Five Years Since Nirbhaya:
It’s been more than five years since the brutal gang-rape and murder of a 23-year-old paramedic student shook the country on December 16, 2012. Has India change since then? Or did Delhi change? Delhi – the city they call as rape capital of India. Today, I will take you through a secret mission I was engaged in for the past one week.
So, I created a fake ID and joined a few chat rooms. Needless to say, I was flooded with tonnes and tonnes of chat requests. I spoke through many identities. First, I acted as a 25-year-old married woman who works at a beauty parlour. My husband works in a shop as an assistant and we live with our in-laws. We are married for three years with no children. My husband is also 25 years old. Every chat Id had a location. I always chose someone from the national capital region (NCR) or that is what they said.
So, this is how it panned out. Once they know my age and profession, they asked if I work only with women or men too. When I say I work in a unisex salon, they ask if I have had sex with men. The most common question they ask is if men get aroused when I cut their hair. The next question was if I know about the women who come to the salon. When I say no, they ask that if they are regular visitors, I must be knowing if they are having extra-marital affairs because once a woman turns 30, her husband loses interest in her.
Post this, I ask them to add me on Gchat (again a fake ID). Here is what happens. The moment you give out your Gmail ID, they will first say a "hi" and in no time they will keep calling you continuously on messenger. When I ask why they are calling, because I have not asked to call, they say, “Baat karni hai, tujhse, call utha aur baat kar".
Here is the thing; they have no concept of boundary or consent in such case. None, I repeat none. They asked me if they could call. But they would still call insistently. And, I am expected to talk. Like public spaces, chat rooms have fewer women. So, if you are there, you are asking for it. It might be on a virtual platform, though, but things are no different in real life too. Also, it’s easier to intrude because they are anonymous. But the behaviour only reflects that if a woman is in a public space, where men move around with impunity, “she is asking for it”. Is it not the same mentality that Nirbhaya’s rapists had?
Also, because I gave them my Gmail ID, I got calls at 3 am too. Thank God, I put my phone on silent when I sleep. If I talk past 9 pm, I will be surely asked to talk to them, because it’s late night, I must be wanting it all. When I refuse, they call and when I don’t pick, they call me “prostitute”. I, in fact, lost counts of the times I have been called “whore”, because I refused to talk. If you have given out your ID, "no" is not an answer they would accept.
Here is another interesting thing, when I say I am 25 and married for three years, without children, they ask why I don't have children. I reply, its because we don’t want now. Here are the two common reactions I get. First, they ask if either of us has issues (read impotency). Second, if I just want to enjoy life without kids. This is what they say, “Maje le rahi hai, bachche kar le baad main enjoy karna.” The thing is that women still are baby-makers. Otherwise, she is just a lustrous woman having fun out there. These chats absolutely tick all the identities patriarchy has put women under for centuries.
Also, I am asked how many men I am talking with, as I am talking to one. Then they ask if I enjoy touching men during the haircut sessions. Do I meet them in private? And one of the most common questions I have been asked is how many real male organs I have seen and which was the best I have enjoyed. When I say, I have only been with my husband, they say in disbelief that because I work in close proximity to men, I must have experienced many sexual encounters. As patriarchy says, “A woman in public space should not ever be believed,” nothing I said mattered. I was amazed at the conviction they spoke with.
After making calls, they ask for my picture and phone number. As if I owe them anything they ask for just because I gave them my Gmail ID. None, I repeat, none could understand why I would refuse. "No" was not an answer they could comprehend. But mark it, I never called or asked for any personal details. They say, you are talking to me, so you must be badly wanting what I am asking you to do. Also, asking for my address was very common. It just made me think of the number of stalking and acid attacks that goes around in this country. For "no" is not an answer so many men can still understand. Despite my repeated explanation to them, none I could explain my "no".
Next, I also tried to change my identity to a 35-year-old married woman and another as a single woman of 29, the questions remained almost the same.
I kept talking, I kept blocking. And, they would add me from another id. Until, I deleted my account. It has been more than five years since that horrific December 16 of 2012, I wonder if things have changed. The statistics of sexual abuse keep rising, each incident with more and more horrific details. The only change that I see now is that women and many men are gradually speaking up. More and more women are speaking up about harassment and abuse. A decade back when I was in the university, a rape was reported. We staged protests. But I was not comfortable talking about it to my family in the living room. We just watched Saas bhi kabhi Bahu thi. I pretended for many years that I knew nothing about it and that it never happened. But now I can. My cousins as young as 15 speak up, in living rooms, at the dinner table. They don’t just dumbly watch a serial like I did, frustrated of not being able to speak up. They don’t need my validation. They trust their voices.
This is one hope I have. In the rising voices of young women and men, I see a change. I see in poetry sessions how young girls speak, without fear. And, that is where my only hope lies.
Rest, living in Delhi, where men walk with absolute impunity, and women wearing invisible cloaks of intense vigilance. We look around when we are in public spaces. There is nothing called a carefree woman in this city. But there are women, who are speaking up and their number is rising, and one day, I hope they rise so high and clear that our "No" is taken as an answer. That is the only hope, I and many others like me, live with each day.
Rest in power, Nirbhaya.