chicken which the guilty in this case had apparently cooked—as a Sunday evening meal, before embarking on their evening cruise in search of fun—a woman in modern India is just that for many, an evening’s light entertainment?
Photo credit: dabangee.com