We Are Like That Only


‘That asshole, he whistled at me’ I said to my roommate as I stormed into my apartment in Singapore. I was livid. My blood boiling as I pictured the smug look on his face, over and over again. I didn’t notice him until he whistled. The loud, sharp sound, forcing me out of my absentminded walk back home. Shocked, I turned around and looked at him in disbelief. He licked his lips slowly and laughed. I stood there, bewildered, unsure how to react, until I turned around and walked away as fast as I could. I took a few minutes to recover, realizing how small and helpless I felt. I couldn’t remember the last time someone made me feel that way.

At that point, it dawned on me that this was not the first time it had happened. This was not the first time someone had whistled, remarked or stared at me. I wondered why it bothered me so much now. Why I felt the need to vent to my roommate. Why it triggered such anger within me when I would otherwise have brushed it off. The answer is simple. It wasn’t India.

In India, there are two kinds of harassment, the unacceptable and the acceptable.
It all boils down to one question. Did he touch you?
Then deal with it. Being angry isn’t an option. You know the drill. You’ve done it a million times before. Keep your eyes on the ground and keep walking. Unless you’ve been groped, pinched or cornered, you have not been harassed. You are not entitled to feeling violated. It happens to everyone. You’re creating a scene about nothing.
He was only looking. 

I realize that on the bustling streets of India, the same episode would never have occurred to me as harassment. I would have simply walked past him, eyes on the ground, subconsciously quickening my pace till I was at a safe distance. It wouldn’t make my blood boil, ruin my day or trigger a furious rant. In fact, chances are I won’t even remember it an hour hence.

It takes a lot more to scare an Indian woman.
Lewd comments, lusty gazes and loud singing. We’re immune to it. We’ve accepted it with the same way we’ve accepted the discomfort that comes with the morning alarm, the random power cuts, the summer heat. Just another inevitable part of the day.
We’ve been conditioned to endure harassment for as long as we can remember. “Wear something proper”, “Best not to invite trouble”, “Prevention is better than cure” are mantras that have been passed on by generations of Indian women to their daughters. We’ve been taught to avoid lonely roads, large groups of men and unfamiliar areas. We look over our shoulders as we walk, stay on the ‘ladies’ side of buses and pull our dupattas over our chests on busy streets without even realizing it. It runs in our veins. It dawned on me that for the first 18 years of my life, I simply thought being teased was normal. That we have been taught to ignore, accept and endure it for so long, we no longer feel the inclination to act on it.

I realize how radically, just 2 years away from home, has heightened my sensitivity to behavior that I would otherwise never have noticed. That the natural reaction to being harassed is not to be numb, indifferent and accepting. That being humiliated, objectified and disrespected is not just another part of the day.  That if nothing else, I deserve to be angry, shed tears or atleast acknowledge that I have been wronged.

Or is the right to feel violated, a privilege too?

22 thoughts on “We Are Like That Only

  1. Its quite sad and disturbing that we’ve become immune to harassment of any sort in this country. This would only make things worse, not better. I dunno when the mindset shift will ever happen in our country.

  2. I think in light of the recent news of gang rapes making worldwide bulletins, there is (finally) more awareness and justly more anger about harassment. Women, especially Indian women, are more in time with our right to exist as humans alongside men, and to not be viewed as sub-humans/animals/possessions any longer. It is now more clear than ever that harassment should not be an accepted aspect of daily living. It is disgusting behavior and therm who behave this way were poorly raised.

  3. You write so well and it froced me to leave a reply…..I opinioned that……If you feel harassed by any activity, any action, do not think about law or how it takes or understands it………. Just take the action at the same time what ever comes in your mind……then whole world understand its a harassment otherwise everybody takes as a fun.

  4. Ok with you if I re-blog this.. as i really felt this is true. We are so used to the harrassment that its part of daily life and we dont even bat an eyelid for such treatment.

  5. I can so relate to each point… How much ever I hate to stereotype Indian woman… But ignoring such instances have been bred in us! The art of practicing this since we were born has made us pretty perfect in pretending that “it’s OK”

  6. Brilliantly written…..it echoes the sentiments of every Indian woman ……this is trickling down from generations..I mean the way we are taught to react rather not react to such harassment. I must be a generation older to you but we too when young behaved in the same way. So many things have changed….we have moved forward but this typical behavior and our reactions to it remains same. What a pertinent question you raised……..no feeling violated and expressing ourselves can’t be a privilege….it’s our right…

  7. “Lewd comments, lusty gazes and loud singing. We’re immune to it.”

    Sadly, this is so true. Not an Indian but still so familiar to whatever you have written.

  8. Sadly, what you say about India is so true. And “pull our dupattas over our chests on busy streets without even realizing it” stands true for many sub-conscious actions like locked fists, prayer in the mind and looking frantically for a “safe zone”. Very nicely written!

  9. Pingback: What’s up in Singapore today 2014-07-07 | Shohk.com

  10. Reblogged this on Hot cup of Kaapi and commented:
    i came across this interesting post about eve-teasing. And as rightfully, the author says here, we are so used to it, that we are not even giving it a thought. And the perpertrators are getting away with it.

  11. Pingback: Is the Right to Feel Violated a Privilege? - Brown Girl Magazine

  12. Hauntingly true. I felt sheepish,outraged, and amused all at the same time. Brilliant writing.

  13. Pingback: We Are Like That Only | dfuse.in

  14. “All this” definitely isn’t normal and “prevention is better than cure” can’t always be the way of life. Thanks for speaking up and spreading the word. You don’t always come across people who are willing to be frank and who put it as it is.

  15. Am I normal? Being an Indian Male, I often ask myself this question. I have never whistled at a woman / girl even in the movies, never pinched, jostled, groped or fondled, although I have heard many a horror story from friends and a ‘few’ tales of accomplishments as well….
    What is it that makes the Indian male behave the way he does? Air-hostesses in almost any airline cringe at the thought of him, female waiters, bar tenders, women on the street, you name it and they hate Indian men…
    Why are we like this, I have tried every answer, both rational and irrational, but it still does not add up 😦

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