Kashmir has always been a patriarchal society and though the trend is changing, it will still take many more years before women are treated with equal respect. Women may be coming out of their homes and working shoulder to shoulder with men, but we will never truly achieve empowerment unless and until the thinking of our men changes. For most Kashmiri men, women are still eye candy. Eve-teasing is something which almost every woman in Kashmir faces on a daily basis. Our mothers have been victims of eve-teasing the same way we are now and if nothing is done, so will our daughters. Groping, passing lewd remarks, whistles etc. are almost a daily part of a womans commute. What is unfortunate is that eve-teasers often employ various tricks that allow them to easily get away with harassing women. As eve teasing almost always occurs in the most crowded places or buses, most women have a hard time proving it since the harasser often argues that it was an accident.
Yesterday while travelling back home, something similar happened to me. I am a student and travel daily from Kashmir University to Qamarwari. If any of you have travelled on that route, you will know how overcrowded the buses plying on that route are. This is why these buses often turn out to be a safe haven for harassers. I am a girl who has always been taught to stand up for myself. I have been taught that not speaking up in case of any injustice is a disgrace. So when I found myself being pushed by a guy, I gently asked him to step away from me. Though he didnt say anything, he gave me such a helpless look in return that I felt sure that the guy had accidently brushed against me and I had made a mistake. After sometime, the guy again started harassing me but since his earlier look had made me believe it was an accident, I didnt say anything for quite a while. This only made him harass me more and more and finally almost on the verge of tears, I summoned the courage to tell him to step away in a louder voice. This time I turned a few heads in the bus. Shockingly, instead of just stepping away from me, he started arguing back and said that if I was so uncomfortable, I shouldnt be travelling in a local bus because these things happen due to overcrowding. A few guys even agreed with him and asked me not to make a fuss of such a small issue. I was left speechless. I am sure most people in the bus would have noticed that the guy was harassing me yet none of them defended me. All they did was ogle at me like I had murdered someone. Though some girls did pass a few sympathetic glances my way, they didnt intervene, may be because most of them knew that no man would admit that the guy was actually harassing me.
What I would like to tell all the guys in that bus and all others who think like them is that none of us are deluded nor do we want to grab unnecessary attention. We understand the difference between accidently and intentionally as much as you do. May be the next time when you hear a girl telling a guy to stop harassing her, instead of immediately thinking the girl is in the wrong, try telling the guy to stop. You wont be rebelling against your sex by doing so. You would only be making a better world for your mother, daughter, wife and sister.
The governments decision to start an all women bus service is worthy of appreciation. Though it is disappointing that these buses only ply on specific routes, it is still good to know that at least some women would no longer have to continue facing the daily nightmare that travelling has become for us. The authorities should start this bus service on other routes as well. This will not only help make all women feel safe while travelling but will also encourage other women, who prefer staying at home rather than facing harassment on a daily basis, to come out and realise their dreams. It will thus go a long way towards achieving gender equality.
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