Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Were women ever safe in India?

It was 1978. I was a young 18 year old cadet in the Marine Engineering College, Calcutta. I was coming home on leave. Father was posted in Lakhimpur, 135 kms. from Lucknow, and I had boarded a second class unreserved compartment of the evening local Express.
It was a metre gauge train (still is). I was sitting in a section with two wooden benches facing each other (as it used to be then and still is in most general compartments). I was sitting on the aisle side. There was a young girl in her early twenties, looking to be from South India, occupying the window side on that bench. There were two young men, around thirty, occupying the middle section, sitting facing each other.
Train had moved out of Lucknow Junction, the then metre gauge station from which North Eastern Railway used to operate (now it is the broad gauge section of NER). It did not have a stop at Aishbagh. It halted briefly at Lucknow City and then moved on and moved out of Lucknow city. Some time after Bakshi ka Talab, I noticed that the person sitting on my side inching closer to the girl, who
shifted ever closer to the window, looking uncomfortable.
Within a few minutes, this man was pressing himself against the girl. The girl tried to admonish him - yeh kya kar rahe hain aap?
The man roared out a raucous burst of laughter and both of them passed many lewd remarks (best left unmentioned). In a matter of seconds, they had started groping her, and the and the man sitting in front even took out a fifty rupee note (quite a sum in 1978) and offered it to her.
I was aghast. The men were tall and strong. The girl had started shouting for help. I was quite frail and no match for their physical prowess. I still gathered some courage and said - Yeh sab kya ho raha hai?
The guy in front, who was busy trying to fondle her face even as the guy closer to her was trying to violate her in various places, turned at me quite menacingly and left me in no doubt as to what my fate would be. In a nonce, he had left me in no doubt that he would have no compunction in doing a gay act on me, besides establishing all possible relations with my mother and sister.
It was quite clear to me that if they went on in the same manner, the girl would probably be stripped in no time. The stark fact which stared me in the face was that why nobody else in the compartment was responding to the loud shrieks of the girl. The next stop was Sidhauli, at least another 45 minutes away, and if it went on for some more time, the worst could happen.
I got up and went to the next section where there were at least five persons sitting. I requested them for help - to no avail.
Next section, I was greatly comforted to find two armed policemen sitting. I told them what was happening and asked them to intervene. What I got was the most profound shock of my young life. They said - bhaiya ham duty pe nahin hain.
I was completely befuddled, highly agitated and nervous. I just did not know what to do next. In my heightened anxiety, I just rushed back to my seat. What I saw completely appalled me.  One guy had almost forced himself onto the girl, and was molesting her at will. The girl had turned mute with fear. Then something of a   brainwave struck me.
I shouted at the top of my voice again - but in English this time. The effect was dramatic. The guy let go and turned at me - yeh m.c. angrez kahan se aa gaya. Kaun he be too. Teri ..... lagti hai kya. The other guy suggested that I was also quite cute looking and could be a fair game. But I had got my cue.
I rushed back to the two policemen and started shouting at them in English. The essence of what I said was that I  would complain against them, and have them suspended if they did not listen to me and help. They looked puzzled for a while, then they could understand just two of the thousand odd words that I spewed out - complaint and suspend. They finally shook their fat frames and got up. I commanded them to follow me. They came over to the place where all the filth was going on.
The guys shrank as soon as they saw two uniforms. The policemen commanded the two guys to leave that place and then sat there with me. The girl was saved.
I will never forget in my life the way the girl thanked me - bhaiyaa tumne mujhe bacha liya. It took a little time to sink in. Then I realised that I must get those two guys arrested. However, the train had pulled into Sidhauli station by then and the guys disappeared.
After that, the next hour was full of tales by the policemen, mostly of my being the son of SDM, Lakhimpur (which of course was far from true but I play acted as if it was). It appeared to be a most natural fact to them as anyone speaking English must be of a high pedigree. They told this to the whole compartment, putting them in awe of me. The girl, it so turned out, was a nurse. She belonged to Kerala and was on her way to join her duties in a Lakhimpur village.
It is for the first time I have penned this story - after 35 years. I was forced to do so after reading the plight of a foreign girl in a blog titled "India: A story you will never want to hear" ireport.cnn.com/docs/DOC-10230 After reading this, that entire scene came flooding back. It seems nothing has changed in this land. The same attitude of treating a single girl as a fair game. The same apathy from the people around you as if your modesty is your own business and others as citizens could not be bothered. The same prying questions: Why was she travelling alone? Oh, then she must have given them a reason for this assault. Oh, but nobody wants to go around court-kachehri endlessly. Why did she have to work at all? Why work at such a distant place? Why? Why? Why? A series of endless questions, all suggesting that the girl brought it upon herself.
This is my anthology of that incident. I solicit your reactions, before I put forth my diagnosis and remedy of a situation which is much more than a law and order problem.


1 comment:

  1. Impressed and inspired by your sense of moral duty to stand for helpless and needy. I wish if a great many Indians learn from such and similar stories. Right now, it seems a surprisingly significant number of such incidents are noticed in India. I wish we had many Sanjay Dixits to stand up for those helpless victims.