By now all the world and his granny have heard and endlessly discussed the case of two women who were molested by a large group of men in Mumbai on New Year’s Eve. Out of this glut of articles dripping righteous anger, the story that caught my interest was that of one of the accused, 18-year-old Nilesh Bhyatkar. His poor parents switched on their TV on the first of January 2008 and beheld their son’s mug plastered across several TV channels as one of the molesters.
[Nilesh] Failed SSC, father does paint jobs in buildings. He surrendered after his parents and neighbours held a meeting on the building premises and decided to hand him over.
I don’t know many people who’d have done that. Every time kids make the news, there’s always someone stepping up to shield them from the consequences of their actions – from Bitti Mohanty to Rahul Mahajan. On the other hand, here’s a kid who’s being made to take responsibility for his actions and who’ll now always think twice before participating in a mob scene or even whistling at a girl. It’s what a lot of people sneeringly call “middle class values” at its best. It’s also extremely good parenting.
If more parents took the kind of action this couple did, however unpleasant they found it, perhaps the world would be a better place. Shame is a powerful weapon.
But what of the other side of the equation? The victims in this case say that they’d rather not press charges and just want to forget it ever happened. Well, I have news for them: they’re never going to forget it. Anybody who’s ever been in the slightest bit harassed can tell you that it is not necessary that one be clinically raped – assault in any degree leaves an indelible mark. Every single woman that I know who’s ever been at the receiving end of an inappropriate comment or act can recite the time and place of the incident with extreme accuracy. They could probably tell you what they were wearing, what the other person said/did, who was with them and sundry other details as well.
I do, however, understand where these women are coming from. Personally, were I in their situation, I’d want them all to pay through their nose whatever the effort I’d have to put into making that happen. But to press charges would mean going through reams of red tape and as they live outside the country, this is a nightmare that could stretch on for years. Besides that, the media glare means that they’d automatically gain a degree of notoriety that anybody’d find uncomfortable. On the one hand, the media is doing a laudable job by making it clear that somebody in society is going to hold up a red flag if you cross a line; but on the other, it’s basically hounding these two women into giving statements they don’t wish to give and reliving an experience they don’t wish to remember.
Anyway, in the middle of all this, I read Sakshi’s post about the same incident and she makes an excellent point about being smart about one’s safety. Personally, having grown up in Delhi, I’m positively paranoid about safety and don’t trust anybody or anything. If it moves, I want it to die before it gets near me. That’s how I function. And I have no qualms whatsoever in saying as much even at the risk of hurting somebody’s itty-bitty feelings as one taxi driver in Mumbai found out.
“Hum waise log nahin hai, madam,” he told me when I refused to get into his car. (“I’m not a person like that, madam.”)
“Main bhi waisi larki nahin hoon,” I replied and hightailed it out of there. (“I too am not a girl like that.”)
So here are some of my tips for the successful partygoer of both sexes. I draw upon my own experiences as well others’. If you know something you’d like to add to the list, please feel free.
Friends: Never go to a party without at least one friend to tag along. Make it a rule that you leave with the people you came with. This way everybody knows what to be on the lookout for and if anything goes wrong, alarms will automatically be raised.
Ego: Check it at home. If you’re in a situation where caution wars with testosterone/indignation, choose caution. Your pride will recover from a blow much faster than you would from physical blows or sexual assault.
Drink: Responsibly. If you’re planning on getting completely trashed then make sure you have a friend nearby who’ll play designated driver and valet. At the very least, you’ll need somebody to make sure you don’t fall headfirst into the toilet bowl or wind up in your neighbor’s apartment.
Drugs: Ideally, you’re not that big of a fool. If you are, then that’s your choice but a stranger’s party is never a good place to start experimenting. If you’re hankering to tread on the other side of the caution line, read up on what you’re putting into your system (the number of people who think E is some sort of “safe” drug and don’t realize the dangers of dehydration and the effect it can have when mixed with alcohol, or the supremely addictive and destructive qualities of meth, are truly astounding) do it with a friend and take precautions.
Parties: If you leave your drink unattended at any time, never touch it again. I got this tip from the first date rape victim I ever met and I think it’s some of the best advice I’ve ever received. Also, don’t accept drinks from strangers or even casual acquaintances, whether male or female, unless it comes in a bottle with its cap still on. Or else, go up to the bar and order it yourself. It sounds paranoid but it might just save you some grief.
Location: Find out where you’re going and what it’s like in that area, whether it’s another city or neighborhood. Never assume anything. A lot of people seemed shocked that this incident went down in Mumbai – they shouldn’t be. A city is a city is a city, especially at New Year’s Eve. A guy at my dorm once advised me to stay off the streets of New Orleans when I told him my friends and I were planning a trip for Mardi Gras (this was way before Katrina). Similarly Cancun for Spring Break and New York’s Times Square for New Year’s Eve. So you could be in any country, in any crowd, but there are certain things you should take into consideration.
Knights: Don’t exist. In or out of shining armor. I figured this out very early on when my best friend and I got into a mega fight with a couple of creeps in a theater when we were 16. It’s not like we needed back up (hell hath NO fury like my best friend when pushed) but it would have been nice if those big strong navy officers sitting one row down had done something more than look up, get nonchalantly to their feet and slink quietly out of the hall. The only ones who took any interest in the matter were these three girls in the same row who got up and walked over to support us and even escorted us out to our cab when the movie was over. Psychologically, however, it’s a good move to kick up a dust as we proved with those two creeps. Just don’t expect anyone to come charging to your defense. Which brings me to the next point:
Defense: If you are planning on wading into huge crowds, take some sort of defensive precaution. Pepper spray is a good option and I believe it’s now available in India as well. If you can’t find any, you can always rig some at home. Or buy a small spray of deodorant or hairspray – dual purpose weapon! And remember, offense is the best defense. Use that sucker the moment you feel threatened, don’t wait for them to lay hands on you. If you turn out to be wrong, you can always apologize. If you turn out to be right – VICTORY!
Run – When all else fails or perhaps even when all else has succeeded. There’s time to be a hero. When you’re outnumbered and being attacked is not it.