After I agreed to participate in Blank Noise Project's Blog-A-Thon 2006, I felt like a politically-correct poser. My knowledge of street harassment was a big zero. Why? Well, first of all, I am a man. That alone accounts for 99.5% of my ignorance.
Have I ever not boarded a crowded train out of the fear of being groped? No. Have I ever not boarded an empty train out of the fear of being groped? Why, no! Are you kidding me, it's not how we men are trained to think.
What's more, my wife, my mother and my sister have never once spoken to me about any experiences of harassment (though my wife assures me that female commuters in New York are no less susceptible to the "cop-a-feel-in-a-crowded-train" experience than their counterparts in Bombay.)
So you see, I really know next to nothing about this problem. All I can do is raise a clenched fist and feebly whisper some some toothless slogan. "Down with harassment". "We feel your pain".
But just when I think I have nothing personal to say, this one incident from several years ago comes to mind.
A little girl in our family - she was only 15 at the time - had acid splashed on her face by a stalker. The bastard - he was 18 - hid behind the bushes right outside the girl's house and waited till dusk before changing her entire life with one flick of his wrist.
They found out the boy's identity pretty quick. He had been stalking her for a while. I don't think there's an equivalent of the word "stalker" in an Indian language and the sickening euphemism that I heard in connection with this story back then was that "this boy had been in *love* with her". Naturally, the guy's "love" was unreciprocated and don't we all know there's no problem of the heart that cannot be solved with a can of fresh, bubbling concentrated sulfuric acid?
The poor girl survived, but suffered serious burn injuries on her face, her head, the hands and on the torso; her pretty smile wiped out by a red, puffy skin-graft - a silent, permanent testimony to harassment.
But that's not the only vulgar display of power in this painful episode.
An equally gross display came about when the girl's parents learned that the boy was "protected" by the higher-ups at some bullshit high-powered, semi-religious organization. The girl's parents couldn't even take the matter to court. They watched in miserable, tragic silence as the boy went from inside the lock-up to out on main street in 24 hours and their little girl went from Class Xth tuitions to the ICU.
Well, so much for silence then.
Over the last several months, I have read some sad, terrifying experiences. Now when I don't hear similar stories from the women that I meet everyday, I know a little better about interpreting that silence. What is not being said is very, very frightening.
So for goodness sake, turn it up to 11, Blank Noise Project.
Some link updates: Within/Without, as always, makes some excellent points.