Every year, videos of random men catcalling and abusing women on the streets in various cities across India go viral. I have often wondered about the impact of such incidents on the women. Little did I know that I would get the answers to my questions in an all too visceral way soon enough.
I was recently stalked by a man at a prominent park in South Bangalore. It took me two days to realise that I was being stalked. The first I remember seeing this man was when he suddenly stood up as I walked by a bench he sat on. He then strode past me in the opposite direction.
The next day, I sensed someone walking close to me – almost beside me – for a fair bit of time. He maintained a distance that was neither too close like it would be for someone familiar, nor too far for a stranger. I thought it was a person who was walking the same pace as me. Nevertheless, my instincts cautioned me to take a different route home.
On the third day, when I was being particularly attentive to the people around me, I heard heavy footsteps come up behind me.
“What is your name?,” came a voice from behind. I carried on walking.
He then overtook me and kept turning around. He stopped and waited for me to catch up. I lost my cool and loudly asked him what he wanted.
Startled by my question and made aware of the presence of other people in the vicinity – he stopped in his tracks. I walked home briskly, looking back every now and then to ensure that he wasn’t following me. An alternate route home once again was inevitable. A male friend or relative accompanying me may have warded off this person, but no such person was available.
The next day, he appeared again. I stealthily walked out of the park from another gate and took another route home.
I started to worry about whether I would always be able to escape unnoticed and about the number of routes I could figure out to get home.
I was terrified that he would follow me home.
On yet another day, he waited inside the park. He positioned himself behind a large tree and waited for me to pass by. “What is the time?,” was the question this time.
I walked ahead, feeling uneasy. How could I solve this, I asked myself. Should I stop and talk to him? What if this becomes a habit? Have I not indicated enough that I was not interested in engaging in any sort of conversation?
I continued walking and passed him again – but this time I kept my phone ready with my camera turned on. He looked away as soon as he realised I had my phone out. One frame in the video caught his face clearly. It occurred to me that I could post a picture of this man on the notice board, or even online.
But I was afraid that he would retaliate. I also had no idea whether he was alone or had friends around.
The following day, I approached a policeman near the park. He advised me to call 100 if I spotted the man again.
But the man would definitely deny stalking me, and how could I prove my story with just one video of him sitting in the park? Or even worse, the man could just be left off with a warning only to angrily take it out on me.
The stalking continued, but in a covert way. He was spotted another day, waiting outside the gate. I walked out stealthily – hiding behind trees and bushes – and found a new route home.
I do not know if other women have been targeted by this man. I personally feel the need to reclaim this public space as it gives me a break from being at home.
But how do I raise an alarm? He is just sharing the public space with me – he waits on the benches in the park, walks past sometimes, and often paces up and down outside the park, keeping an eye on the movements of women within the park.
I finally decided to abstain from walking in the park. My freedom has been curtailed by an unknown man.
While traversing my newfound walking path – I constantly look out for suspicious men, and take different routes occasionally with backward glances as I turn corners. I yearn to walk where the ‘mind is without fear’, but it is not possible. The onus is still placed on women to be cautious in public while men roam the streets freely. It is the same when it comes to public transport and other crowded spaces – it is left to women to make sure no one takes advantage. And yet we continue to be traumatised, at times even without physical contact.
How long will this continue?
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty