I have talked about it to some of my friends and played the scene in my head quite a few times but after watching PINK, I feel I should tell you about the time I was slut-shamed in the ladies compartment of a local train by a woman.
Shoojit Sircar, Aniruddha Roy Chowdhary and Ritesh Shah portrayed the current Indian scenario and the rare case in which three young women emerge victoriously. A male character was cast as the one to rescue Meenal and her friends from the claws of prejudice goes to show that women (like the investigating officer) can be corrupt and men (like Amitabh Bachchan’s character) can be feminists. I feel casting Amitabh Bachchan as the lawyer with a good deal of screentime didn’t cast a shadow on the female protagonists. In fact, AB’s stardom and stellar performance has brought PINK the much-needed limelight and effectively driven home the point.
We blame men for being sexist and for most of them sexism comes across as a very normal and usually household phenomenon. What we refer to as sexism may not be some sort of discrimination to them. It is normal for them to see judge a woman based on a societal mould. Just like most men are taught sexism and patriarchy as a prominent household lesson, most women are fed staples of submissiveness, apology, shame, cowardice and dependency as the ‘Laws of Existence 101’.
Such ideas are so deeply ingrained into our psyche that being apologetic and/or being feudal feels normal. As if we are supposed to be conservative, sexist, prejudiced and dependent.
It was sometime in August when after having lunch with a friend, I boarded a local train from Bidhanagar to Barrackpore. I always try to travel in the ladies’ compartment to avoid the harrowing experience of having my private parts fondled by some stranger without my permission. I was wearing a skirt and a vest. To be honest, I always cover myself when entering areas where I can be harassed for my outfit. I feel that one has to be careful and that this does not make me a hypocrite. However, that day I didn’t. I was in a rush and I skipped wearing my shrug. Well, I was entering the ladies’ compartment and I was safe. I thought I was safe.
There was the usual cacophony of the tens of women returning from work and I stood between the seats waiting for my station to arrive. The cacophony got louder and I noticed a few eyes on me. Two women were arguing and now the tens of eyes were on the three of us. A middle-aged woman found it extremely unethical that I was wearing a skirt and a vest. She felt and voiced that I was inappropriately dressed and such clothes are the reason why women like me get raped/molested/sexually assaulted.
There was only one other woman in the coach who stood up for me. She too was middle-aged and argued that clothes aren’t a license to molest and that the former woman had absolutely no right in shaming an individual who was dressed with responsibility. They argued for quite some time before boarding off at their stations. I could just hear a little bit of the quarrel because I was frozen on my spot. I turned back once and craned my neck to get a look but couldn’t locate the two women. The rest of the time I didn’t move. There was blood rising in my body. On other days, I would have been very angry and certainly given the shamer quite a bit of my mind, but today I froze. The blood rising in my body was not anger. It was the shame. I stood there waiting for Barrackpore to arrive turning red with each passing moment and gripping the steel rod hard so as not to breakdown. My station arrived. I got down and hurriedly wore my shrug to cover my arms. I took an autorickshaw to home and the entire time I kept looking down to cover my chest. That woman got to me.
I have replayed the scene in my head many times trying to mark the people around and especially the woman who stood up for me when I myself couldn’t. If you are reading this, I am glad I have reached you. I couldn’t see you but your words of support will forever resonate with me. I am sorry for I should have been by your side.
I should have been by my side.
When countless judgemental looks piercing through your skin like burning coal overcome your confidence, one can’t help but question – Should I have not worn that? Should I have covered myself? Should I wear it again?
This is about the woman who was so ridden by bigotry that she couldn’t digest my attire. This is about her lessons of shame. There will be people like her.
This is about the woman who stood up for me. The one person who felt that it was necessary to correct the situation and not let it pass as a “this does not concern me” matter. There will be people like her too.
This is about me and my lessons of shame, of slouching so that my breasts aren’t prominent, of pulling close my legs so that my spread isn’t an invitation, of loose garment around the bust, of sleeves, of all the lessons I need to denounce, the lessons I need to re-read and the ones I need to begin with.
While discussing feminism, a beloved friend told me that feminism is a defunct idea and that what women need is the strong hand of a man.
Women don’t need the strong hand of a man. We need a strong head. Our strong head on our strong shoulders. Strong minds to question what has been taught to us for ages and raise effective arguments. Strong hands that write off every prejudiced encounter, every decaying lesson and a voice of NO.