When I was molested

(DISCLAIMER: This post might not be appropriate for all readers!)

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As we were waiting for an auto in front of the Gurgaon’s MGF Metropolitan Mall, my friend from Gurgaon made an unusual remark, “That is the place where they pick up girls.” I wondered what he meant..! When one uses two words “pick up” and “girls” in the same sentence, we presume, boys picking up girls for dates, or even prostitutes. The friend made a serious face and said “For Rape.” As an outsider, I was dumbfounded!

In the same week, I met my lady friend for a dinner in Gurgaon. The male friend offered to drop her at her place. “When she has a car, why does she need to be dropped?” She explained, “I cannot drive alone at midnight in the MG Road.  When the guys see me alone, they chase my car. There have been times when these guys have stopped the car. We cannot take such risks.” Another friend added, “It is safer to park a car on the road than parking lots even in the daylight. The other day, my colleague was returning to her car in the parking lot. She used her automatic key to open the car. Before she entered the car, she noticed a man entering her car with a knife. She was lucky that she managed to run away from there.”

And there are several other stories. National Capital Region (NCR) folk narrate these stories as if these are normal events in day to day life. I always thought they were over-reacting and exaggerating – till I faced my own horror of molestation in New Delhi. I entered the jam-packed metro train in Green Park on an evening in December 2011. Very soon, I realized men staring at me, and moving uncomfortably close towards me. Before I realized what was happening I realized that 4 men were trying to grope me in that crowded train. What was more shocking is that these perverts violated me in front of my husband who was traveling with me. My husband shielded me with his body, and managed to rescue me from their terrifying stares and brazen touch, but I could feel his nervous look. He was helpless, angry and disgusted. Later, I heard him telling his friends, “They could not touch her. They started fondling my ass after that.” While I was lucky that I was with my husband and we managed to get away, I always wonder what if I was alone that day.

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The ominous clouds from that painful night lingered on for days. I retracted fearfully thinking about my father, with whom I often travel worldwide. His fragile frame and impeding agility would not have allowed him to fight away these perverts.  I couldn’t have imagined his pain and helplessness.

Then the notorious Delhi gang rape happened in December 2012, exactly a year after I was molested. When news channels reported the horrific news about a girl being raped in a moving bus, my knee-jerk reaction was, “rape happens in NCR every day.” Somehow we, the docile citizens of India pacify ourselves by saying, “oh this can never happen to us! The girl was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. This cannot happen to me or my family.” But this case was different. When I started reading more about the case, I started realizing how this could have happened to me as well.

Delhi rape case ignited protests across the country! Politicians blamed each other calling the girl a corpse even before she succumbed to her injuries; Delhi cops tried to pass the buck and patted themselves on the shoulder for apprehending suspects who blatantly left trails of evidence behind; media crucified selected politicians or police officers depending on their personal agenda. Nirbhaya fought hard, she wanted to live. She said this to her mother and to the rest of us listening to her spirit each day, but “she” quietly died after multiple organ failure. Her death somehow enlightened Indians, particularly women. A hard-working 23-year medical student, returning home at 9 PM with her male friend could be gang raped in a moving bus in the middle of the nation’s Capital, in a posh suburb, in the midst of heavy traffic.  For the first time, I started visualizing the incident with me as the victim of rape.  I started losing the essence of being a woman!

Until now I had been just like Nirbhaya – I enjoyed going to the evening movie shows, I loved my form fitting dresses, and I loved the flights of freedom my independent life provided me. Not swayed by safety concerns or social constraints laid down by the conservative Indian culture, I was never the one to return home by 7:00 PM. I proudly wore the badge of an international development researcher. I chose to travel to remote areas, and tread difficult terrains to learn about life beyond my comfort zone. But when Nirbhaya was brutally gang-raped in the middle of the city doing what I would normally do, it shattered my independent spirit.

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Today after the death sentence was pronounced for 4 out of the 6 men accused, I felt numb. Nothing has improved for women in India, since this case. The Hindu news recently tweeted “Delhi records 1,121 rape cases in the first eight months of 2013, the highest in the last 13 years.”  1,121 rape cases even after “her” death! Adding insult to injury, Lancet reported that “around one in four men across six countries in Asia and the Pacific have committed rape[1].” This means, every four men I meet, one has potential to rape me.  This fear has crippled my lifestyle. When I go for a dinner with my friends, I make sure I return home by 7-8 PM; I make preparations to avoid rape – I call my husband or my friend to let them know about my location and when I will approximately reach home. When I go to remote Indian villages for my work, I make sure my male colleague is with me; I make preparations to avoid rape – pepper spray, a pocket knife, clothing from head to toe, no eye contact with anyone other than work people. When I go out for late night movie shows; I make preparations to avoid rape – I make sure I am with my husband or some other male, in a car. I am constantly looking behind my shoulder and my heart skips a beat when a stranger looks at me too long. The fear of rape and molestation has imprisoned my spirit.

