I woke up this morning to the sounds of a man hurling abuses at a girl and physically assaulting her. Needless to say, my Sunday morning was about to be ruined. For about an hour all I could hear was the man shouting, hitting this girl and the girl begging him to stop hitting, that it hurt her, she screamed more than a couple of times.
This girl – about 23 – is one of the three tenants of my landlord's other house next door. My landlord is also the building secretary. He does not live in the building. Is it even legal for a society to appoint a sec'y-in-absentia? And if yes, is it logical? I’m inclined to believe otherwise, in light of recent legal developments. But perhaps that is beside of the question.
Let me set the context. Like in buildings in most middle class localities in Bombay, my building too has a skewed sense of design. Most balconies - even with next door neighbours - fall at the bare minimum distance of about a foot and a half or two feet. Obviously, most sounds easily permeate to the neighbours if you're speaking even at normal decibels.
The girls next door are loud.
I've had to ring their doorbell several times in the middle of the night to ask them - ever so politely - to STFU. Most times, this works. Sometimes it doesn't. I've heard sounds that range from sitcoms and music, conversations with parents over Skype, phone calls with the boyfriend, girl talk about clothes and hair and first sex, to three rounds of sex itself, card games and as of today - abuse.
What is one supposed to do? The landlord has been told several times - in vain, of course. The neighbours can't do jack shit. And calling the cops is always a last resort. Do I not know that one can complain anonymously on the police hotline? Of course I do. However, will that stop the cops from harassing the complainant?
I was at the CII India Women's Network launch on Friday, where Meeran Borwankar, Additional Director General of Police, and I G Prisons, Maharashtra State, was a panellist at one of the discussions. Since awareness & engagement was being spoken about in several areas of societal functions, the law wasn't spared either. This question of trusting the police sprung there too. The defence at both ends was legitimate. The police force is under-staffed and so want to close as many cases, and as soon as possible. They are frustrated. So they try and catch those unaware of the law and try and sweep matters under the carpet by passing off the innocent as criminals? Yes, it's a vicious cycle and we are left no choice but to accept that they need better facilities and to be provided for from the taxes we pay. But until that pipe dream falls into implementation, how are civilians expected to trust them?
My first instinct was to confront the girl; tell her that both my roomie and I were literally just a holler away. That we may have had problems with them, but we weren't going to tolerate inhuman behaviour. Sadly, she was subservient.
I also tweeted about it. Despite the anonymity and a general sense of detachment of the platform, there is a degree of sensitivity and trust even in the unknown. People pitch in to advice, suggest solutions, offer the first impulse of support. In fact, here's a snippet of the conversation that ensued between the five of us - some simple inputs and advice that can be used at short notice.
|Twitter conversation this morning (9th March 2014 - a day after International Women's Day, btw)|
I also decided to reach out to our neighbours - thankfully this city allows socialising at one's own limited terms. The lady immediately offered her cell number and assured that the next time this happened I had only to tell her and she'd call the cops.
What is most amazing, is that the city still has faith in the law.
Hopefully, this blog post will serve as a window to help. Evidently, your educational qualification is no indication of your awareness and ability to speak up. Most importantly, it doesn’t even make you human. It was made clear at the discussions yesterday at the IWN launch too – we need to stop blaming the government, the law, and most importantly, men. It’s not an attitude problem characteristic to this country alone either. As my roomie said, the victim could have sold herself and still cannot be treated this way.
I am going to remain shaken for a long time. Not only because this was so real - after all, this girl should mean nothing to me - , but because I witnessed it at such close quarters. What warrants violence? And what justifies silence in us human beings, when reaching out is not difficult? Among the several loud conversations I’ve overheard (inadvertently, of course) from these girls, they come across as rather opinionated personalities who know what they want. Doesn’t safety figure in their list of priorities? Doesn’t self-love count for anything? What about the thought that they live far away from home and their parents would die of the worry at the slightest hurt that would come to their child?