The courage the 23-year-old victim showed in the face of death and torment touched me too, like it did to everyone who went out to seek justice for her.
I have been quiet all these years because I was afraid. I believed that being a girl was a curse, at least in the kind of society we live in. But I deserve to feel lighter; I need to unburden myself.
As I said, I was six and loved playing with toys. My joint family pampered me as I was the first girl child in the family. I was a happy child. But the dream ended early when one day I went to a friend’s place to play video games.
She had a brother who was six-seven years older. When I entered her room, my friend — who was as innocent as me — left the room, saying, “I am not going to play. Bhaiya just scolded me.”
Unconcerned, I continued to play the game. I don’t remember how it happened, but I suddenly fell off the bed by accident.
I was hurt in the thigh and the pain rose steadily. My friend’s brother insisted on checking on the injury and asked me to remove my pants.
The injury wasn’t visible, but his hands crept up towards my private parts. I was confused, awkward, and even scared. I suddenly jumped up, pulled up my pants and ran away.
It got worse the next day when I went to that house. My friend’s brother took out his penis, and showed it to me, saying, “See, this is where I pee from.”
He asked me to touch it. When I refused, he threatened me and said he’d slap me if I didn’t. I didn’t understand anything; I was only six. I touched it.
Then he demanded that I show him my private parts. When I refused, he threatened me again. Scared, I undressed and he rubbed his penis between my thighs.
Fortunately, my friend called me and I quickly darted out of the room. That was the last time I went to her house. My innocence ended there. But my ordeal hasn’t.
Men continue to try and touch me without my permission. When I’m in a bus, the man next to me rubs himself against me, another tries to touch my breasts or someone else is trying to peer through my blouse.
Why, why does it have to be like that? Is that what being a girl is about in this country?
And it certainly isn’t true only for Delhi. A few months ago, I was in Mumbai for some work. I was travelling in a local train when a man standing next to me touched me shamelessly.
Everyone watched, but no one came forward to help. When I protested, another passenger offered me his seat. Relieved, I sat down.
But the tormenter was quickly by my side. He put his hands in his pocket, started playing with his penis and rubbing it against my shoulder.
I was aghast, yet embarrassed. When I turned to a fellow passenger for help, he callously remarked, “Tum bhi mazey le lo na (You derive your share of pleasure too).”
Every day I have to scream and fight to walk on the road and feel safe. When will my hour of freedom arrive in this country?
Gender violence takes many forms and can happen anywhere and any time. Every day, countless women are groped in public places, sexually harassed in the workplace, battered at home and, increasingly, stalked and harassed online.
Of the many calls that came to Fortis Healthcare’s helpline, a handful of callers agreed to share their stories with HT readers. This is what they had to say
Caller: I’ve been getting continuous vulgar calls from an unknown number for two weeks. I tried shouting and threatened to report him to the police, but the man hasn’t stopped, so much so that now I’ve begun to avoid stepping outside due to fear.
Counsellor: In future, don’t take the call. Do not shout or engage in con-versation. Try blocking his number and seek support from your family. If the problem persists, contact the Crime against Women Cell.
Caller: On my way to college, there’s a middle-aged man who passes lewd comments. More than the comments, what bothers me more is that he is probably older than my dad. He has even affected my perception of men badly.
Counsellor: It is a reflection of the way things have shaped up in our society. It is important that you share what has been happening with someone in your family. If left unchecked, such things can escalate into something much worse.
But you must also keep in mind that all people are not the same. It is important that you do not form stereotypes in your mind as that would start impacting all your relationships, both in the present and the future.
Caller: I’m a domestic help in a family. The driver of the family misbehaves with me and passes rude comments. I don’t feel safe working anymore but I can’t quit my job as I need the money.
Counsellor: If you ignore the situation, things might get more ugly. You should talk to your employers. Approach any family member whom you’re comfortable with and tell them of your problem.
Caller: I have been married for 16 years. My husband gets angry over small things and often beats me. I feel extremely helpless.
Counsellor: Consider speaking to someone for emotional support. Talk to your family and friends. Also try speaking to your husband, but if you feel this won’t make any difference, consult a psychologist and seek help from NGOs.
Caller: I work in an advertising firm. I love my job but I’m having major problems with one of my colleagues. He tries very hard to speak to me and has asked me out several times. I have refused but he doesn’t take no for an answer. I feel stressed all the time, and even a little unsafe at work now.
Counsellor: Most women don’t know what to do in such situations. If you feel threatened, then consult your seniors or your boss. Some action must be taken before things go out of hand. Try talking to a friend for emotional support and make sure you’re not alone with him at your office.
(The author’s name has been withheld to protect her identity)