Train to Chennai
I wrote out this blog post in my head long before I was anywhere near a computer, and funnily now when I sit down to actually write it, whatever happened sounds like the narrative I've been unleashing on people not a real incident at all.I took the night train to Chennai Saturday night for a friend's wedding. I was travelling alone, and happy to have the Upper Berth of the three tier compartment. My mum came to see me off and worried, as she usually does, about the occupants: "That guy looks shady", she said, pointing to the occupant of the other Upper Berth but I brushed it aside as paranoia, reminded her I'd been travelling alone on three tier since college and then, once the train left, went up and straight to sleep.It was hard to sleep, despite the sheet covering me. I was restless and tossing from side to side. The guy in the Upper Berth next to me appeared to be jerking off, but I ignored him. Finally I drifted into a light sleep till about one a.m. when I felt something brush my foot. I moved my foot well under my sheet, thinking 'Funny, I didn't think I was tall enough to be extending out of my berth'.Then, about three in the morning, the lights are off, it's deathly quiet, the guy in the Upper Berth next to me (I haven't noticed him much so far, since I'm not wearing my lenses or glasses) gets restless. He wakes up, goes down, shuffles around, then comes back up and just sits still on his berth. Next thing I know (and I'm half asleep, crouched in my usual foetal-sleeping position facing him) he reaches out and touches me, between my legs, with the end of his foot. I start, jerk my hand out and push his foot away, so he withdraws immediately. I think (and why, why, why do women always do this) he must have made a mistake and just been stretching or something. Lots of people stretch their leg, unintentionally touching the other berth. I tried to drift back into sleep, thinking of an FIR I had filed earlier, on grounds of harrassment when a Maruti car, messing with mine as I was driving, eased up to my car, lightly bumped it and then veered away, it's occupants hugely amused that they had shaken me. The cop station, where I was offered tea and then commented upon, "You are so thin, yet so brave, Madam", proved more harrassing than the incident. My mind was running through that incident. Also it struck me as sort of unfair, in that deathly quiet compartment, that everyone would be fast asleep while I was left uneasily awake, wondering about the intentions of the man next to me and having to be on alert. I wanted to turn away from him, but in the back of my head an alarm bell had rung so I didn't.At 3:30 a.m., my Upper Berth neighbour reaches and touches my breast. I don't know what he was expecting. That I would simper coyly and turn away? That I would ignore him? Encourage him? Mind boggling possibilities.I'm hugely sensitive to men touching me, often stopping calling people who even casually throw their arm around me (it's just a thing I have), so this was trauma for me. I was up like a shot; my mind blank in my half-sleep and all I did was scream. It was strange, thinking back on it. I wasn't angry, I wasn't yelling expletives, or hell, even sentences or words. It was just like an animal-in-pain screaming. Shrill, loud, repetitive. No words, just screaming and screaming till the lights were flicked on, people hurriedly woke up, the TC came running.Upper Berth man says loudly aggressively, "Kya hua? Kya hua?" ("What happened? what happened?") and then slowly words formed in my head; the shock, the outrage, the sense of violation was replaced by a hysterical screaming, "Kya kar rahe ho?" ("What are you doing?") Again and again and again.The TC, sensing Upper Berth Man's apparent complete shock turned to me, still shaking in my berth. I could barely see anything, compounding my sense of disorientation. "Madam, you must have been dreaming," says the TC. No one else is talking. I realised in an instant that the whole episode could quickly turn against me. Everyone would be annoyed at being woken up by a silly, hysterical girl, the Upper Berth guy would be glad to evade responsibility, the TC glad to avert a potential nuisance.So I calmed down. "Sir," I pointed out, in my best English, "This is not the first time tonight this has happened. This man has been repeatedly touching me.""Are you alone, Madam?""Yes, sir."I think that's what did it. Upper Berth man was yanked down, the Railway Cops (they had come by too, by this time) grabbed hold of him, and the TC told me to come down and write out a complaint.The Man began begging for mercy. "You are ruining my life," he told me in Hindi. "Please forgive me." Then, in English, "I could not control myself." Like a Saamna editorial. I told him to stop touching me again. I told the cops to hold him back. I wrote in shaky handwriting something that resembled a complaint, on the back of the TCs name sheets. I was unsure what to write so I wrote coyly: "A man was touching my private parts". His baggage was pulled down and, still begging for mercy, he was led away. I went up to sleep. No one else in all the people who had gathered said a word either to each other or to me.I tried to sleep, felt a little tearful, found I couldn't text the one person I wanted to, and finally fell into restless sleep till 5:15 a.m. when we reached Chennai.I thought it was over, but the TC was back, and told me if I wanted to file an FIR (and I was sure I did) I would have to come to the police station. I told him I'd join him and waited for the compartment to empty. No one had said a word to me in all of this, which was fine, I didn't expect them to, but as they left the train, everyone