I still wonder if hanging of these four men change the mindset of other demons who can brutalize a woman and leave her to die on a forsaken street. When the newspaper showed the faces of those rapists in the TV, I closed my eyes. I was too scared to look at those faces. Somehow, I could feel “her” pain once again. When she succumbed to her injuries, her parents lost a daughter and her brothers lost a sister. With her, I lost my sense of safety, and my trust towards men.


[1] Though the study was not conducted in India, I am sure the results would not be too different if India was included.

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22 thoughts on “When I was molested

  1. In solidarity with you and all the women across the border, it is really time for us to show the South Asian men, society and patriarchal power structures that we will not lose ground in the face of their oppression. This is also Pakistan’s shame where when assaulted women are not going to report because they would end up in jails for adultery (inane Hudood Laws from Sharia virus law-constitution dilemma) and many times, the assualted victim ends up being raped again by the police who say “aik dafa tu chale gaye izaat, ab kya hai”. Argh!!!!!!!

    1. Hi, we appreciate your blog and your comments so much. I think that our cultures while rich and amazing have lost the essence of what they really were. They were supposed to provide women the freedoms, opportunities for growth, community support etc so that women could blossom as mothers, teachers etc. What happened to all that? Because of rising crime etc, we constantly tell our girls to stay home and cover up! That can no longer be the solution because crimes against women have surpassed all logical explanations. Sadly, we cannot call out any particular religion or culture in South Asia, each one seems to be failing women in some form. We must take a look at the deep rooted cultural issues and just confront them. You know Kerala in India seems to repeatedly do well on a lot of indicators. It’s mostly because of high literacy rates among women, women having right to parental property…essentially it’s a matriarchal society. I guess that’s the only way left out for South Asian cultures – returning to matriarchal setups 😦

      1. I absolutely agree with you that SOUTH ASIAN regardless of religions is failing its women and for every women related issue we are told to shut up, stay in home, go with brothers, don’t do this and do that listings that never end. Instead of solving problems, the fall is taken by women. Sometimes I feel our culture is actually a culture where women are hated, because this hate manifests in so many forms of VAW within region. Yes, I have been to Kerala, also I met some women activists from Kerala in a forum at Lahore and I totally agree with you. I also feel that instead of reclaiming labeled societies, we must just focus on education,no child marriage reforms and economic empowerment because that way a woman won’t sit around to take a man/societal /family’s oppression and walk out knowing she can get shelter and food through her own money.

  2. I had a similar episode in the Delhi Metro. The difference being, I was alone and dressed up to meet my friends and there was only one guy trying to grope me. I felt helpless and disgusted at the same time.
    You have put beautifully into words what I have been feeling since girls were molested in a pub in Bangalore by members of a certain political party. My spirit has been clawed away from me. There is no male I trust any more. Delhi Metro station incident was just one of the few that I faced.
    Every woman in this country is made to fear men, to follow the norms laid out by them and face retribution if they challenge the patriarchal norms.

    1. Thanks so much Astha for sharing your story. And you are right, we all have multiple such stories. While, changing the mentality around these issues is one thing, I think it’s high time that we women also do the basics to protect ourselves – carrying peppersprays, pocket knives is important, being ready to scream and run is also important. Being ready to fight it out is important. Sad issue is that Nirbhaya tried to do the same 😦 My heart goes out to every woman who has gone through this!

  3. Dear Blogger,

    I have earlier read the article you have posted and it seems the more we try and understand the reasons, rationale, mindset of men the more misogynistic, hateful and vituperative it gets all wrapped under self denial, delusion or just plain insensitivity.
    You would be surprised to know , i have experienced this first hand. Young educated men in India indulging in tricking a prostitute into providing service to a group of his friends. No academic credentials elude them, they are the finest of the society completely disillusioned to how they are actively contributing to the systemic disease.
    Its not the strength of the perpetrators but the weakness of the witness, thats responsible for the form this endemic has taken today.
    The mother knew that her daughter was being molested by her husband but she chose to look the other way because she was too weak to stand up for herself, The boy friend did the same with his girlfriend , if he did not grope girl, he knew his friends did and overlooked it.
    This insensitivity multiplied and now the result stands for all of us to see. The boundaries of whats objectionable and whats acceptable has been severely blurred.
    The correction needs to come from everyone, every second and in every action and every word.
    The social fabric lies shredded and its imperative that women too take cognizance of the fact that they need to fight this war from the fore front.

