I was going back home during summer break in college. A day before leaving I decided to stay the night at a friend’s place. I was also in a relationship at that point in time. My boyfriend lived near my friend’s place and so I decided to meet him once before I leave. We met around 6:00 pm in the evening below my friend’s society. We were walking and talking. We did not even realise where we were headed. However, what I did realise in the next half an hour was that walking aimlessly is a privilege in this country. Especially if you are a girl. And if you are with a boy. And it’s dark.
So we were walking aimlessly and we ended up being in a what can be described as a ‘dark dingy street’ which was right behind my friend’s place. Fifteen minutes into our walk, a policeman pulled up on his motorcycle right besides us. We stopped. He got down. He looked at us. And then began his questioning. What are you doing here? Where do you both live? Why are you out so late? Give me your address.
I told him that I was living in the building in the right behind us. My boyfriend told him that he lived in a different sector. He kept persisting that I give him the exact address of the house I was living in. And I did not want to. I was living with a friend. An old friend, whose family I share a very good equation with. While I was sure that they will have my back, I just did not want to put them in a situation where I go back home with a policeman who will preach to them about how I was with a boy in a dark dingy street.
I knew all about my rights. I knew I was not wrong. We were both two consenting adults. The policeman had no business interfering. Even if the policeman was worried about a man molesting or raping a woman in a dark street, he could have after his enquiry just politely asked us to move out to the main road. We didn’t mind him enquiring. However, it did not feel like a harmless enquiry. It did not feel like he was just trying to do his job and maintain ‘order’ in the city. His questions, his demeanour were all threatening and all that came across was judgment and harassment.
What made it even worse was when a random middle aged man decided to join the party. He was crossing us on his bike, when he decided to stop. He asked the policeman what the problem was, which of course the policeman was more than happy to share. Before the man had arrived, we had tried to diffuse the situation by being ‘polite’ and ‘calm’ and telling the policeman that we were sorry and will go to our respective homes right away. Like I said earlier, even though both of us knew we were not at fault, we were also well aware that the wisest thing to do in that situation was to just get out somehow. It was pointless getting into an argument with someone who primarily just wanted to harass you and get his daily dose of a ‘good time’. The random man decided to spend his valuable time further instigating the policeman. He kept emphasising on the point that how the policeman should make sure that our parents know.
Once the two were done getting their cheap thrills harassing us, we finally got out of there. Both of us were perturbed enough to just say goodbye and head to our respective homes. While writing the post, I realise that while I don’t remember many things from back then which were probably happy memories, I remember this incident in particular. I remember the details and I remember how frustrating it felt. The two men who were laden with a sense of entitlement did manage to get the best of us. They drained us out. They capitalised on the shame that is associated with a girl and boy being together in certain settings. They capitalised on our fear of parents or other people getting to know. They capitalised on our fear of being alone with two men who wanted to harass us in the middle of a random dark dingy street. To me, the dark dingy lane was not a dark dingy lane I shouldn’t have been walking on, till the time I had this particular encounter with the policeman and a man who was ‘protective’ of my best interests as a woman.
Where is the safe space if the people responsible for maintaining order are the reason for your chaos? Where is the safe space when bystanders just want to ‘watch and have fun’ or even better make the situation worse? Where is the safe space when deep down there is a fear of your parents or other elders not backing you up? Where is the safe space when despite knowing your rights, you choose to keep silent and just negotiate your way out of a situation to be ‘safe’? How safe is this negotiated ‘safe’ supposed to make me feel? If I am with a man, it’s a problem. If I am without one it is a problem. How do you want me to exist? Or rather, do you want me to exist at all?