When I reminisce about my childhood, it is filled with pleasant memories, a loving family, and a sound and secure place I could call home. We grew up without phones and technology and playing outdoors was a luxury we could afford, unlike this generation. I was encouraged to be independent and go out alone for any work or meet friends, go to their houses or outings. I enjoyed a lot of freedom. Freedom which I haven’t been able to give to my daughter though. Because this freedom came with a price.
Groping, catcalling, eve teased, flashed at are some things which came along with being a woman who could roam freely on the streets. Oh, how many times such incidents happened to me. Even though these were more than 25 years ago I can still recall them with the same goosebumps and chill I felt then.
Going to theatres meant that somebody will surely feel you from behind while exiting in the crowd. Traveling in crowded buses and trains meant men rubbing their private parts from behind you. Walking in the streets meant being cat-called or being followed by some creepy pervert. Flashing their private parts at women would be someone’s fetish. As a young girl, I don’t have to tell how each incident left me feeling- dirty, disgusted, scared, nauseated. Every time. Their touch on my chest would remain for days. That hand that crept from behind between my legs and grabbed me would leave me traumatized for weeks together. It was a violation of my body. Yet I did not know whom to tell this to. Because I felt shameful. I don’t know why. I felt that part of it was my fault somehow.
I started becoming an overcautious and hypervigilant person. While walking on the streets I would make sure that I would cross my chest with my hands if I saw any man coming from the opposite direction so he wouldn’t grab them or brush against them and go. I would cover my butt with my handbag while walking out of crowded places to avoid giving a chance to any pervert to grope me from behind. These were the coping mechanisms I came up with before I became bold enough to bring such men to task by confronting them or calling them out in the crowd.
But when I had a daughter, I decided that I would never let this happen to her ever. She will never go through what I went through. Never would I let her go out anywhere in the first place to even let this happen to her. She has never traveled on public transport. I have never let her go alone even to the grocery store by herself. When we go to a movie or a mall, I make sure I walk behind her so no one will have a chance to touch her. I constantly watch out for any boys or men who would be checking her out or tease her. That\s how overprotective I am. I am constantly telling her what to wear and what not to because I know how those men in the streets can be- they can undress you with their eyes and make you feel naked even if you are in a burkha.
Now that she is a teenager our arguments are always surrounding her dressing style or freedom and independence. My policing makes her think I am old fashioned and I don’t trust her, but no. I don’t want her to experience what I have. I don’t want anyone touching her or violating her body in any way which would make her feel traumatized as it did to me.
I wish she would understand this. I wish she knew how it feels like to have a piece of your heart walking outside your body- You would do everything in your power to protect it from harm right?
The everyday numbers in rapes, sexual harassment cases, and the killing of minors haven’t help me change. The recent judgments which were passed by the Maharashtra Lady Judge where she said that no skin to skin contact does not amount to sexual harassment had me burning with rage. I wish I could tell her how it felt. I wish I could tell her how this affected me as a mother of a daughter. I wish I could tell her how scared parents of girls feel while sending their kids to schools, colleges, and work. Why do many parents put pressure on their kids to dress in a certain way is because when a sick society and a weak judiciary will not help us to protect our children, so we tend to think layers of clothes might help. Maybe asking them to dress down will not attract the eyes of the predators?
But deep inside we also know that that’s not true either. Rapists will rape. Eve teasers will tease. Molesters will molest. It has nothing to do with the dress, time of the day, or place. They will do it at home, on the streets, in public places, anywhere they can Because they know they will get away. Because being a woman is a punishment by itself.
So until then, I will continue to be the mother my daughter dislikes for all the policing I do. A mother who asks her to cover herself, a mother who won’t let her travel alone, a mother who wants her home before dark. Just another helpless overprotective mother.