Shock, shame, confusion
I’d never really discussed groping with anyone before. Most of my friends said, “Oh, yes, god, of course. But never in Mumbai.” Well, sadly, the first time I was ever groped at age 13, it happened in Mumbai. Walking home from school, alone, at around four in the afternoon, a young chap reached out his hand in passing and grabbed my breast.
Most all the girls I’ve talked to shared my reaction to the first time it ever happens: shock, shame, the inability to talk about it, a feeling of confusion, and then wondering why I didn’t do something about it.
I got home and showered, refusing to tell my mother why I suddenly felt dirty, I obsessed about it but didn’t tell anyone until the next time, two years later, an old man on a bicycle rode past, feeling me up as he did so.
I immediately gave chase, shouting abuses, but didn’t catch him. It’s the ickiest feeling and the more I speak to people about it, the more widespread the phenomenon seems.
Delhi seems to have the maximum number of miscreant gropers, hands down. Every single girl I know has been groped, pinched, squeezed, caressed, even encountered frotteurism. One friend always carried a safety pin to stick into the hands and arms that snaked their ways to her breasts and her lap. Another has grabbed and bitten a hand that felt her up.
One time, I caught the hand and then refused to let go of it and announced in the crowded bus “whose hand is this?” Quick as lightening the hand was snatched back, and much shuffling around me indicated the fellow had fled.
And daily, we’ve seen men leaning into young girls on buses and trains, intimidating them to the point that they’re cowering with shame.
There are a few things that strike me, though: it’s a class thing. Across age and geography, the men who do this seem uneducated and very repressed. It’s more pervasive in the north, where historically society is more patriarchal and conservative.
I’ve also noticed though, that if you make a noise, you can embarrass the perpetrator into stopping, if not leaving, and that if you do, the public will stand up for you.
But, that doesn’t hold true for the group grope. I’ve luckily escaped that, but one friend tells me of a school trip and how, when exiting from a museum, the girls in their class as well as their 60 years old teacher were surrounded by and systematically, silently groped by a crowd of men. There was no way to reach help.
The whole phenomenon, innocuously called “eve teasing” in India, is such a big problem, there is now a group called Blank Noise raising awareness and resistance.
Read more on how Blank Noise's 'Action heroes' take on India's 'eve teasers'.