- Posted August 20, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Speaking up about sexual violence
A reaction to "India: The Story You Never Wanted to Hear"
- sarahbrowngb, CNN iReport producer
Yours is a story that women in India live with, regularly.
I wish I could take your pain away. I wish I could make mine, and the pain of so many other women here, go away.
In the summer of 2011, my family and I went on a wonderful, educational and relaxing trip, first around Turkey and then France, spending a chunk of our time around Paris and its suburban Versaille, where we have family. We're a well travelled lot so its safe to say that we know what to expect on an International journey. We've done our research, we read the news, and we go where we go with open minds and even more open hearts. We had the most wonderful summer, with good and bad experiences both, we were swindled and cheated, pushed around and ignored, we got more than our fair share of condescending glares because the 'warmth' of our skin and the foreign undulations of our accents. We were also lucky enough to be on the receiving end of unmeasurable kindness from the humblest sources. We were enveloped in cultures and histories, in stories and myths so much larger than us; it regularly brought us so much joy that it had no choice but to boil over and trickle out of our beaming eyes. We love travelling. We save up and converse and excitedly plan our trips. It is perhaps the one thing that we can agree on without bickering, and why not - it brings us closer together as a family while bringing us closer to ourselves : magic.
Skip forward to the end of the very-well-established-to-be-wonderful vacation : My parents, my younger brother and cousin all head back to their lives in India. We've decided that I'll stay back with my aunt, uncle and their baby, and use this opportunity to explore Paris the way I've always wanted : Alone, on my feet, with a map, a camera and a notebook.
I cannot describe my elation - I am, more often than not, my best self in this avatar. Wherever in the world it is, or even back home in Bombay, I like to have some alone time, much to annoyance of relatives and friends.
Exploration soup for the soul?
Anyway, this is the point at which the journey came full circle, as if every cell in my body was vibrating with anticipation, but there was something hindering that excitement. As a lone woman traveller, danger and carefree abandon lurk hand in hand. I knew that. I mean, I'm a tough girl from a gritty city. And I thought I was prepared to face whatever came my way, head on.
But I wasn't prepared.
On a balmy afternoon, my aunt, uncle and I parted ways after a lovely Portugeuse lunch down the street from the Sacre Couer. I proceeded to amble about the winding streets in the area, twirl in my step, breeze in my hair, hand protectively holding onto my fedora, and with specific instructions not to venture into the apparently unsafe Moulin Rouge area without either of them for company.
Okay, that's cool, I thought.
It wasn't long after I veered off the touristy streets that trouble reared its head. I was weaving in and out of fabric stores & second hand sales. I met a couple of charming older ladies and had silent, animated interactions with them. I was a curious, curious looking creature and they were beautiful, gracious people. My boyfriend is a photographer, and in my mind I was having imaginary conversations with him about perspective, the slanting light in the temperate zones and how stunning the architecture on a simple office building was while photographing the everyday life around me.
It was in the middle of photographing a sign board above a cafe and chuckling to myself (it had some inane french word that, in Hindi, is abusive), that I noticed a tall African American inside the cafe. He was staring at me. He took a sip from his cup. I had made eye contact. Instantly the inner amusement ceased, my muscles tensed, my heart beating frantically. He quickly stood up, with a vengeance it seemed, while taking his last sip, never breaking eye contact - like in the movies, I told myself. By this time I had gone cold. A feeling I've often felt - after all, I do come from an intensely patriarchal society. My body reflexively took over, my thoughts going into hyperdrive & I swiftly crossed the street towards the cafe and past it - not ideal to walk into a sleeping monster's cave but it was the quickest option - just across from it was a vintage clothing store that I had been eyeing all afternoon.
I just made it past the cafe when he strode out - FUCK. He was massive. I'm a modest 5'1. He was at least 6'5. I tried to tell myself - Calm down! He's not coming after you, that's not even logical!! Why would he come after you? You're alone, you're scared and you're over reacting!
I was alone and I was scared, but I wasn't over reacting. He caught up to me in an easy two steps. I think he was thrilled by my obvious terror. He strode menacingly behind me and started saying things to me, asking about me or whether I was a photographer or some useless, gateway conversation like that. I couldn't care less. I dove into the store and immediately struck up a conversation with a salesgirl I had met a few days earlier. I had a bit of a cold sweat going and my heart felt like it was going to leap out of my chest and sputter dramatically on the carpeted floor after an unnecessary monologue.
I don't know why I didn't tell her. She was nice enough, and I wanted to. Instead I just rummaged through coats that I didn't need and wouldn't buy, stopping occasionally to examine the material or the sequins that I wasn't really even seeing. A few minutes later I looked outside to see him still hanging around. Fuck. At least I was safe. The thought calmed me. He couldn't harm me in here, and a few minutes later he disappeared. A lot of 'what ifs' went through my mind while I was browsing, but the voices quieted down once I had tried on enough pretty things and seen enough photographs of Brigitte Bardot to begin fantasizing.
I had a phone that was low on battery and that I could barely operate because it was in French, but I managed to co ordinate with my uncle who picked me up later.
This incident wasn't isolated, and it wasn't going to stop me. I always maintain that, as long as I'm within my limits, if anything bad is supposed to happen to me, then alright, it'll happen. It sucks. But its fine. All I ask is for my family and friends to make a big fucking deal out of it. I'm not about to limit to myself out of fear. It goes against my principles, and every moral fibre in my body groans at even the thought of something like that.
Perhaps that's why I never told my parents about this incident. (This is the first they'll hear about it). I wouldn't want them to be afraid - they wouldn't limit me, afterall I've gotten my strong principles from them but they might try.
Worse. They might be afraid for me.
Immediately after this, I was followed and heckled by a GROUP of young mean within the premises of the church itself, which is baffling because its constantly over run with zealous tourists, particularly in the summer. I was tired of this. It happened quite a bit. As I said already, it wasn't an isolated incident. I was groped, eyed, teased, invited to clubs, followed and blatantly asked if I had a boyfriend or if I wanted one, several times in my trip across Turkey and then in Paris.
What I'm saying is, this can happen anywhere, and it does happen everywhere, which is not to say that the situation in India is any better because of this fact. Its bad, at best, we all know that.
All these stories are vital, so thank you RoseChasm, for your strength in sharing.
And so too, I say this as a woman first, and then an Indian.