In Focus 19th October, 2016
As A Young Woman In India, I Feel My Freedom Is At Stake.

The piece is a part of a collaboration between Breakthrough India and Youth Ki Awaaz for the #StandWithMe campaign. Join us as we seek to get conversations going around how we can create gender inclusive safer spaces. #StandWithMe, Be my safe space.

I would like to be a little blunt and say that growing up as a girl is difficult.

The first time you were groped while visiting a mela near your house when you were just 10 years old still haunts you. As a child, I thought it was my fault and still wonder how I got that notion. I also thought it would be the last time I would encounter something like this. But who knew I would be proved wrong. Again and again.

Like many teenagers, you will be stalked and the moment you complain about it, you will hear statements like – “Who doesn’t like to get attention?” and “Stop complaining about small, petty stuff”.

Knowingly or unknowingly, I started becoming very conscious of what I would wear because one’s wardrobe seems to become a yardstick for character. Long sleeves and loose kurtas are supposedly protecting you from unwanted attention, and this is what I resorted to in many situations.

One time, when I was travelling in a bus and suddenly found a hand coming near me, I gathered the courage to shout at that man, thinking other people would support me. But alas I was laughed at! I was just an undergrad student, and I felt helpless.

When I was too scared to walk alone, I asked a male friend to accompany me. A leisurely chat with him outside a friend’s PG got us into trouble with the police and the reason was this: girls are not supposed to be out at 10 p.m.
In between, I moved to Australia for a few years for my studies and there – I felt as if I had got wings. I could travel in public transport without being groped, wear whatever I felt like and go to places whenever I wanted. Deep inside, I had started believing these incidents would never happen again. Naive, I know.

When I returned to India for a month-long vacation, I had a reality check. As I was getting down at Rajiv Chowk metro station, I saw a man trying to touch me inappropriately. I started shouting and ran after the man but he escaped. I looked around at the indifference of the people and got the feeling as if it was everyday’s scene and no one is bothered. Coincidentally, a friend happened to post on Facebook how a guy tried to grope her and when she started hitting him, people told her not to create a scene. Our society has become immune to such nuisances and it is crushing down our confidence and restricting our movements.

I felt violated and knew that even after 70 years of independence, as a society, we have failed to provide a safe environment. To stand up for what is right. To respect the freedom that we women ought to have.

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