Have each others’ backs and keep each other safe, says Treena Mukherjee
Treena Mukherjee, a Zomato executive in Bengaluru, was 20 and a student of Madras Christian College when she was molested by three men on a crowded bus - all within five minutes.
Four years later in 2012, she faced similar harassment in Bengaluru when she was cat-called and eve-teased while she waited for an auto rickshaw in a dimly-lit stretch of near Jayanagar.
It was a rainy night and although auto rickshaws and other motorists sped by, Treena had to wait in the rain and darkness for about an hour till an auto driver agreed to take her home to Koramangala.
“My sister and I would usually take a bus from Mambalam station to Thousand Lights around 9.30 am. It was the usual peak hour rush with crowded buses. The bus that we got on to was jam-packed as well and we were pushed back at the back of the bus.
When our stop was approaching, my sister moved ahead of me and all of a sudden, two hands grabbed me. I was held back by two men on either side. I was taken aback and by the time I could react, my sister had stepped off the bus and it had started off.
I assume the men knew other because even though I struggled, both refused to let go. Finally, I screamed and yelled for the conductor. They let go of me and as I fought my way to the front of the bus, another man tried to make way for me.
He appeared like a well-educated man and in the pretext of shielding me from others, began to rub his genitals on me from the back. Shocked, I dug through the crowd and finally managed to make the conductor stop the bus before getting off. I was young and scared. I could not resist or protest as much I wanted to.
In Bengaluru, however, I was older and confident. Once, on my way back from in Jayanagar, it started pouring without notice. It was around 7.30 pm and the area was dimly-lit. I waited for an auto, a few bikers sped by too close, whistling while a few shouted broken Hindi words while hooting. I was even approached by a man who asked me my rate!
Getting an auto in the city is quite a hassle, but even at a time when I stood drenched at the side of the road, it took me close to one hour to persuade an auto driver to take me to Koramangala.
But he too asked me get off in the middle of the road because he did not want to go further. I requested him to drop me off as it was getting late and I was drenched, but in vain. I even asked him if I had been his sister, would he still have abandoned me in the middle of the road and yet he sped off without me.
Eve-teasing and cat calls continued as I waited yet again for another auto. One biker intentionally accelerated near me and splashed muddy water all over me. Thankfully, this time a kind auto driver stopped and agreed to take me home. He did not charge me extra money and ensured I was safe inside the premises before heading off.
I would not say that all men are bad, but when people see others in trouble and choose not to act on it, it’s worse, especially if the onlookers are women. In Bengaluru, several women poked their heads out of their cars and autos to stare at me without pausing to help. There were women who saw me getting eve-teased and did nothing. That hurts more.
But it has been years since that incident and I am bolder now. Recently, a neighbour took an auto back home late and I could hear someone shouting profanities. I went to the balcony to find my neighbour being screamed at by an auto driver. The reason? She made him drive 100 metres into a lane when he thought she would get off at the main road.
The confusion aside, it really bugged me how he was shouting down on her so I yelled at him from the balcony and a friend joined in. The auto driver left soon and my neighbour thanked me profusely for having helped her out.
I have learned the hard way that we can ask the administration to make our cities safer and ask our men to keep their hands to themselves, but what I really want to stress on is that people have to empathise with each other.
Women should really take a stand now, for themselves and for others who they perceive need help.
This Women’s Day, I would want women to have each others’ backs and support themselves because if we can’t do it for ourselves, we cannot expect others to do it for us.”