Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, December 9
Just for the record, I was not inappropriately dressed — a track pant and a sweatshirt, a cap covered with a hood is quite ‘proper’ by any standards — and I was seeking no attention; I wasn’t even loud when I left for my morning walk today.
That said, I am left wondering what prompted a 45-year-old man to stealthily sneak up behind me, push himself on to me, grope me, press himself against me, enter into a scuffle he did not win and vanish into nothingness without a trace.
I struggled and I screamed and I did not let his act instill any fear into me. I couldn’t afford fear or weakness in that moment. If anything, his act only triggered a stronger resolve to fight him off, hit him where I could and break free from his stranglehold.
But, what was my fault? Being out for a morning walk? Frequenting the usual track? Threatening to take his picture and report him to the police?
Nearly 15 minutes of grappling with him alone, I screamed for someone to hear me, hoping this is not the way my life will end, I hit him with one hand as I, pushed to the ground and on my knees, balanced myself against falling flat to give him more control over me. Those minutes seemed so heavy that they would make any nightmare feel like a dream.
It was 7:30 am and the sun was out when I stepped into Panjab University’s Botanical Garden where I usually go for my walk after going through the Rose Garden.
The couple of usual faces I generally see were not there but there was no scope for any apprehension. I had walked this track in the garden for over a year. The PU was home to me; its every nook and corner. It was here that I was born and I had grown up on the campus. So, I carried on with my walk, taking the track that went around the garden.
The mobile app tracking my walk announced the completion of 3 km when I was halfway through the track, towards the boundary wall of the garden.
Suddenly, for no reason, I felt slightly uneasy. Like somebody was right behind me. I turned to see a 45-something man appear out of nowhere. My mind instantly recognised him as the man from a day before who had asked me which hostel I lived in. I had told him that I was faculty, and pretended to look into my phone to avoid any more conversation. I had continued on the track and he had gone. Yes, he was the same man, at the same patch, in the same clothes.
That day, too, his presence had caused me discomfort but I had no reason to doubt his presence because some employees walk in the garden everyday and sometimes, they even exchange a word or two.
Today, as he approached me, he pointed towards the cactus enclosure, telling me that some flowers were blooming in that area that I could photograph.
Since he was making me uncomfortable by being around and more so as he started to walk towards me, I held up my phone and asked him to back off, failing which I would take his picture and give it to the police. He took a couple of quick steps towards me while he asked me why I was feeling scared of him and that there was no reason. By then, the alarm bells had started to ring inside me as I looked around for help.
Before I could activate the phone camera, the man, in a split second, pounced on me, held me in a tight grip, and I stood there trying to fight him off as I began to scream for help. He gagged my mouth with his hand, telling me to stop shouting, pressing his body against my backside. I bit his hand, jostled in his hold and struggled for release.
While we scuffled as he struggled to hold me and I struggled to free myself, he managed to make me lose my balance and pushed me to the ground. Not willing to give in and even more determined to hit back and get out of the place, I turned around but he was on me before I could stand up.
Then, started the long-drawn battle of getting out of the grip he held me in. As I sat on all fours, trying to push him off and get up, he pressed me down harder in a bid to make me lie flat and gain control.
I kept screaming right through hoping he would feel a little intimidated and hoping somebody would hear me and come to help. I kept trying to kick him where it would hurt the most, I tried to dig my elbow into his chest but nothing was working.
The thought of being raped, the stories of the Unnao victim and the Hyderabad victim, the fate that awaited me if I did not manage to break free, it kept me going.
An inner voice kept talking to me. It told me that here was a pervert who was trying to violate every bit of me and then there was me and I couldn’t let him have his way. It told me that being strong is all it will take to deal with this coward and that it was a one-on-one battle, which I had to win. So, with renewed energy, I started to give it back to the perpetrator who thought he had won because I had fallen to the ground. He didn’t think I would rise again because he presumed I was some helpless, faint-hearted woman he had brought to her knees. He clearly misjudged.
Kneeling on the ground with a man trying to pin me down, I was attempting to bite the hand that was attempting to stifle my screams while looking for something to hit him with — a stone, a brick, something that could surprise him. My mind was alert and thinking of ways to get back.
A weak six-inch branch was all the earth yielded as I ran my hands on the ground around me. I struck it where I thought his face would be behind me but I don’t know whether it really hit him or not. What it did do was to loosen his grip ever so slightly on me because he must have been taken aback. That gave me the much-needed window I was looking for.
Before he knew it, I scrambled out from under him as my cap fell and I ran towards the exit as fast as my legs would carry me. I didn’t look back, I didn’t see if he was following me. All I thought of in that moment was to get out and not stop till I am out of the gate and on the road.
Bleeding from the lips because his nails had dug into my skin around my mouth, I was breathless as I ran towards the gate.
Seeing two morning walkers enter the gate, I finally realised I had escaped from his clutches and help had arrived. I stopped, asked them for help and called up my husband.
As I repeated the incident — the man’s description, the way it all happened to the PU security guards and to the police — over and over again, I couldn’t help being grateful that I hadn’t ended up raped and dead because a pervert is stalking the garden I walk in.
For the last few days, I have been very troubled thinking of the girls from Unnao and Hyderabad who went through worse ordeals and paid with their lives. I have often wondered what their last thoughts were, their struggle against pervert minds, their state of mind as they fought them.
Today, after this incident, I can only multiply the horrors to understand the anguish, the helplessness and the war within them as they were violated.
The men will never understand how being violated feels while, ironically, it is only the men who can end this. Violating a woman is no bravado while it takes courage to be a gentleman.
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