    1. I actually totally agree with the statements you have made. There are many things going wrong with the social fabric – the divide between the rich and the poor is exponential; the governance structures in many rapidly expanding economies are fragile; and there major issues around gender disparity.

      Education, sensitization and corrective action are key, else we will continue seeing the brazen molestation and rapes happening. The country is being pulled in so many different directions – those who are really western in their approach in their lifestyles (nothing wrong with it), and others who want to live that dream out, but possibly cannot. And I think a lot will just settle down as long as we acknowledge this critical issue, and take active steps to protect our vulnerable – women, children etc.

  4. Over the years i have much to my dismay, eloquently spoken about this grave issue and with shame if i may use the word, i need to accept that while people have their sympathies with all victims fail to notice how they themselves have taken contributed to this endemic.

    1. Freud, in his studies Psychoanalysis , and henceforth almost every major study run on this has uniformly established that Rape was the ultimate form of expression of violence against a woman and much has to do with him trying to excersise control .
    Now the funny thing is that women have been brandished and bracketed since time immemorial into a sphere of having to live under ” cliched ” control mechanism , which to a normal man are seemingly harmless yet contribute deeply in augmenting the essence , that Men by the rule of some unspoken patriarchy have the belief that a particular thing is ” a womans prerogative”
    Just to elucidate this, visit any household across the world and you will find a child to parents ( both working lets assume ) having his set expectations of being, fed, being cleaned, being taken care of by his/her mother. The father with all his love also finds this arrangement a given and the woman is trapped under ” this control ” mechanism by default.

    Rape just happens to be a very grotesque and barbaric form of this control . I am sorry but things have spiralled so out of control that men with all their privileges can no longer take a moral high ground EVEN if they were right. The paradigm has been skewed and tilted heavily against a woman for centuries , Merely treating them equals is not enough.

    So the two points that i am trying to make are, you may not have been a rapist yourself but you have most probably lived all your life with a set of assumptions for the woman in your life mother daughter, sister , wife or lover. The semantics of this needs to change and change now.
    Secondly, while we fight a system that is flawed, the mindset that is corrupt, a society that is insensitive , truth be told, nothing with change with a stroke of the hand. The malaise runs so deep that change needs to come with a complete overhaul of how every single man looks at a woman inside their homes.

    1. Dear Ekagra,

      We really appreciate your comment and honestly the gravity with which men are taking this issue! Often times, it may seem that women vent about these issues, and I don’t want to create a gender divide, but I often don’t sense the same panic about women’s issues in the voice of men. I wonder why that is! Maybe it’s because as women, we have often endured these problems from the time we were 10 or even smaller.

      Definitely the idea is not to paint the entire society (India or Asia) in this case, but Asian cultures have deep patriarchal roots, and frankly, it will take time before we get to the root of this issues. Therefore, I appreciate the concern in your voice. It’s honestly high time, that the entire society thinks about cleaning up these issues!

      I edited this commented, and re-posted, because I just came across this ghastly and shocking finding…and I hope our previous commenter, Harsh will also take time to read this. Can anyone assure me, that this is not a prevalent mentality in sections of the Indian society? I will be shocked, if people still think this is an exaggeration of the truth!

      Report – “Why Some Men in Cambodia Don’t Think Gang Rape is Gang Rape” – http://www.theworld.org/2013/09/why-some-men-in-cambodia-dont-think-gang-rape-is-gang-rape/

      We are trying to generate a dialog here. And we need your insights! Thanks so much!

      1. Vida,
        I am broadly on your side on this whole problem, so my apologies for nit-picking!!
        “Asian cultures have deep patriarchal roots”. I disagree. Geert Hofstede clearly places the United States on a much higher masculinity scale as compared to India. To cite mere anecdotal evidence, where is the female US President?

        My sincere request here would be not to play into the hands of Western commentators and researchers and assume that rape/violence against women is something peculiar to Asian cultures. The problem exists everywhere. If you want some more anecdotal evidence, you can try reading Steig Larsson’s novels based in Sweden. If you dig deeper, and do some serious research on this issue, you will come to know that it is quite a global problem, and not something peculiar to “patriarchal”, Asian males. On a lighter note, there is a reason the US is called Uncle Sam!!

