Friends, thank you. Your solidarity and support indicates once again that there are still wonderful people in our society who think public places are also for women. It is particularly reassuring after my experience of assault at the petrol pump yesterday morning and the absolutely horrific incident of molestation in Bangalore on New Year’s day.
A section of our society does think that women should not be out in a public place, whatever be the time of the day and by doing so, she invites an assault. Take what happened with me yesterday morning. The sheer apathy is a simple reminder of what is seen as acceptable. Being dragged down at a petrol bay by a man in a vehicle – who was clearly on the wrong, then abused, slapped and punched repeatedly was taken as just another ordinary event at the petrol pump. After the man had left as easily as he came in, the agents went about refueling and cars speed away, reflecting a disturbing ordinariness, even as I was left alone to gather my phone, smashed spectacles and call the police. But why? There are some explanations, which makes me seethe with anger, for it reflects a very sick society, where violence against women is normalized and sanctioned by words, relationships and actions.
The attacker called me a whore after I pulled him down by keeping a hold over my bag. When he repeatedly abused, I responded by trying to unhood him, after which he asked me to recognize him, promised to settle scores and followed it up with punches. But for the bystanders it was all sanctioned. It is as if by calling me a whore, a public permit had been won to be dragged and run down, abused and hit.
One man, a bystander did get angry at the assault and came to support me by scolding the petrol pump people for not stopping the man. He was asked, “How are you related to her?” So you have to be related to intervene if a woman is being assaulted! However, relationships can be dangerous it seems. When I asked if anyone had responded to my pleas to note the number down. One of the men said, “We thought he was your husband.” So, husbands, boyfriends, fathers, brothers can assault with casual ease and go away! Is it a surprise that the previous year so many women were stalked and killed on the streets in full public view by men claiming to be in a relationship? It is as if relationships offer entitlements to violate.
It will indeed be a sick society, if children hear and grow up thinking relationships sanction violence against women, where vigilantism makes whores open to being run down, where you can care for someone’s dignity only if you are related.
The fact that so many of you think all this is not acceptable is the only promise of hope to women who would like to claim public and private spaces.
On another note, the failure of CCTVs I did mention yesterday. Three of them were not working and the sole camera that could offer something does not identify the man or the vehicle attacking me despite the leisurely time he spent at the gas station. It only shows what happened after I got up after being dragged down, my attempt at uncovering his face, and part of the assault. In a misogynist society what can such technology serve? Some voyeuristic pleasure at the sight of a woman’s humiliation and being shown her place with some violence? Technology is no substitute for social transformation. Yet, till the time misogynist society changes, the safety of a women in public spaces have to be reassured by public figures(by not giving misogynist statements), by the police by ensuring security and the government by making necessary provisions for women to have access to secure public and private spaces.
Update: The FIR has been registered, and I thank friends for helping me ensure it.
Story By: Radhika Menon
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