Answering Catcalls with Tiger Roars

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When their eyes land on my body I want to run away, but I know they’ll follow me anyway. When I step out of my house, I want to be invisible, but their stares still penetrate my thoughts. I can’t trust anybody. I can’t walk on the streets without telling myself to be brave and ignore the looks of disgusting men with nothing better to do.

Each day begins with the newspaper giving the haunting details of yet another instance of violation of a woman, girl, or even worse, a baby’s modesty. It feels like there is nothing I can do but try my best to stay safe and avoid the men with such thoughts lurking in their brain. With me constantly on guard and surveying my surroundings at all times, flashes of rape cases running through my mind, my skin wants to rip itself off my body at the thought of the gruesome, heart-wrenching stories we hear everyday. I don’t even feel safe outside my own home.

I cannot go out when I want, where I want or wearing what I want unless it is in a group, because my parents and I are perturbed by the lack of safety in every part of the city. These restrictions are unhealthy and they take a toll not only on my actions but also on my mind. Just thinking about what could happen, the worst-case scenarios, I begin to tremble. The lack of women’s safety, though a major problem, has also emerged as a cause of mistrust, trauma, and self-confinement. I am sixteen years old and I cannot even attempt to live my life because of tens of thousands of sick-minded men.

Across our country, women are suffering from an existential anxiety, learning not to draw attention towards themselves. It is almost a reflex action when I hunch my shoulders while walking by a group of men. I don’t even realize it, but my body automatically hides itself as much as it can because anything is better than those discomforting gazes. This is the state of India, ranked most dangerous in the world for women, which is worse that war-ravaged countries like Afghanistan and Syria.

Today, innovation and invention have found their way into even issues such as rape and molestation, with prevention methods like rape whistles, apps that send your location at the press of a button, and phone and car trackers; but I don’t know whether to feel relieved or worried – are these inventions something to celebrate, because of their obvious benefits, or something to make us reflect on how badly we have done as a society? All these, no doubt, help us be safe, but should it have to come down to that? Should we have to rack our brains and spend our days to invent ways to keep our women safe from our own sons and friends and brothers? It’s the height of abhorrence and I don’t want to be a part of this anymore.

My environment is dictating my future and my psychological state. The perpetual dread and uneasiness is adversely affecting the way I, and other girls, who constantly have to cope with the creepy top-to-bottom stares, catcalls and suspicious behaviour, carry ourselves, think and behave. It is overshadowing everything, but I don’t want to be scared.

And we won’t be. We are women; we constitute half the country. The change has to begin with us. We cannot just sit around waiting, for laws and punishments and people to come to their senses. We need to project an image of confidence, with our postures, behaviour, thoughts and words. We need to support each other and ensure, as much as is in our control, our safety and well being by propelling ourselves as symbols of strength.

We don’t want to be scared, and for our sake, we won’t be.

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