Updated: Feb 6, 2021
I never understood why my parents always instructed me to not sit in a stranger’s lap as a kid. I always thought, “Wouldn’t it be rude if I refused to do so?”
As a kid, and as an adult, I have always been quite courteous which I believe, is one of the main reasons I had to face many things that I could have avoided if I didn’t choose to be so nice.
Looking back, when I think about it, there have been so many things that I felt peculiar about, but I ignored them, saying to myself, “You’re just being skeptical. You’re a kid. He was just trying to make you laugh by those gestures.”
I was six, it was a Sunday. My father had to go get some groceries and I went along with him so I could get some snacksies for myself too. We were at the billing counter, I stood alongside my father in a baby blue frock and tights, beaming as I saw the cashier putting my candies in the paper bag. I suddenly felt someone groping my backside. I reflexively turned around to see who did it. I made eye contact with him. He was a young adult, creepily smiling at me, chewing his gum while moving towards the exit.
I was six. A six year old kid who didn’t know anything about the dark secrets of this world. But I knew the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. I knew this was not something normal. But I couldn’t get my head through it, I did not understand why that bhai did it. I didn’t say anything to my father, not because I didn’t want to worry him, I just couldn’t figure out what had happened. It was strange.
But since I was a kid, I forgot about it. I let it slide as an incident that I didn’t comprehend. I didn’t hate men…
I was ten, it was a Tuesday. My mother picked me up from school and we stopped at a popcorn stall because I pleaded her to get me some. I smiled as I saw the popcorn walay uncle putting the hot popcorn inside the transparent packet. He moved his hand towards me to hand over the packet, I moved forward to take it and he briefly caressed my wrist. My mother was busy finding a ten-rupee note from her wallet. I felt peculiar, but I let it slide. Again. “It was probably by mistake.” At this age, I still did not have a clear understanding of harassment or assault, but I recognized a bad touch when I felt it.
I still didn’t hate men..
I was twelve, it was a Monday, at school. Break-time was about to end. My friend and I were at the school canteen, we were hungry, but unfortunately, we did not have any money. We carried on with our friendly banter with the canteen walay uncle. He was one of the sweetest and most respectful strangers. We begged him to give us a packet of chips and a juice box on credit and that we would return the money later. However, he refused as he couldn’t do that because it wasn’t allowed. Despite our persistence he kindly declined our request. The photocopier of the school, who was in the same room, was keenly observing my friend and I for a while now. He stood up and creeped towards us. We suddenly stopped talking. He handed over the required money to the canteen walay uncle and smiled at us. I probably would have thought of him as a sweet uncle, who just paid for us because he considered us cute children. But I couldn’t. I recognized that smile. And it was not the first time he had showed such peculiarity. Whenever we went to get something photocopied, he had his eyes on us. Even if we sat quietly, minding our own business, he had his eyes on us. I knew these gestures were not friendly, but I let it slide. I let it slide once again, I preferred to be in denial, once again. “You’re a kid. He probably just considers you a cute, innocent kid like your parents do.”
Again, I didn’t hate men..
I was twenty, it was a Monday. I was flying alone to the UK. My seat was beside an aged uncle, who was probably in his sixties. He started talking to me; asked my name, age, and things like that. I was okay with it because I thought he was trying to make small talk since I sat beside him, and some people consider it courteous to talk to the person beside you.
But soon, the questions escalated. He asked me where I was from, and I told him my country. Then he asked for the city, town, and then he asked for my address.
I didn’t know what to say, so I just gave him a random address.. Then he wanted to know about my marital status. I was confused. I just emphasized that I was twenty to just imply that I was too young to be married. By now, I was scared of him. I felt uncomfortable. I was twenty, so I was obviously familiar with the concept of pedophilia. But I denied. I denied the indications of my brain. I just made myself believe that he was just an old uncle who didn’t quite understand the difference between appropriate and inappropriate questions.
Courtesy – it is a great attribute, but I have concluded that one shouldn’t carry too much of it, otherwise people exploit it, in ways one cannot fathom.
Unfortunately, my “denial mechanism” failed this time. It was when he abruptly asked for my phone number. A man around my father’s age, had asked me for my mobile number.
I know that if a braver woman was in that seat instead of me, she would have given him a shut up call. But I was not strong. I was not brave. All I said was “I do not remember my number.” Now that I think about it, I wish I had insulted him in a way that he wasn’t able to face anyone.. It is because after all these years, and a big number of these incidents, I have gained courage.
But how is that fair? Why do people expect women to always endure? Why do people think that we are born strong? Some women tend to get stronger with experience. But experience of what? Harassment? I wish this was not the road we had to take to be enough. Strong enough. Confident enough. Brave enough.
Am I allowed to hate men now? I am not a radical feminist and I do not blame men for every injustice with women. I understand “not all men”, and I also understand “but all women”.
I am sorry that I cannot perceive men as I used to. After all these “incidents”, I am sorry that I have started to dislike men. I am sorry that now even if a genuinely sweet and respectful uncle asks my age, I start to doubt his intentions. I am sorry.
I do not generalize all men to be the same. But please tell me how to convince myself that not everyone will prove to be the same. It is men, themselves, who have disrupted their reputation. It is not us. It is them.