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Walking with the wolves

Her father and husband always fear for her safety, yet are supportive of her crusade against molesters. Her advice: Don’t back down, report the offenders. Shara Ashraf writes.

india Updated: Jan 15, 2014 18:58 IST
Shara Ashraf

Every single year since I moved to Delhi in 2004, I find myself walking into a police station. The annual date with molesters and insensitive police officers creeps up on me like a birthday or anniversary, so unrelenting is its regularity. My mind and body have become the Richter scale — registering pain, anger, vulnerability, insecurity and helplessness at the same time.

My friends say I’m privileged; that as a journalist I can pull strings. I say no. I’m just another girl in Delhi: A professional, a happy wife and young mother.

On October 30, 2012, I left home at 9.30am for my office from Pandav Nagar in east Delhi. I reached the main road, barely 100 yards away from my home, looking for an auto.

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Fifteen minutes later, as I started walking to the Mother Dairy stand to get a bus, I noticed three middle-aged MCD employees sitting on the stairs of a shop.http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/1/WakeUp_india.jpg

They started singing a Hindi film song at the top of their voice. My stern look didn’t deter them.

They made lewd gestures as well. I ignored them but suddenly, much to my shock, one of them (about 50, one-eyed and wore an MCD cap), got up and looking at his friends remarked in Hindi that I looked like a girl who was great at a particular sexual act.

His friends remarked, grinning, “Ask her if we too could join.”

I could literally feel my blood boiling but I forced myself to keep walking quietly.

After a few steps, I could still hear them giggling. I could not bear it any longer. I went back to where they were sitting. They seemed shocked. Very calmly, I asked them what was it they wanted to ask me.

The one-eyed man started stammering and said they were talking about someone else. There was a strong smell of alcohol and I realised he was drunk.

Enter the cops
I dialed 100 and narrated what had happened. The control room guy asked me to wait where the incident had taken place, and assured me that he was sending a vehicle. I stood close to a shop, keeping a watch on the three men. They were confused if I had really made the call to the cops or was just trying to scare them.

The PCR vehicle came in about 20 minutes. The MCD employees were still around. When I told the sub-inspector what had happened, he called the one-eyed man, who denied having passed any lewd comments.

The cop was reluctant to register a complaint. He had a smirk on his face when he read my name along with my husband’s in my complaint which I wrote on the spot. “Shara Ashraf, W/O Abhishek Khokhar? Yeh kaise ho sakta hai?” he asked.

“Kyunki yeh India hai,” I told him, and he looked lost.

He tried explaining to me that since these men are MCD employees and are drunk on duty, they will lose their jobs if I file a FIR.

“Jaane dijiye madam, yeh sweepers hain, gande log hain, naukri chali jayegi to inke bachchon ki bad dua lagegi aap ko (Let it be. They are drunk on the job and if they lose their jobs, their kids will curse you),” he said.

He relented when I told him I was a journalist.

Later at the police station I was called inside a small, dingy room where some cops were sleeping on charpoys, their clothes hanging on the walls. There was no woman constable. A male colleague and I waited for the sub-inspector, who finally came with the local MCD supervisor who apologised.

He requested me to withdraw my complaint. I agreed but only after they had stated in writing that they would never harass a girl again. I left, feeling less violated. At least I had a written apology.

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Loose character?
In 2007, when I was a trainee with the Asian Age, I got a message in the middle of the night from an unknown number. I froze as I read the Hindi text. It went something like this: If they show legs in a waxing ad, cheeks in an anti-pimple cream ad, why not the relevant part of the anatomy in a sanitary napkin ad?

When I called up on the number in the morning, no one picked up. I then had a friend call up on the number from a PCO. When a guy picked up, I told him that I had received a highly vulgar message from his phone. He denied and disconnected. I went to the Malviya Nagar police station and lodged an FIR.

The cops took turns reading the message and grinning. They assured me they would summon the subscriber of the telephone number that evening. The subscriber turned out to be a make-up artist who was an acquaintance.

I used to do part-time modelling back then, and this guy had seemed to be very well-behaved and decent. He had come to the set of a studio where I was shooting a TV commercial. He came to the police station with some of my photographs.

My pictures turned the situation completely in his favour. The photos were displayed on the table for other cops to have a look at.

“Aap ne to kaha aap paper mein hain, par aap to model hain madam (You told us you worked in a newspaper, but you turned out to be a model),” he said mockingly.

The guy who had sent me the message kept on insisting that it was a joke, while I kept saying that I was deeply offended by its content, and I want him to be punished. After the argument, I was forced to leave.

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Court matters
In August 2011, I had barely walked out of my office on Kasturba Gandhi Marg when I noticed two men following me. They spoke loudly and wanted me to hear their conversation.

“Does every woman’s anatomy look the same?” the taller guy asked the shorter one in Hindi. “How many have you seen so far?”
“Let’s ask her about hers,” was the last remark.

When I turned, I saw them laughing. I totally lost my cool. I went up to them and asked: “Haven’t you seen your mom’s?”
They didn’t expect this. They started running. I ran after them, and while the taller guy managed to escape, I was able to catch the shorter one. There was a police parked close by, and I dragged the guy to it.

I told the cops that his friend had passed a very lewd remark. The SHO said I must go ahead with the complaint to teach them a lesson. I agreed.

I got called to the court within a year, and will be going to Patiala Court for the third hearing first week of April. My lawyer father and husband, who often fear for my safety, are very supportive. The brutal gang rape in Delhi on December 16 has only made me more determined. My advice: Report the offenders. It acts as a deterrent.