passing me would look up, glance at me and then move on. It was horrible. I felt guilty somehow. For waking them up, for having screamed so much, for not just shutting up and going back to sleep, I suppose.As I left the train, the Man was outside, hands folded, begging some more. I walked with the TC, the Man behind us, surrounded by Railway Police. Someone else came up to me as I walked and said in a low voice, "Madam, treat me like your brother, I am a member of the public. Have mercy on this boy, madam, he has come to do a Railway exam. You will ruin his life Madam. As a member of the public, I appeal to you, Madam."I'm not a very angry person, so I didn't feel angry. I felt annoyed. And tired. Whose side was everybody on? "Where were you when this happened?" I asked him."Sleeping, Madam.""What did you do when you heard me?""I came running, Madam.""And then?""And now I request you, Madam?"I can't follow this kind of argument especially not after a night like the one I had had."I'm not in a particularly good mood," I said, "please go away." He did.The cops were waking up at the cop station in Chennai Central. Buttoning up checked chirts, joking sleepily on their walkie talkies. I was asked to sit, the Man thrown on the floor by me.The cop on duty was told what happened. He broke into Tamil. "You've come for an exam and this is what you do?" he asked the man. Man spoke no English, he was from Bihar. Another cop wandered in flicking a long cane stick and walloped the man, making large swishing noises. I felt like in a scene from Maximum City.I was made to file another complaint. The Man kept reaching out to touch my feet, "Ma, ma," he kept saying. In Hindi, 'don't ruin my life.'It's funny how everything becomes familial when a woman is concerned. The Member of the Public was my brother, my molester calls me his mother. My identity is submerged in this larger social structure. Soon I have another identity: The Hindu journalist. Every time I was referred to after that, I was The Hindu journalist. In Chennai, it's a very big deal.The Man is taken off into the lock up and half and hour later a woman cop shows up. I'm taken into another room, where she offers me boiling coffee from a thermacol cup and suggests, somewhat deferentially, that I should reconsider pressing charges because (again), "You will ruin his life Madam."I tell her in Tamil that, as a woman, she should understand my feelings. "I feel strongly about this," I say. She apologises and agrees that I could do whatever I thought best and she would facilitate.The Sub Inspector now arrives, I file a third complaint with many details (such as his name: Sanjeev Kumar, age: 28 and address: Madhubani District, Bihar).At 10: 30 I have to return to meet the Inspector. On my way to his room, I pass the Man in lock up. I cannot bear to look at him, I haven't throughout all this, except to notice two rings he wears on his two last fingers of the left hand, but my friend points out he is cowered in a corner, shirtless.In instances like this, you feel (or atleast I did) a huge overwhelming feeling. For me it was outrage. At his audacity, more than anything, and the fact that I could not call a tiny berth my own without someone impinging on that space. But when you want to respond with an equivalent grand gesture, such as filing an FIR, imprisoning the perpetrator, the system stalls you. In a devious way. It's not hard to do, it's just long to do, complex to do. Hours to wait. For Sub Inspectors, TCs to attest, women police, Inspectors, and I found out at 10: 30 am when I returned with a friend, some two hours just to make handwritten copies of the FIR. It's so exhausting and annoying you want to walk away, wash yourself, get food and sleep. That's how the system breaks you down. Through triplicate copies, not any direct refusal to do your bidding.Anyway, Sanjeev Kumar has been booked under Sections 354 and 509 of the IPC and under the Prevention of Harrassment of Women Act, 1998. It is a non-bailable offence for 15 days, during which he is in a remand facility. After which he needs someone to furnish a bail warrant; the bail amount is minimal. And then the hearing will be in a few months. I haven't decided if I want to come down from Delhi all the way for it.Everyone I told this story to, had a story of their own. My friend's tummy was rubbed up and down till she woke up, another woke up to find two hands on her breasts, my aunt woke up to find a man had straddled her, my mother woke up to a man running his fingers down her body... everyone has a story. I called my mum after I left the cop station the first time. I said, "Do you think I over-reacted?" And this other voice in my head laughed at me, and our society. A strange man, touches you twice in the middle of the night, and your greatest worry when you screamed and complained, is, "Did I over react"?!And some... almost, guilt... when people kept telling me I'd ruin his life, and when they looked hostile at my screaming. Some amazement that no one said a thing to me after the man was taken away, all happy elderly couples right beneath me, middle aged women beneath my berth. Not a word. Cops wanting to dissaude me. Some inexplicable class-consciousness feelings toward Sanjeev Kumar - "You dirty, low caste man touching me" - this is too uncomfortabe for me to believe I was thinking like that, but it happened so I record it.And now, some satisfaction that he is locked up for 15 days.Update: I took a flight back, like a wuss. And I felt like I was doing sort of a disservice to all the people who couldn't afford to buy their way out of a situation, but I just couldn't bear another three tier overnight journey. Really.