It is a thing young and old people, men and women like to to all over the world – going to the movies. But in India things are different, still in 2015. Being a girl and going to the movies in India is not like going to the movies in France, the USA, Great Britain or Germany. WomenNow.in editor Ria Sharma describes her experiences, describes a girl’s experience – of a night out:
Recently I have been twisting and turning in bed…..
The reality of living in India didn’t seem to threaten my existence and to be honest I never really thought it would. I would sit in the comfort of my sheltered life, when I spent 3 years studying in the UK and not once did I think of the implications of moving back home. Its sad that the biggest hurdle I had to overcome was the gender I was born into, a woman. I never once thought I would regret being a woman. For a full blown feminist I was doubting my own power now.
What made my beliefs shake in their shoes was nothing extraordinary, it wasn’t a big incident according to Indian standards, but it should be.
Bored on a Saturday night, my older sister and I decided to step out for a movie. 10:30 pm isn’t that late if your going to a mall surrounded by dozens of people, completely appropriately dressed and not drawing any attention. That’s when the fear of being a woman crept in.
I could be doing anything and everything right but it wasn’t going to be enough because my parents committed the cardinal sin when they gave birth to a girl child.
I really don’t blame those parents that find remorse in giving birth to a girl anymore because if an educated, well spoken, confident girl like me could fear for her safety, anyone could. We drove into the parking lot and I didn’t even think I would fight such a battle to just watch a movie. The usual lurking of lecherous men began at the parking lot itself and we tried our best to just avoid it and we walked tall in the face of danger.
The elevator, that seemed like it took forever to arrive, was graced with the presence of more lecherous men, huddled up while we quietly stood through the longest journey of about 3 floors. They got together in a bunch behind us and smirked at each other while they observed our back sides. I mean, what could possible be so amusing about my behind? Did I just get on my period? Was I bleeding through my pants that it caused a sight enough for them to stare? I was full clothed but I had never felt more naked in my life. In an ideal world I would turn around and give them a piece of my mind or my fist, but I knew that would be reason enough for them to rape me. Its depressing that I would think defending myself would lead to such major implication, but what could I do? It was nothing but the truth as much as I wish it wasn’t.
We literally ran across the food court to the ticketing counter and the trail of endless devious minds we left behind was countless. Dirty faces, dirty minds and the eyes that spoke volumes, even without words. These men didn’t have to rape me anymore, they already did. Finding comfort outside a ticketing counter was like I was in a police station, I thought to myself ‘I’m safe here’. How silly is that right? Finding comfort outside the ticketing counter of PVR. My comfort didn’t last very long; the guard wasn’t shy about his intentions either. Joining in with the men that were bunched up around us, laughing, making faces just waiting for the first signal of approval that one of us might be inclined towards an intimate relationship. Waiting for this approval that I’m talking about shouldn’t be taken in the context of consent because it could be anything as small as even looking in their direction.
I was under the misconception that if someone stared at you, you should stare right back and the man would be reunited with his humanity and think of his mother, his sister and would stop undressing you with eyes. I was wrong. Looking at these men would be equivalent to consensual sex. My entire being had succumbed to being nothing but sex on bones, I was nothing. My degree didn’t matter, the person I was, stood for nothing, substance was just a word and my character had become what they made it…an object.
I was stunned, all this to watch a movie? I would have been better of visiting a brothel. I couldn’t wait to just get my tickets and run into the movie hall where I would be hidden from prying eyes, locked up in a dark room where no one could see…was the nirvana I was running after at this moment. Invisible, that’s all I wanted to be. The thoughts running through my mind shocked me, how could I want to be hidden away? How could a person like me be so threatened by a few prying eyes? How could I preach about women empowerment when all I wanted to do was grow a penis right now? The more eyes that looked at me, the more my legs turned to jelly. I was in the middle of having an intense panic attack when the man at the counter told us that the movie was a house full, but I couldn’t even do that because it might give these men another reason to touch my lifeless body. They already got to my soul without touching me, I couldn’t let them have this too.
The elevator looked like it had a massive line of more disgusting men outside it so we thought it would be better if we stuck around the food court and got something to eat instead. We ordered some Chinese food and sat on the table right outside the food joint next to a family of 4. A group of 4 men came and sat right behind us while others lurked in the shadows, whispering, taunting, and laughing. These men didn’t know each other but its like one common goal united them. How to humiliate a woman seemed to be their forte and I couldn’t help but think that if they perused their careers with such relentless enthusiasm they wouldn’t have to lurk around food courts and pry on helpless women. They were undressing us with their mind and I was stabbing them in mine, the difference is that I couldn’t even look them in their eyes and show them a glimpse of my aggression.
