The green-yellow fields beyond Tribhuvan University waved at me, beckoning me to come closer, admire them, and take a picture against the clear blue sky. The picturesque terraces were a little out of my favourite route, but that afternoon, I made an exception.
Instead of turning around from Nepal Bank, I walked on, ears full of music, heart completely at peace. The road curved downward, and my steps led me on towards Balkhu. A little ahead, there was a slight bend in the path, with a motorcycle parked in the shade. A man got off the bike and walked towards me. I took almost no notice of him, even as my eyes involuntarily took in his blue helmet and his bright red windcheater highlighted against the greenery. As we both came almost face-to-face, I saw his hands hovering around the waist, and assumed he had stopped to take a leak.
I (just like any other person in this country) have passed by innumerable men peeing openly on the streets and at the side of walls, feeling nothing but a familiar disgust. However, this time, I felt distinctly uneasy. I know now that it was my instinct warning me, cautioning me to beware. The next moment, the man had pushed down his shorts, then his underwear, and turned towards me.
It happened in a fraction of a second—I saw him out of the corner of my eye. My hands went cold, my body tensed up. “He’s flashing me,” was my only thought, “he might come closer, and I need to get away quick.” Before I reached the bend, I had already seen what he could not—four bahinis approaching from the other side. I rushed towards them, told them about the flasher. But as I turned around, he was nowhere to be seen.
“He ran into the bushes, didi,” said a girl in a kurta, “What a shameless fellow, just last month a guy did the same thing to me and my friend.” He had probably hastened to hide in the thick foliage behind the Bank. For a while we followed his eye-catching jacket, and then he disappeared.
I took the helmet off his bike, intending to throw it away at the first dustbin I found. As we were making our way back the same path I’d come, a man hurried down.
“Where are you taking my helmet?” he asked, his eyes huge, tone accusing.
“Is it yours?” I asked. This man had no jacket, though he was wearing similar shorts, and carried a bag like the man who had flashed me had.
“Yes, yes. Have you taken my keys, too? Come with me, I need to check if you’ve taken my keys.”
“Why would I take your keys?” I said, “There was someone harassing us, so…”
This guy snatched the helmet from my hand, ran to his bike and rushed away. It was then that it struck us—the flasher had slithered from the bushes to the main road, stuffed his jacket into his bag, then returned the opposite way. He’d not even had time to remove his keys from the ignition, leaving his bike behind on a much-frequented public road.
His face is etched on my mind. A man in his mid-30s, probably working for an NGO or running a business, likely a darling son, brother, husband. When he got back, he must have plunged headlong into preparations for Bhai Tika, just like I did.
This phenomenon scares me, nauseates me, enrages me. That a person can so casually invade someone else’s privacy, their peace of mind, their sanctity, and go back to assuming a normal, friendly, pious self. Even more frightening is the fact that there are thousands more like him around us at this very moment, in the roles of uncles and neighbours, cousins and best friends. Some of them, I’m sure, have even marched along in women’s rallies, written on gender equality, worn t-shirts saying ‘This is what a feminist looks like.’ While all along they are just slithering around in their cocoons, planning how best to attack the next woman, revealing their true selves to an unsuspecting victim.
If this had happened a few years ago, I would have felt filthy, debauched. But this time, I went straight home to talk to my sisters and friends. “I remember such perverts all through my school life,” said a friend, “I thought they didn’t exist anymore.” No, I realised, we had just learned to take care of ourselves better. All of us avoided public transport, travelled in groups, conducted security checks beforehand. The perverts still lurked out there, perhaps in larger numbers than ever before.
Anytime my thoughts meandered back to them, my body trembled and shivered in fury. I was unable to take a walk for a few days and once I resumed, I did not dare plug in my earphones. I was terrified that a man would slide up behind me without me hearing him. While earlier I had learned to dismiss men’s catcalls and leers, they now made me fearful. I was petrified that the look would turn into a touch, that a man walking by innocently would suddenly lunge at me and I would freeze, just like that afternoon beside the fields. If five seconds of sexual harassment can do this to a woman—rob her of her confidence and poise—imagine the harm five minutes can do, the level of destruction five years can cause.
But enough of our stories, the same complaints of harassment and abuse that have been repeated so often, that they have lost all sensitivity. Just this week, we plastered social media with #MeToo, recounting hundreds of thousands of accounts of assaults, abuses and humiliations. Almost every woman has spoken about being violated, but none of us personally claim to know the perpetrators. Where do the assailants crop up from, then? Are they all unknown monsters that do not belong to this society?
The truth is, they are in our homes, schools, offices, the marketplace, roads—perhaps in ourselves? It is high time we named them, brought them out into the open, turned the blame on them, instead of the victims. The victim is always on the spotlight, she has to relive her story, be judged for it while the assailant becomes part of the mob telling her to “stay home, not go out after dark, dress modestly and not make eye contact.”
So the next time a girl gathers enough courage to share her story, don’t just be an armchair philosopher, commenting, “But what was she wearing? What time was it? Why was she out alone? If she was attacked, why didn’t she shout for help? For all her talk, why didn’t she kick him in the crotch?”
Stop. The victim did not cause the incident, the assaulter did. We women are actually not even asking for much, just that everyone recognises the enormity of this phenomenon of sexual assault and harassment and learns to acknowledge that it is the perpetrator who must be stopped and punished, never the victim.
We have done our part, we have told our honest stories, have come together to raise our voices and start our fights, isn’t it time you joined in? Yes, you. You too.Published: 2017-10-28 08:36:27