A thousand new stories have taken wing. Hopefully, these will be resurgent new mythologies, transforming women’s tomorrows
Ratna Raman Delhi
Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain’s Sultana’s Dream (1905) speaks of a utopian world where educated women ran all public offices, travelled around the city freely, flew in magical machines and were not afraid of the dark. The ‘Presiding Queen’, having firmly grasped that men cause trouble and can generate fear, ensures that efficient checks and appropriate measures are put in place to deal with them. All the men are confined indoors, within ‘mardanas’, to be effectively guided and monitored. Reverse patriarchy, possibly, but definitely a most compassionate way of dealing with generic male developmental disorders.
Indeed, this is a more manageable solution to redress the woes of womenkind — worldwide. Unfortunately, for all of us, the protagonist wakes up and discovers that she had fallen asleep on the sofa and had been dreaming after all.
In the real world, though, terrible things happen and very often to unsuspecting infants, little girls and women, both young and old, all of whom are mute victims of the violence that is endemic to our society. One summer evening in 1978, Geeta Chopra, 17, and her younger brother, Sanjay, headed to All India Radio to participate in Yuv Vani, a popular radio programme. They were not on the 8 pm show that night. Their father, who went to pick them up after the show was aired, discovered that his children had not turned up at AIR that fateful evening.
Eyewitnesses saw a scuffle in a Fiat between two older men and a young girl and boy the same evening. Two eyewitnesses reported this at different police stations. One of the eyewitnesses was on a two-wheeler. He chased the car for a considerable distance on Ridge Road in west Delhi before he lost out in the pursuit. He promptly lodged a complaint at the police station on Shankar Road around 6.45 pm along with the car registration number. All this transpired within the hour of the teenagers having left home. (See the online details of this case in State versus Jasbir Singh and Kuljeet at www.indiankanoon.org\doc\1359524)
In Delhi, the gropers, squeezers, pinchers lavished attentive hands on private parts that definitely did not belong to them. The more daring would either rub groins into female bodies or attach their pelvic region to that of unsuspecting women in broad daylight as if this were some popular city sport that was allowed on public transport systems
The police station registered the complaint but did little to follow up. A few days later, the bloated, maggot-ridden corpses of both Geeta and Sanjay, with multiple stab wounds, were discovered on the ridge by a cowherd. Criminals Billa and Ranga raped Geeta and then killed both the youngsters — the teenagers fought till the last. This was the horrendous sequel to a kidnapping that had gone awry. The gruesome deaths generated a national furore and outrage. The culprits were eventually tracked down, given capital punishment and hanged to death in 1982.
The day the bodies were reported found, things changed irrevocably for a lot of young people in their teens in Delhi. From that day, the Ridge was out of bounds. Hitching a ride was unacceptable. Younger brothers, who escorted elder sisters, were no longer seen as invincible protectors. Staying out late in the evening and incurring cultural disapproval, was now taboo. Sundown was the moment when curfew began in all our lives.
All extracurricular activities meant being ferried to and fro by harried parents. Although streets were not particularly well-lit then at night, daytime was peopled by stalkers, hurlers of obscene language and flashers who displayed body parts boldly in various public spaces.
In Delhi, the more extroverted among them, the gropers, the squeezers, the pinchers and other harassers of women lavished attentive hands on private parts that definitely did not belong to them. At bus stops, inside buses, on the streets, in the marketplace, any female could have her body stroked and fondled at random. The more daring would either rub groins into female bodies or attach their entire pelvic region to that of unsuspecting women in broad daylight as if this were some popular city sport that was allowed on public transport systems.
All DTC buses had printed messages gently cautioning would-be offenders that eve-teasing was prohibited. In the absence of safeguards, the only option available to women in
the face of harassment was to move away, hoping thereby to deflect attention from intrusive aggression.
If dusk fell and a young female had to walk alone, even if home was two streets away, on hearing the unknown tread of footsteps behind her, her spine would stiffen and the taste in her mouth would be of fear, of acrid metal.
“Never look back!”
“Do not speak to someone stalking you!”
“Never make eye contact with an intimidator.”
“Don’t accost anyone making untoward advances since that will construe an invitation.”
“Don’t stay out.”
“Don’t walk alone anywhere by yourself!”
“Always go everywhere in a group.”
“If you are accosted, run away!”
“Never retaliate! How can you defend yourself?”
“Remember: you are only a girl.”
Sick with terror and with litanies, tattooed upon the consciousness as if they were magic mantras providing security, Operation Hurry-Back-to-Safety would be set in motion.