It was Shuki's birthday this Tuesday and she was to be pretty busy all day. Dana and I thought of visiting her at midnight the night before but plans fell through because Dana's mum asked us not to drive around at night.
Shuki, Dana and I meet at night. It's what we do. We also meet during the daytime but given that each of us has commitments that necessarily keep us in different parts of town and that keep up occupied most of the day, after-dinner coffee became our time to catch up and unwind. Mostly we just sit and chat. We used to go for drives until the price of petrol made that uncomfortable. Sometimes we would go for a coffee at one of the all-night cafes. There aren't too many affordable all-night cafes within safe driving zones in Calcutta anyway and the ones there are don't always welcome three women who just want to sit and chat over coffee. We don't sleep over because at least two of us have school things the next morning and we don't even do this very often. But we like our nightly chats because they are usually so peaceful, undisturbed by the demands of our daytime lives.
For the last six months our night-time meetings -- and essentially, our meetings -- have grown fewer. After the Park Street rape case, the media has made it a point to report all the news of assault on women (and police callousness) that it can find in Bengal. The stories are alarming but what is alarming still is that the three of us who have earlier dealt quite calmly with stalkers and police patrols on our night-time drives no longer feel comfortable driving about at night.
It would be easy to say this intangible sense of fear is caused by the media frenzy but there have been such media outbursts before, most notably as an aftermath of the Bapi Sen incident. It seems to me as though what is happening in Calcutta right now is a part of a larger movement, a movement sweeping across the country, most notably in Guwahati, Mangalore, Mumbai... I could keep adding to the list of cities but you, too, read the papers.
This violence against women out in public, in daylight, in front of crowds, this resentment against women for wearing clothes or going places or performing activities that do not meet with certain individual codes of behaviour -- our acceptance of this violence, our lack of sustained action against people who shrug and say, "Oh, what can you expect in a place like that?" or "We all know what to think of women who dress like that!" or "Why wasn't she home at that hour?" -- all of this makes me reiterate why we members of Team VAWM crowd our already busy festival month with this draining awareness programme. We do it because if we don't stand up for ourselves, nobody else will.
Whether you support our efforts or not, please support any women who find themselves under attack in front of you. A catcall is an attack, as is a failure to support a women who is trying to fend off attackers.