      2. So here is roughly why I don’t agree with the above comments you have made:

        1. There is definitely an issue with the patriarchy in the Asian cultures. There’s a reason why dowry exists till today not only in India, but China, Pakistan, Bangladesh too.
        2. The sex ratio in a India and China for example is nothing to boast of. In fact, our very own Eastern Economist Amartya Sen has highlighted that. Issue becomes way more pronounced when you have India and China comprising 1/3 of the world’s population!
        3. We have had an systematic culture of oppression towards women. Look at any data from around India, I think besides Kerala, there’s hardly anything notable you will find when concerned with a girl’s education, nutrition, life outcomes etc.

        There are just some examples…Now I am not at all implying problem does not exist in some African countries, or European countries etc, but I have lived and worked primarily in Asia and the US, so I can speak of these 2 places more confidently.

        As far as Western cultures are concerned, I always say, no point comparing Eastern and Western because they are different, just plain and simple! In fact, almost everyone in their objective mind has serious issues with the pay difference in men vs. women in the US, issue with political representation of women, rapes in the military and navy.

        This article was about our own personal experience – and not one but I have had countless such experiences. I have lived similar number of years in the US, but so far, haven’t encountered an experience that parallels anything remotely like this. Again not to say, brutal rapes don’t happen in Western countries, or that I there aren’t issues with Western perspective of gender roles!

        Again, thanks a lot for your comment!

  5. I understand your anxieties, but I would suggest taking the Lancet study with a big pinch of salt. The study defines certain categories of violence, and defines sexual violence as follows:

    Sexual violence against an intimate partner (no Chronbach’s α provided because only two questions)

    – Forced partner to have sexual intercourse with you when she did not want to
    – Had sexual intercourse with partner when you knew she didn’t want to but you believed she should agree because she was your wife/partner

    Please note carefully that the word used above was “partner”, and not just any woman on the street. The second sentence is particularly insidious, and having sex with a tired wife can be very well interpreted as “sexual violence” there. Moreover, what does “forcing partner ” mean? Sweet-talking? Putting pressure? Emotional blackmail? The study is not clear.

    The table on the violence statistics follows:

    http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS2214109X13700743/table?tableid=tbl2&tableidtype=table_id&sectionType=red

    I do not see the 25% figure anywhere. Moreover, it takes a real flight of fancy to interpret “sexual violence against an intimate partner” as “rape of any woman”.

    I have an even bigger problem with the “emotional violence” measures, but that is a different story.

    Before you proclaim me as a Neanderthal, please note that I am NOT saying sexual violence on partners is ok. No self-respecting man will even try to approach a woman who is not interested in him. All I am saying is that the devil is in the details of these studies, and you need to carefully check them up before jumping to conclusions.

    I appreciate the anxieties and trauma women have to go through, but the problem with the media is that it takes such studies, twists the meanings, misinterprets the findings, and creates a general fear psychosis among women (and even the men with them) which serves nobody’s purpose. Let us work for a world free of all kinds of violence, but if you start with a belief that one in four men rapes, we will get nowhere.

    1. Dear Harsh,

      Thanks so much for your responses. I think you bring up a very valid point about Intimate Partner Violence highlighted in this study. I would like to just state the following from what I understood, because we are NOT jumping to conclusions here:

      1. The data was self-reported, meaning the men answered. I am assuming prevalence in this case was possibly under-reported (as the study also indicates) and is subject to some amount of noise. I am presuming the IPV was possibly much higher, and if what woman interprets as violent and what a man interprets as violent sexual conduct, is definitely different. Therefore, I don’t think we should take these findings “with a pinch of salt” at all. Studies do indicate and overlap between findings from studies done with women, which at least provides some degree of accuracy.

      2. The study CLEARLY states what intimate partner violence is, and it is definitely not “sweet talking”, gentle pushing or shoving.

      3. RAPE IN MARRIAGE / CO-HABITATION / GIRL FRIEND – BOYFRIEND RELATIONSHIP is RAPE. I wanna put that in ALL CAPS, so that I am not confusing anyone. Any civilized country has laws around it and takes this issue seriously. In fact, it doesn’t not that flight of fantasy to understand what rape is – try asking a woman, or even a man!

      4. Men in relationships with multiple partners, commercial sex workers seem to still have a high prevelance of sexual violence and / or physical violence.

