There is a 2-minute walk from my house to the nearest auto rickshaw stand. Couple of days ago, I was on my way to catch an auto. There is an empty hall-cum-library on the way and men sometimes gather around on the ground outside. On this occasion there were around four or five young men talking aloud. I was wearing jeans and t-shirt and my trademark hat.
As I passed them, the men started hooting and shouting. One of them said: “Dei ninakonnum ammem penganmaarum ille?” (Don’t you have a mother and sisters?)
I’m sure this was not from any concern. Only to start a dialogue of some sort. Another replied: “Athinu ithu pennano? Ithu charakkalle?” (Is this a girl? Isn’t she a commodity?)
Lots of laughter.
My usual response to “commentadi” is pretending not to have heard anything. Ignore it completely. Am afraid, accustomed to my usual ways, I did the same here. Just walked past them, didn’t glance, didn’t stop, acted like I didn’t even know they existed. This was not a planned reaction. Just the usual.
Now I regret. I don’t mind subtle “commentadi”. It is natural that men and women may appraise each other on the streets, on the roads, etc. but when it comes out as an insulting comment, deliberately made to hurt the subject, or provoke her, things change.
From experience and from guy friends I have understood that the only way to stop such behaviour is by reacting to it. If you just ignore it, they may believe that you don’t mind, or even that you enjoy it. Be it a turn of your head or a stare or words, you need to react. It is only after taking my auto that I realized how offensive the comments were. And they were standing at a distance from me, so had to say it really aloud for it to reach me.
What would be the intention behind such comments? What pleasure do they get out of it? I don’t understand.
Few days ago, there was a discussion on a google group I am a member of – about a news article on a Malayalam daily. It was about a girl getting into a tussle with an older man who it seems criticized her for her choice of clothes (jeans and tshirt again). During a bus trip the man sat near the girl, who was in her early twenties, and told her he disapproved of what she wore, and to dress properly. She said something back. The article says that this man touched her after she told him not to and she slapped him. She beat him more after he got down from the bus. Half the people in the bus were with the girl, and the other with the man. The girl was arrested for assaulting the man.
In the course of the discussion, several viewpoints came out – one being the all-too-familiar ‘fault of the girl in choosing to wear a provocative dress’. I find this reaction too lowly to even respond to it. It just isn’t worth it. And there is absolutely no use trying to talk sense into such people. They will not change their mind no matter what, unless probably something of this sort happens to their own kith and kin.
I thought Trivandrum was mature enough to confront a pair of jeans and a t-shirt! But looks like we are a long way away. And I might add here, all the guys near my house were in some sort of jeans-t-shirt wear. Maybe they drool over their own ‘commodity selves’ every morning in front of the mirror.