Nirbhaya’s courage

I grew up in Delhi – went to school in delhi, and then onto college. I traveled on the public transport from IIT to our flat in Alaknanda most weekends. Living in the hostel at IIT was sheltered. It felt safe – at least as long as we were on campus. When we went out of the campus, we went in groups. We frequented priya cinema – walked many times past the same bus stop that Nirbhaya waited on. As I read her story, 15 years after I left Delhi, I still feel as though it could’ve been me. I don’t know if I would’ve had her courage or her strength. She had the courage to fight, and a desire to live free. It is in her honor that I write today.

Many a times, it almost was me.

I was perhaps 12 when I first experienced harassment in delhi. I was coming back from a ping-pong summer camp on a bus. I was seated in a crowded bus, as I had got on on an earlier stop. I was tired and resting my head on my elbows. A man, it could’ve been anyone, started brushing his hands deliberately, yet inconspicously against my breasts. I was startled. I wanted to slap him. But, my older cousins had warned me – don’t antagonize a man – he may come back or follow you to get his revenge – just stare him down. It took all my courage, but, I stared him down. He moved away.

When I was a pimply teenager, my parents took me to see a homeopath – to get some medicine for the pimples. The medicines helped me, and I would go back weekly to get medicine. One day my mother was sick. So, my younger sister and I went to get the refill. The doctor took the opportunity – said he needed to examine me. And took me behind the curtains in his office. Under the guise of a physical exam, he stroked my breasts. I knew something was wrong. But, I was young and scared. Even with my sister just outside, I still stayed quiet. Fortunately, she thought it was odd that it was taking so long, and said something. My ordeal was over, and I could get out.

Another time, I was returning home from IIT on a bus. It must not have been rush hour. It was midday. The bus only had a few passengers. One by one they got off the bus at different stops. Mine was yet to come. When the last person got off, I got scared. I had been told of the many cases of girls taken by bus drivers and conductors to do as they will. I saw the expression in the eyes of the driver and conductor. I was easy prey. The next stop came up, and the driver barely pressed the brakes. It was not my stop. I jumped off the moving bus. I walked the rest of the way home. It was just another day in Delhi.

She is me, and I am her

I do not need to know her name to know her. She has given me the courage to speak. Whenever I stay quiet, I perpetuate the same misogyny that killed her. I live in Seattle now. And, thought me to be free. But, the misogyny is spreading. I felt it when working at Expedia in Bellevue. I have no proof. Only the memory of a darkened office where the engineering lead (an indian man) and his manager (an indian man) proceeded to berate me – telling me what a terrible employee and engineer I was. The meeting is not on any schedule. And that of a VP (another indian male) who proceeded from telling me how great an engineer I was in private, to how mediocre I was to his peers and managers. When I challenged him to, he refused to say so in writing. Given only two female Sr. Developers in a company of thousands, I was alone. The men I thought to be decent (many indian men among them), kept quiet and watched, as I gradually lost all my self-confidence and eventually left. It isn’t those that bully, it is the ones that watch and say nothing who promote the impunity to do so again.

I had given up – on corporate america, same as I had given up on Delhi. But, the fighter in me came back. Is this what my daughters have to look forward to? How do I protect them? I built my own company, and with it rebuilt my confidence. With it, I hope I build a better future for my daughters. I watch all the men and women fearlessly protesting in Delhi. With it, I hope they build a better future too.

One thought on “Nirbhaya’s courage

  1. Hi Ana,
    A sincere salute to your honesty and hats-off to your courage for penning down your experiences. It was as if I can feel what you have gone through (or what millions of Indian females go through daily).
    It pains pretty badly to how poor state of affairs are still in Delhi.
    Hopefully we(Indians) have learnt our lessons well & I feel that now we are much more aware (thanks to social media) & much more united. We have learned to stand together for causes & this can be the real beginning.


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