"I Felt Eyes Piercing My Body" - A Female Indian Journalist Speaks Out About the Rape Case that Shook the World
Continued from previous page
For the first time, I began to understand my mother’s pleas for me to please return home before midnight. Never had I imagined that this paranoia would enter my psyche. But it did. It got me to cover my skin. It kept me within the confines of my home, where soap operas began to reinvent themselves by introducing more rape incidents.
Underneath the dupatta
As I’d walk down to the nearby market, I caught myself staring at what girls were wearing. I wanted to cover up the backs of women’s knees or their visible bra straps. (I had been so happy to have access to such a wide range of colorful bras in all sizes in the United States. I was waiting to get back to Bombay to allow the pink strap to be seen with the orange strap of a tank top.) I wanted to cover up the ladies wearing saris whose waists were exposed when they held onto the overheard bars on the buses. I feared for all of them.
While visiting Delhi, my male cousin dropped me at a girlfriend’s home, and I was bewildered to see her wearing a shirt whose neckline showed the beginning of her cleavage. I wanted to cover her up to prevent my cousin from casting his male eyes on her. Instead, she bullied me to stop wearing my kurta and to wear her clothes instead. I felt uncomfortable looking at her wardrobe, even though I used to plead with her to let me borrow her clothes. Her wardrobe had not changed. Something inside of me had changed.
“Your Facebook photos tell us that you did wear cool clothes when you were in the United States. What has happened now?” she asked.
I began to explain. “I realize my gender now… the Delhi rape case… has… you know…”
“Nonsense!” she yelled back.
I remembered that she is a woman who drives to work every morning and returns late into the night. She parties every Friday night and drives home way past midnight. I shuddered thinking about her waiting at the traffic signal, waiting for the red to turn green, with her windows open.
What had happened to me? I hated that I, a journalist who had just been recognized for reporting on human rights and justice, was afraid to talk to men or to stare back at them for staring at me. Was I seeing only what I wanted to see; was I experiencing unconscious disappointment to be returning to my patriarchal country? I was excited about the prospect of returning home during my last week in the United States. Had I become one of those Indians who found a problem with every aspect of India because the West was so great? I remember castigating those foreign-returns who complained about everything. Now I wondered if I had become one myself.
I felt confident that my complaints were valid, that acknowledgement of the problems were needed lest we get so comfortable with an ailing society. Yet the discomfort about the indifference to our Indian society fraught with ailments was beginning to affect my liberty. I used to hate the dupatta. It was a cover to everything that is wrong in the society, the idea that men will stare at women so we’d better cover up since men won’t change. But it came to my rescue when I was reeling.
From political to personal
I suddenly connected the dots. Call me paranoid if you will, but the facts revealed everything: the high numbers of female feticide and infanticide; the high rates of girls dropping out of school; the high maternal mortality rate; the disparity in the numbers of women employed; the very few women who have taken up (or been granted) leadership positions; the high number of women who are married off just at the turn of puberty; the high number of women who are killed for marrying someone they love; the number of women who are killed because of caste or religion. All of this suddenly made sense to me personally, not only politically. Walking down the street, if there was even a cool breeze that could misplace my dupatta, I felt trapped. For the first time in my life, except for instances when male photographers on the field would do their best to make women reporters feel inferior at a crime scene, I felt I was of the weaker sex.