I wasn’t angry at these men because of how they were making me feel, I was angry at myself for not showing them how I was brought up. My legs even trembled getting up to pick up my food. Frustrated, worn out and objectified, I told the man to pack our food because I couldn’t stand to sit around this food court and be harassed anymore.
The simple act of eating my dinner, wasn’t going to be ground for rape because I did hear a politician once state that women get raped because they eat chow mien. I used to laugh at this man but right now all I could think about were his words and second guess myself for thinking they were absurd. Well either way, I wasn’t going to be the girl that got raped because she ate chow Mein in public.
The battle of the eyes lasted 15 whole minutes before our food arrived and to our horror the faster we grabbed it and ran to the elevator, the faster our demons caught up with us. On our first sign of exit two men followed us to the elevator and followed us right into it. One man blocked the door in front of me and the other stood behind my sister having us covered from all angles. He looked at me with a sinister face and asked me what floor I was going to, his hands were blocking the buttons. In one moment all my powers came back to me, I don’t know if it was survival instinct or the pent up adrenaline but I shoved his hand away, accidently hitting his stomach. I pressed the button that opened the lift door and grabbed my sister’s hand so we could make a swift exit. The men were stunned and didn’t have time to retaliate as the elevator doors closed…and I felt like I was going to cry.
How could the innocent act of wanting to watch a movie on a Saturday night turn out to be so traumatic? Are women really supposed to sit at home and not do anything once the sun sets? Should we not go out in public or wear veils or roam around with pepper spray? My father always encouraged us to keep pepper spray handy and I refused, because I didn’t think I was ever doing anything wrong or attracting the wrong intentions. I was so wrong…see, the truth is that you don’t have to attract any attention, you could be doing everything right but the fact that you are a woman is reason enough.
This patriarchal society was like being in an abusive relationship, the abuser being the men, you could do everything right but you are never going to be right. You could be very accomplished, you could be an activist, you could study at Harvard…but in India, you are nothing but a woman and being a woman in India is truly a curse.
Having avoided an encounter that could have ended badly, we decided to take the next elevator down to the parking lot that seemed to impersonate a dungeon in my mind right now. The second the elevator arrived another man dashed in our direction trying to enter it right after us and after what I had just been through I was in no mood to entertain any more male gazes. I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was go back home and not get anymore attention for the rest of my life because these 20 minutes in a well known mall in Gurgaon had my quota of attention seeking covered for at least the next 500 years. Before the man could enter the elevator, I blocked the doors this time using my 5 ft nothing, skin and bones body frame and all 5ft of me looked the man in the eye and told him to take the next elevator down.
I know this doesn’t seem like the boldest or bravest move in the book but in that moment, I finally felt like I won. Can you believe it? I didn’t lead a protest or fight the courts for justice, but I won in my own way and stood up for myself. The feeling didn’t last long though. The parking lot looked like it came out of a horror movie and I couldn’t help feel like I was in one.
By this point this entire experience was so surreal that it couldn’t have been anything but a scene from a movie. We brisk walked through the parking lot to our car to find two men standing 50 meters away from our car doing what men do best, whispering and terrorising my thoughts. For what seemed to be the longest walk of my life, even though I was slow jogging by now, I could see them just waiting to make their move. My sister was fumbling through her bag, her hands were literally shaking which made finding the car keys a task. If it took her any longer, I knew the men would approach us and even though I took those mixed martial arts classes a while back, my nervous wreck of a body wouldn’t have had it in it to protect me. When she did finally find the keys we jumped into the car, locked the door and for this whole while I had 100 on speed dial not that it would do much good but it was the only safety net that seemed to ease my troubled thoughts. I cursed myself for not giving into my dad’s pepper spray idea and gasped for air from what had been the most stressful incident.
It’s shocking that going for a movie could be so traumatic.
It’s shocking that walking through a food court would be my biggest nightmare. It’s shocking that I have developed a massive hatred for Chinese food and its shocking that I am contemplating never seeing a movie post 5 pm now. The question that crosses my mind however happens to be just one ‘Is this fair?’.
Is it fair that I have to feel all these things? I guess I finally payed the price for being a woman and even though I wasn’t inflicted with physical harm, I was abused. I was abused by countless men in 20 minutes of walking into a mall. My biggest regret will be trying to watch a movie because its what completely banished the humanity I used to see in people.