I walked to my yoga class on a beautiful Monday morning in July – but the first hour of my day can’t go by without a pinch of patriarchy and a dash of lechery. A non-descript man is staring at me. Nothing new in Delhi. But it’s irritating, you know? Some days, I can ignore this and other days… I ask him, “kya dekh rahe ho?” (what are you looking at?). Sometimes, it’s just fun to watch men react to this question – he stared at me like a student who’s been cold-called by a teacher, as if he was racking his brain for something to justify his behaviour. Believe me, this reaction is pretty much the best. I once had a man tell me, “toh kya hua? Chhoo toh nahi raha na!” (so what? it’s not like I’m touching you!).
I am exhausted by the patriarchy. I want to scream at my uncles that my body and my marital status is none of their business. I feel obligated to clarify to people like Manik Mahna that I do not hate men, but men exhaust me and, more importantly, they terrify me.
The next day, I attended Comedy Night at Summerhouse Café in Delhi. A female friend who was performing as a stand-up comedian at Summer House pointed me out as a feminist during her act – it was funny, we laughed, but the inevitable happened – feminism was used against us, like a slur. Manik Mahna, a seemingly well-known comedian (and the host for the event) followed her act and spent his time on stage targeting me and other feminists.
After telling us that we feminists just don’t have a sense of humour, he admitted that he can’t even make us happy with some jokes that target men. For context, he distanced himself from the very notion of feminism because you see, he believes in equal rights. I’m guessing his co-curricular activities don’t involve basic research on google. But here’s the icing on his sexist cake – he believed that he was disadvantaged that night, that he needed special rights and protection because, according to his calculations, the audience was predominantly female. He is a minority, he said. He is a victim, he said. For the sake of completeness, I will add this – an hour later, he slapped my shoulder and said, in passing, “hey, I was just being ironic” and walked away. No apology, no discussion.
Last month, I was on my way to Gurgaon from Delhi to watch Kunal Kamra’s “Fresher Thoughts” with five friends. At a traffic signal, I noticed three men in an Audi Q7 staring at me. Similar to most Indian men, they were unabashed and relentless. When I gesticulated and questioned their “right to stare”, they, along with three more men, stomped out of their vehicle, surrounded our cab and threatened to attack us, because how could I, a woman, tell them to fuck off. This in itself was a terrifying experience, but oddly not the most frustrating experience of the evening.
While these men were literally in our faces and threatening to attack us, I called 1091 (the women’s helpline) but I was told that Gurgaon is not their jurisdiction and I must instead contact the Gurgaon police. I immediately checked the website of the Gurgaon police only to see that 1091 is listed as a helpline for women in Gurgaon. Frustrated and anxious, I called 1091 again but was told the same thing – “madam, please call the Gurgaon police; we cannot handle these complaints“. Given that I had the luxury of time, I called the Gurgaon police control room, but they didn’t answer.
I walk to and from my car with my pepper spray clutched tightly in my hand. And I know that when something happens to me, my uncles will ask, what were you doing, what were you wearing, why were you out at that time, why did you engage?
I’d like to believe that people who have had the privilege to go to school and university are better. They’re educated, so they must believe in feminism right? I have five uncles – most of them went to IIT (supposedly India’s best engineering school), so I am entitled to expect more from them. At every family gathering, do they disappoint and how! All my aunts and mother end up in the kitchen or serving food in the living room due to some deeply ingrained patriarchal sense of obligation while all my uncles demand that food, drinks and cutlery be brought to them and then comment on my weight or say, “abhi tak shaadi nahi hui?” (you’re still not married?). Then my family wonders why I don’t show up at family gatherings.
I am exhausted by the patriarchy. I want to scream at my uncles that my body and my marital status is none of their business. I feel obligated to clarify to people like Manik Mahna that I do not hate men, but men exhaust me and, more importantly, they terrify me. I live and breathe in fear. I drive to work and I see men from other vehicles staring at me and objectifying me. I walk to and from my car with my pepper spray clutched tightly in my hand. And I know that when something happens to me, my uncles will ask, what were you doing, what were you wearing, why were you out at that time, why did you engage?
I am not free and the next time that I’m in trouble, will I even make the effort to call 1091? What’s the point? Will they make excuses? What do you do when 1091 is a number that you’ve recited to yourself over and over with the hope that you’ll be okay, and now it’s the only number that you can remember in times of desperation and fear? Will they ensure that I am safe, transfer my complaint to the appropriate jurisdiction, do something?
Featured Image Source: The Daily Star