June 27th, 2017
I am a 25-year-old girl from Arunachal Pradesh and I have been living in Delhi for quite some time now. On 18 June, I had gone to meet my friends at a hotel in Delhi. My friends (one male and one female) were guests at the hotel so they had asked me to join them for dinner as they were to leave for their respective states the next day. As we all made an exit out of the lift to the second floor of the hotel where their room was, three men (I found out later were also guests of the same hotel), while making their way into the same lift, passed a remark that turned what would be our happy farewell night into an appalling nightmare. One of them scorned, saying, “How much/what’s the rate?”
By then all of us were almost in our room but that statement froze me, I couldn’t move an inch. I was just bewildered. I couldn’t do anything. I hurried back and stopped the lift before it shut. On confronting them, I realised that they were inebriated: they were super drunk. They were making silly arguments now and wouldn’t acknowledge my charges. One of the men said, “I was talking on phone and asking about rate!”. Seriously? By this time all my friends were there and we ended up having a little scuffle. I seized the man’s phone and threw it hard on the floor. I saw he got mad at that. But the phone was fine, nothing happened.
They left. We left for our rooms too. Things weren’t normal: we were startled and frightened of the ordeal that had just transpired in the hotel. And then we received a call from the reception demanding us to get downstairs and apologise for ‘misbehaving’ with the guests. According to the three miscreants, “the girls misbehaved and threw the phone”. The management didn’t even attempt to enquire as to what had happened in the lift; rather, their assumption was that I, as a late visitor, was questionable. Was I? However, we decided to answer these people as we knew we had nothing to lose. On reaching the front desk, we saw those three drunk guests, standing with persuasion, as though they were innocent, teaming up with the hotel management (it looked like, to us) – almost 7 to 8 of the staffs, all of them men. The occurrence of the event was now horrendous for my friends and I because they were all men, trying to tell us that we were wrong and having ‘girls’ over at night was dubious. Especially with their prejudices and attitude towards me, it was extremely distinct of what they thought about me – a ‘loose’ girl – my looks said it all, yellow and small eyes! (Although I was in my formals, clothing have never been an inducement, have they?)
What’s even more petrifying about the night was that one of the staff members was found to be drunk during duty hours. He was awfully ill-behaved and racist. He started questioning me and my identity. I know that all visitors must provide their ID proofs, and I have no problem with giving one. But why check now and not when I made an entry into their property? But he thought it was his ‘duty’ now, when three men deemed it was their right to question my presence at the hotel at this hour. Or was it because I wounded their masculine self/mardangi that was even more fragile than their phone! The atmosphere was sweltering; we were all screaming (my friends and I) while they kept distressing us. I gave my ID – I had my student ID from JNU – which they refused and said, “Yeh to nakli ID hain, Asli wala dikhawo.” (“This is a fake ID, show me a real one.”)
Meanwhile, one of the guests who misbehaved with us started to record us with his phone. He also took couple of pictures. My friend was fast to act on that and deleted them. While all this drama was unfolding, the hotel staff kept watching or rather were participants to this nuisance. I lost my mind and I demanded to call the police, to which one of the staff pleaded with me to talk to the manager first. He dialled the manager’s number, I apprised him of the situation. He said he was sorry and assured me that he would act against those guests. He added that he was going to ask them to vacate now. But I demanded an apology from the hotel staff as well. He said that we should talk about it in the morning.
Now it was already 12 AM and none of us were normal. I was traumatised and so were my friends, one of my friends who wasn’t from Delhi kept apologising for the ordeal saying how sorry he was that we, women from the other side of the country, had to go through this nightmare. This wasn’t the first time that somebody had made me feel so uncomfortable with such interrogations. Many of us ignore and choose to not act. I also had the same tendency. That night, after few minutes of discussion in the hotel room, I rushed back to my hostel room because I needed to reflect – or rather to come to terms with what had just happened. I am sure my friends were dealing with theirs. I came back, struggled to sleep. I kept reasoning if I should take legal action on this or should I let it go like everyone else? I couldn’t find an answer. I slept at 6 in the morning though it was Monday. I didn’t read my paper, my books, I didn’t even eat lunch and avoided all calls and texts. I guess I was trying to evade reality. I kept sleeping.
It was only Tuesday morning, when I had reasoned over it well, that I called up few of my friends and re-counted the ordeals. They were supportive and said I must file a complaint, while there were few of them who said, “Are you sure?” Yes, I was! My male friend (who was the guest at the hotel) called the hotel manager and queried what actions were taken after that night. He said the guests were out and that the staffs were apologetic about what had happened that night. He also said, a ‘warning’ had been given to the drunk staff as a measure.
I was clearly not okay with the warning! A warning is all he gets? This man was drunk on duty, he insulted my friends and me, he particularly discriminated against me on the grounds of my race and outraged my modesty as a woman, I wasn’t going to shut up. I told them, I am seeking for an apology letter from the hotel and particularly Mr. Gaurav. I stated they had only 24 hours to do so or an FIR would be registered for perusal. The manager was nonchalant about it. He said, “An ultimatum is all I can give,” and that there was nothing else that he could do. I reminded him again that he had 24 hours and that everything must come in written and when they are ready they can call me to get my email ID.
On not receiving any calls or messages from the hotel, I filed a complaint with the North-East Help Line (1094) and the Delhi Police at the Safdarjung Police Station on the 21st of June (under section 153C and 50A). The police took a good two hours to file the complaint as the police in charge hadn’t showed up yet. They said the rain was responsible. Anyway, I shared the particulars of the night. The police officer was helpful and empathised with the situation (as though this happens on an almost regular basis) and he asserted that these people ought to be taught a lesson.
That is exactly what I wanted to do! I wasn’t trying to change the world! I knew this little act of mine could stir up their consciousness and prevent them (in the future) from being racist and perhaps will control their intolerance next time they see a woman late at night, be it at their hotel or elsewhere – especially a woman from North-Eastern India. I am not sure if demanding an apology would ease things off but I know I have done my bit in educating them. After the police intervened, the Manager called me with a repentant tone, saying how sorry he was to not have acted promptly and expressed his regrets. He said, “We all will apologise again, through a written letter.” I was happy to have heard the news. However, I am not sure, if he meant it. God bless him if he did, god bless him anyway.
Through this event all I am trying to share with the readers is how we as the ‘secondary gender’ are always at the receiving end: we are constantly judged, every day, on account of our face, our dress and our timings. If we are out at night, our characters are commanded for a litmus test. Why? Why won’t you do it for the men wandering at night too? I am amazed at how the hotel management did not question those drunk guests and their morality when they asked for my ‘price’ – but instead, I was called to apologise. You see there? This parochial-patriarch arrangement is dangerous, it makes one believe that men are perennially right. And it is worse if these types of men breathe bigotry. I was wondering today, had I been drunk and was I sporting ‘revealing’ clothes, would the events have a happy ending as today?
To conclude, the last number on my received call was from the North-East Help Line around 10 pm. The man on the phone probed, “Are you happy with the action taken and the result?” I was glad for the call, it felt like the country cared about me, yet I was low-spirited. I asked myself, was there anything else I wanted or rather, was there anything else that I could do? No. India, as a tangible idea of nation-state is beautiful yet unattainable; none of us look alike or share the same tongue, food or music. All we can do is make our lives a lot easier to live by reading about one another and most importantly by respecting each other’s space. But most vividly, by speaking and standing for each other when you witness something wrong. It is only in accepting our similarities and celebrating our differences that we will achieve the nation that is India.
– Ngurang Reena
The hotel later sent an apology letter to Ngurang Reena.
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