My first and only experience with Delhi was not good. I was 15, just fresh from my Board exams, on jaunt through Himachal Pradesh, Punjab (oh, birth state) and Delhi. We’d clambered on to the Rajdhani Express – my mom, great uncle and aunt and I – in Mumbai and we had found ourselves, a day later, in Hazrat Nizamuddin.
And I felt eyes on me. I looked around and saw a man leering at me, gesturing. I cringed and moved back, trying to break eye contact and feeling just a bit disturbed.
I was, after all, a salwar-kameez wearing, very sheltered and nice little Kerala girl, who (perish forbid) did not even take buses in her home town or venture out alone (or with friends) after 4:30 PM. I did not know how to deal with this.
Then we came from Chandigarh to New Delhi railway station one night. We found ourselves on the wrong side of the station and then attracted the largest crowd of men I had ever found myself in. Around 15 men surrounded us, sensing that we were not the typical Delhiites they were used to seeing. I kept saying, “Please chale jaao” to them in a kind of litany, hoping they would leave.
But they didn’t and they pressed closer and closer, groping a 15 year old girl in front of their guardians. I simultaneously lost all trust in Delhi as a city and my wide-eyed small town girl naiveté that day.
Walk with your head down. Don’t make eye contact with the boys at the junction. Pretend to not hear what they are saying. Walk with your head down…
Life in Kerala 70 years ago was different. We come from a matrilineal society, from a culture of tolerance fostered by the Nair-Nasrani-Mapilla amalgamation, where education is prized beyond all and which was not always tainted by the effects of (No, not the West) North India.
We contemptuously dismiss the Northies, yet post-Independence, the Malayalees pounced on that disturbing habit of dowry. The bride’s family pays for the 100-sovereign bedecked Malayalee Manga and for the boy’s fragile ego.
Make no mistake, the Malayalee man has a fragile ego. It must be nurtured like the bright little flower it is not. I had no intention to do it when I was young, and I have none now.
There was no phrase I hated more from my well-meaning mother than, “… but you are a girl…” My answer, then and now, is the same. “So?”
But I did learn to walk with my head down.
Everyone knows this. Everyone knows women are not treated the same as the ones blessed with a Y chromosome.
You can agitate all you want on Facebook, around India Gate, and vent to your heart’s frustration on your blogs (how ironic, Shruti). Unless the Indian attitude towards women changes from “… but you are a girl” to “of course, you can do it”, there will be more atrocities against women. And ultimately, there will be indifference.
India, it’s time for your sexual (wait, well brought up Indian women don’t use the S word)… gender revolution.