It started out as any other day and went on like one. In the evening, I came back after a long tiring day looking forward to the comfort of home. Post dinner, I was waiting for my roommate to return so that I can sleep uninterruptedly. Little did I know that it would turn out to be an unforgettable day, not in the best way.
Since I remember, I’ve been proud of being strong, smart and ready to speak up about something that I felt was wrong. Boys and later men were hesitant to heckle me, or grope me in crowded areas. A guy had tried to stalk my friend and I could protect her. All these instances and experiences gave me the confidence to act brave in tough situations where I wouldn’t be scared to take an action against the perpetrator.
But today I walked away. I didn’t do anything. I am ashamed that I chose to not take any action. I didn’t do anything when at late in the night, an older man living in the same apartment was shouting at my roommate just because she was talking to her male friend on the road. I didn’t do anything when he slapped her twice for talking back and asking him what she did wrong. No one else from the surrounding flats did anything either. She stood there defiantly, blood streaming down the side of her face from where the spectacles she wore had cut into her skin when he slapped her. I stood by her side disgusted when he justified the whole thing saying that both are from the same caste and that he was like her ‘kaka’ (Father’s younger brother). When she got angry that he compared himself to her family, I advised her not to talk back and provoke him more. I stood by her side doing nothing even when he finally left after an hour of spewing the same nonsense over and over again.
While we were discussing about the possibility of calling the police, we were ‘advised’ by the neighbours to not do so citing the following reasons. She would have to answer the innumerable awkward questions that was sure to be asked by them. In most cases, it would be a scenario of, ‘ Why were you talking to a guy in the first place?’. Even if they did take it seriously and filed a case, following up on the legal process would be expensive and time consuming. Since I was planning to move out in a week, she would be living alone in the flat which made her situation more precarious. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t refute their reasons. So today, despite what I believed in, I stood by and did nothing.
The worst part was that no one who stood and watched the entire scene, said even a single word to the guy. Even after he left, they didn’t criticise his behaviour. Their first reaction was, “You shouldn’t have talked to the guy standing on the road”. Even the guy’s wife started spreading stories about my roommate to justify her husband’s actions.
This certainly isn’t an isolated incident. When I spoke to a friend about this, she mentioned another incident that was narrated by her landlady where, at around 11 PM, a young woman was being molested and manhandled by 2 young men who claimed that she was seeing 2 guys at the same time and they were teaching her a lesson. All the people on the road just stood and watched with no one even questioning them or asking them to stop. Even in this situation, the reaction of her landlady was to blame the girl – why is she out so late? Why did she associate herself with those guys? It didn’t matter to them that whatever the guy said to justify his actions might be false or even if it was true, who gave him the authority to violate someone that way. We would have come across so many news reports of right wing groups and/or the police beating up couples or publicly shaming them for ‘immoral’ activities and insulting our ‘culture’. As much as we would have been angry at their actions and empathised with those who were affected, there would have been a certain detachment to the situation because we don’t personally know them or are affected by them. But today when it happened right in front of me, to someone close to me, it hit me harder than I ever expected.
I couldn’t decide what I should feel ashamed of – the fact that a guy believes that he has the right to hit someone because he feels that what they did is wrong or that he believes that he can get away with hitting a woman without any consequences or that a woman is slapped just because she was talking with her male friend in public or that affected woman is not able to trust our legal system enough to even approach them for justice. I am ashamed that I live in a country where moral policing and victim blaming is acceptable. I am ashamed that women, who are supposed to have each other’s backs are among the first to demean or blame other women who are victimised. I am ashamed at the state of the political and legal system in our country.
Today I am ashamed.