When I got into the Cochin-Gorakhpur Express at Cochin Harbour Terminus 17 years ago, I was shocked to see that I was the only person in the compartment. My brother who had come to drop me off was worried and hence decided to accompany me until the next station, Ernakulam junction where he got off. And over the next few stations only six people got in. And I was the only girl. I thought more would get in along the way, but none did. This was a train notorious for its delays so everyone else preferred the superfast if they managed a ticket. Obviously I didn’t, so I was stuck with the six men in the compartment. There was no pantry car and no constant stream of people moving about the train!  Though most of them were friendly, I was terrified and remained awake through the whole 30 plus hour journey to Nagpur. I was only 20 years old, weighed a measly 45 kg and knew no martial art. And I doubted whether I could talk my way out of any situation. Talk of fear and terror in the heart? I went through it, the whole way!

This incident came to mind when I was watching news reports of the brutal and horrific gang rape of a paramedical student in Delhi on Sunday. And as the camera panned in on two young girls from my hometown Cochin, I waited to see what their reactions would be. “It’s not safe to go out after 6.30 in the evening,” one of the girls said.

And I thought, nothing’s changed in the past 20 years. When we were growing up, being outside home after 6pm was an absolute no-no. In fact, Fort Cochin where my school was, was like a ghost town after sunset. So none of us stayed back after school if we had to use public transport. As it is, we faced enough while travelling in the daytime. Men would grope, push, deliberately lean over and make lewd remarks. Oh! There were the flashers too! So we took care to travel in gangs. And faced them together, in whatever way we could. And did the best thing, never left home after dark unless accompanied by a male relative.

When I started working, I would often reach home after 7 just in time when the lights would go off because of the half-hour powercut. And everyday I would pray that I hear the chatter of the neighbourhood boys in the narrow bylane between the main road and my home that I had to cross. On the days I didn’t hear them, I would just pray and sprint across… a dash that merited an Olympic record. Sometimes, I would wait on the main road until I spotted one of my neighbours and asked him to accompany me home. Yes, there was fear and terror in the heart.

It’s sad to say this coming from the most literate state in India. Literacy does not stop crimes against women! Last year, a female relative was groped by a drunken man in full view of 10 of us at a restaurant. Though I now live in the city part of Cochin and do stay out late, I do not dare use public transport. The fear and terror still lives in my heart. Going back to the journey on the train, I can only look back and say that I’ve been plain lucky!

Lighting candles and shouting slogans will not stop crimes against women. And so, this is what I put up as my Facebook status last night (which I must say elicited the least comments of all because as long as this doesn’t affect me personally why should I bother mentality still exists!)

So long as little boys are told, ‘Don’t cry like a girl…’
So long as men treat women as ‘property’
So long as men define roles for women…
So long as mothers say, ‘You are a woman, you have to bear it,’…
So long as women are ostracized for something natural like menstruation or discriminated because they are widows…
So long as women are ‘expected’ to be decent (from a male point of view), follow certain clothing ‘norms’ or keep certain hours…
So long as women are treated as ‘sex objects’…
So long as female foetuses are selectively aborted, little girls are killed at birth and women are killed for dowry…
And finally,
So long as women consider themselves the weaker sex and accept it…
No woman will be safe anywhere in the world…

It’s time we banished the terror and fear from our hearts!

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5 thoughts on “Of fear and terror in the heart…

  1. Full marks for leaving an imprint. I can relate to the story, even though I saw all of this happen whilst in New Delhi, my home for four years. At times, I intervened to be a protective shield for the female of the species because I just could not take the blindingly obvious harassment. More often than not a certain herd mentality prevailed with boys and “men” of all ages thinking of it as little more than their daily quota of “entertainment”.
    This is one area, where I was convinced, may be segregated columns on buses made sense. I’m no expert on how else the problem could be solved.

  2. Similar memories of the past for me too…So very true Rekha. Nothing has changed and I don’t think it’s going to ever change.

  3. same here Rekha..returning home after 6.,was a big thing.., my mom would be near the gates by 5.30.. and after 6 she would be so tensed.. And I would always prefer to stand in the front part of bus(reserved for females) rather than sit in the last seat reserved for females. I think the condition has not changed much even now. Once i moved to chennai, i was kinda surprised to see that no reservation for male/female was there. But later understood the reason. ‘Coz i never faced such issues, how muchever crowded the bus is/ how muchever later it is. And I got similar feedback from many of my friends/ relatived who moved to different parts of tamilnadu.. That is one aspect which i like here.

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