When I was 6 years old, I faintly remember my dad and mom arguing about me going to the society garden to play with my friends, wearing a skirt. My dad said I should wear pants because people stare and pass comments. My mom said I’m a child and it’s going to be okay. This was back in the late ‘90s, and sadly, not much has changed today…
Being born and raised in the northernmost part of Mumbai, life has always been tough – travel to college/work takes most of anyone’s time and I am one of those people. When there’s travel, there are people – lots of them, more men… and when there are men and women together, there’s an occasional look, smile, greeting for people we know OR an odd stare, glare, smirk, yell kinda situation with strangers. Most of us see stuff like this every day but choose to dismiss it or look/talk about it.
Close to 20 years after my narrated incident, an everyday routine for my parents is to scrutinize my outfit and say, hey this is too tight, too short, too open or simply wear a jacket/shawl over it. I have to travel for 3 hours daily to work and back, so this memo comes with it. You may think this is something wrong with my parents and I’m agitated with them, but no. My parents want me to be safe wherever I go. But unfortunately, from the time I get out of my house till I reach work and get back home after that, they’re completely scared/paranoid/all the negative adjectives you can think of. Why? As much as we say that we’ve come a long way from where we used to be years ago, many parts of our country India, are not safe for women.
We, women, get stared at, letched at, people try to touch us inappropriately, call out names – Case in question is when it’s a 15-year-old on a cycle in a crowded place says aye item to me, when I wore a fitted knee-length dress and was taking an auto, at Ghatkopar.
I could go on about more than a dozen of personal stories on the levels to which these nasty, idiotic men have stooped down. But somehow, there are multiple crimes against women, girl children, infants happening everywhere!
You might think you are not the correct target group for this – you don’t do or don’t know people who would do things like this. That 15-year-old boy wouldn’t know to say “item”, if he hasn’t seen someone else say that or if he and his group of friends address all women as “item”. Maybe he overheard, maybe he saw it in a video or there are multiple possibilities. Maybe he has a great household and family who take care of him, but he doesn’t understand that his words and his behaviour could affect someone.
Staying silent doesn’t help—speaking up is important. Speak up when someone in your family says something casually sexist. Call out your friends for their crude remarks. If someone needs support for standing up against something, be that person. Remember that being silent is being complicit, so use your voice where you can—so that next time, someone will think twice before ogling, harassing, or catcalling a woman.