I heard the term 'rape' over the news so much that I was scared of taking the lift with a man. So I was perfectly okay reaching the 7th floor by stairs to get back home but the idea of sharing the lift with a male companion was one of my deepest fears.
A friend of mine went out to buy chips. Her mother had allowed her to go to the market all by herself for the first time. She felt grown up.
The road to the market was not crowded at all. So, the sound of footsteps behind her seemed strange. By the time she turned back, someone grabbed her. She doesn't remember how she got out of that situation but she did. She felt grown up, but now, she didn't want to.
Another friend complained that one of her father's colleague touched her inappropriately. She said she didn't feel nice about it, that she felt dirty. But she didn't tell her mom. "Bachhe aisi gandi baatein nahi karte," she had been taught.
How many of you have been in the same place as the women above? How many of you have lived through the same stories?
But it isn't just about one story. Or those few moments of fear stringed together through the help of words when narrating it to your friends. It's about the psychological ramifications of those very few moments of fear throughout your life.
This is exactly what rape culture is and the constant feeling of fear that women go through is called rape anxiety; the anxiety that fills you to the brim, the moment you step out of your house.
Rape culture is a term used to describe the normalization of sexual assault in a society. But the kind of mental development you observe in young women in such societies is characterised by constant paranoia. Women are mostly preoccupied with taking precautions because 'kuch bhi ho sakta hai'.
From locking doors quickly to coming back home 'on time', our lives are basically working according to what people often refer to as 'rape schedule'. We're young, independent and ambitious but our first priority is to protect ourselves against sexual assault.
I still take the stairs if I see a man taking the lift. I have a habit of looking back if I see a man walking behind me. Funnily, if the stranger walks past me without harming me, I'm surprised. I have a strong sense of personal space but people often violate it in a crowd, when they can, with a touch they call innocent. 'Galti so ho gaya madam'. The apology if I raise my voice comes quick. And just like that my voice is muffled.
The girl who was grabbed from the back at 9 has developed the habit of staring back at any man who looks at her like he is mentally undressing her but some men don't even have the decency to look away.
The girl who was molested by her father's colleague at 11, still gets uncomfortable talking about it.
Our minds have been culturally ingrained to live in a constant state of fear. The fact that we set up our entire daily routine, from avoiding certain streets to getting home at a certain time, is truly disturbing.
Recently, a guy decided to change the route he was taking late at night, because the girl walking in front of him was constantly looking back. "I didn't want to put her through mental turmoil," he says. He waited for her to walk ahead.
While a society where such a thing wasn't required would be great, the reality is that most girls are scared of every man they see. And not without reason.
On this very day, back in 2012, a young girl all of 23 was brutally gang raped and tortured in a private bus that she took with a male friend. The term 'torture' here does not even begin to capture the magnitude of what she went through. And even after the various candle marches and walks as a sign of protest, after 4 years,
Why does a girl still need to get home 'on time'?
Why does a girl still look over her shoulder while walking?
Why does every man still seem like someone out there to attack us?
Women have and continue to take enough precautions. But it's high time that our male counterparts get sensitized and sensitize others around them. Let the young men making lewd remarks about a girl know that it's not appropriate to talk about anyone like that; tell them that stalking the girl is not romantic at all, and realize the exact point at which you start to make a girl uncomfortable. Also let them know that, that is the point they stop.