      5. What I do troubling is this finding – “Sexual only IPV perpetration was not associated with gender-inequitable attitudes, but was strongly associated with having multiple sexual partners and engaging in transactional sex. This finding suggests that sexual violence perpetration is indicative of a preoccupation with demonstration of (hetero)sexual performance and sexual dominance over women, and is associated with emotionally detached sex, as suggested by other investigators.” AND “Factors associated with perpetration of sexual IPV seem to be more similar to those associated with non-partner sexual violence than those associated with physical IPV, which suggests that men who use sexual violence might need specific interventions”. The study definitely needs to investigate the behavioral aspects a bit more. When men call a woman a partner, is it a girl they repeatedly rape and have some dependency issue with, or someone they actually have a an emotional / physical relationship with? NOt only that the study clearly indicates these factors influence non-partner outcomes in relationships too.

      6. Study is cross-section, so obviously no one can claim causality, but definitely there are obvious patterns that emerge here and provide sufficient evidence that these findings have to be taken really seriously!

      7. No one is calling anyone a rapist here! Sorry if that’s what came across in the post…definitely not the intention, so we apologize in advance for that. However, to sit back and just think that this is a non-issue and should be taken as a pinch of salt, is also trivilizing an important issue.

      1. Dear Vida,
        My point remains. The study defines sexual violence as:
        – Forced partner to have sexual intercourse with you when she did not want to
        – Had sexual intercourse with partner when you knew she didn’t want to but you believed she should agree because she was your wife/partner

        I still maintain that the statements are pretty ambiguous and open to interpretation. You don’t need a flight of fancy to understand what rape is. Precisely my point again. Ask any man or woman. Again what I want to say is, the word ‘rape’, or even ‘violent sex’ is not mentioned anywhere in the above questions that were asked.

        I have not mentioned anywhere in my comment that rape in intimate relationships is not rape, so I wonder why it is that you need to put that in caps. But I still wish to state that the survey has not asked that question, and even if it has, it has left a whole lot of ambiguities unanswered.

        Again, I brought in the minor point on emotional violence to illustrate this ambiguity. Try using the emotional violence scale to a male-female relationship, and ask the men whether they have faced emotional violence from intimate partners. Many will reply affirmative. Point is, you get answers to the questions you ask.

        On a different note, I am very sure that even the researchers who conducted this study would know the caveats. Again, “to sit back and just think that this is a non-issue and should be taken as a pinch of salt, is also trivilizing an important issue”. I never insinuated anywhere that this is a minor issue, or a non-issue so I wonder where that came from.

        I am not in any way questioning the findings. If you read my comment you will realize I have not questioned the findings anywhere. My point was very simple – one needs to take research (any research) with an understanding of its limitations. Research should not be used to project certain sections of society in an undesirable light. Especially when those sections are relatively powerless. (Yes, the Bangladeshi and other Asian men surveyed are quite powerless compared to the researchers who did the study). Lancet is one of the top-rated international journals, and I am sure that more than anyone else, the researchers themselves would agree to this!

      2. Harsh, as much as I don’t agree with any of what you say (it’s almost like we are reading the same thing and getting 2 different things out of it), I do say that you have very elegantly and respectfully put your points. I really appreciate you stating your case and brining the other perspective to this argument. Thanks for your comment!

  6. This is not the kind of post one “likes” however it is terribly important. I have yet to meet one single woman anywhere in the world where we have had a serious discussion about sexual harassment who hasn’t experienced it in some form or another. However the pervasiveness and acceptance of it in Delhi is incredibly sad. Moving to Mumbai 8 years ago meant I could finally shed the ‘armour’ and constant caution required to get around Delhi. However I’m under no illusion – it happens here too. Thank you for sharing your story. I wish we didn’t all have a story like that.

    1. You are absolutely right, wish there was a “Sad” button we could press upon reading stories like these. We realize this story ended relatively well, though you read countless stories that don’t. I think you are right about the pervasive and the brazen attitude towards molestation, groping and even rape. What bothers us more than anything else is the callous and unsympathetic attitude we have developed towards the survivors (not victims) of rape. People often point the finger to women / girls who are increasingly enjoying their freedoms in public spaces. Honestly, you are right…wish we all didn’t have a story like this to share…but we all do, and that’s very painful to acknowledge!

  7. I feel sorry to see the state of security of women. It is so unfortunate to hear such incidents from the capital city. I have a working sister and a working mother and so would be the case in every household. The criminals themselves will certainly be having mothers and sisters and wives. Still, to hear about crime of such large magnitude is deeply saddening.

  8. I am a woman and i can relate to the pain a woman would feel when she got objected on wearing certain kind of cloths…on behaving in unsteriotyped ways….but let me tell everyone a incident can not cripple the way we live,it may sound like it is easy said than done.But some changes are to be born in our spirit first…like a state of anomy to social scenario have to come.

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