"I Felt Eyes Piercing My Body" - A Female Indian Journalist Speaks Out About the Rape Case that Shook the World
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Recently, I stood by the Flora Fountain in Mumbai, India, along with my fraternity in the field of journalism. Feeling angry and almost helpless that five men had raped a young photojournalist, we’d scribbled onto large paper sheets: “City of shame! Photojournalist gang-raped!” and “Mumbai becomes India’s new rape capital. We demand safety and security for all.” One poster was even bolder in its simplicity: “A woman brought us into this world. How can we disrespect another?”
The approximately 500 journalists in attendance were men and women who work at the various newspapers, magazines and news channels that comprise India’s rich media industry. Policemen stood by, watchful and alert, as journalists sitting with placards gave sound bites to their colleagues from news channels that were there to cover the demonstration live.
As I protested, I was reminded of my own recent transition back to working as a journalist in India after an eight-month stay in the United States, where I worked as an intern at The Boston Globe and The New York Times . Two months after my return — and close to eight months after the rape of a young girl in New Delhi rocked the nation and the world — I reflected on my homecoming.
Writing, as a woman
I sat in a café in Bandra where I can choose from any type of international coffee. The women next to me discussed their husbands while playing with their iPhones. This is one of the most trendy parts of Mumbai. Several Bollywood and television actors reside in bungalows or palatial apartments here. This was where the country’s first McDonald’s outlet opened in 1996. But, like everywhere else in India, it is also where paradoxes thrive. The high-end brands and street fashion live in Bandra west. Next door, in Bandra east, is a sea of cramped slums filled with diseases. Urban India is consuming iPhones while 300 million Indians still have no access to electricity at all. The government is pushing for nuclear energy as a response; pulsating grassroots movements continue to oppose it.
I arrived at the café having navigated through the vibrant flea market. I wore a denim skirt that falls a couple of inches above my knee. But there was no dupatta, or scarf, around my neck and covering my chest. Was it Bandra west that got me to finally ditch the dupatta? Or was the fact that it has been two months since returning to my homeland and that I’ve simply become accustomed to the constant staring?
Since returning home, I have never allowed a scarf to leave my chest. I returned home amidst a flurry of other countries issuing cautionary notes to their citizens traveling to India after the rape of the young girl in New Delhi spotlighted the problem of sexual assault. Upon arrival, I realized that this new story had transformed me, too. I chose not to wax my legs because I was sure that I would not wear anything that would reveal more than my ankle. My clothes purchased in the United States — the strappy and semi-transparent tops — stayed in the suitcase. Instead, I dug out the old long-sleeved kurtas that reeked of mothballs from the bottom of my wardrobe. Out came the cotton scarves too. I began to search through my mother’s wardrobe for her kurtas.
I remembered something I was often told earlier by several female friends visiting from the West: India is a sea of men. I never understood what they meant. I defended my country, stating that women were liberated in India. I’m an educated woman who can mostly speak her mind freely. My friends’ observation felt awkward to me, until I walked the streets one evening, still jet lagged, four days after I had landed in Mumbai. I felt eyes piercing through different parts of my body.