One afternoon, on the foot overbridge at Dadar railway station in Mumbai, I witnessed a scene that one normally sees only in Bollywood films.
A young man walking a few feet in front of me suddenly put out his right elbow, which, after a few seconds, touched the breast of the young woman walking in the opposite direction. It had obviously been done deliberately. The young woman scowled at him, muttered, “Idiot!” and walked on. Just then, a deafening sound made everybody in the vicinity stop. A tall, well-built gentleman, who had been walking behind the girl, had landed a tight slap on the young man’s cheek. The young man froze with shock, but managed to recover enough to ask, “Who are you to slap me?” The gentleman calmly replied, “I am a police officer. I’m not in uniform right now, so you may not believe me. Here’s my Identity Card. Let’s go to the police station. One night in the lock-up will knock some sense into you!”
The young man was terrified! “Sir, please don’t do that. I’m very sorry. I belong to a decent family. I’m a college student. Please see my Identity Card. Please, sir. I swear to God I will never do such a thing again.”
The police officer took the Identity Card and replied, “OK. I won’t put you in the lock-up. You may go. I’ll come to your college at 10.00 am tomorrow and hand over your Identity Card to your Principal. Happy?”
Now, the young man was scared stiff! He started crying. “Sir, sir, sir! I’ll be expelled from the college. My life will be ruined. Please let me go, sir. I swear to God I will never do such a thing again.”
Looking into the young man’s eyes, the police officer replied, “How would you like it if some man misbehaves in the same way with your sister or your mother? Would you forgive him? Or would you want to see that he is punished?” The young man was silent.
After a few seconds, the police officer said, “I think you’ve learnt your lesson, so I’m not taking any action. Remember that every woman is somebody’s sister, somebody’s daughter. One day, she’ll be somebody’s wife and somebody’s mother. Please treat all women with the same respect that you would like other men to treat your mother and your sister with!” He returned the young man’s Identity Card and walked away.
I’m pretty sure that, not only the young man, other young men who had witnessed the incident would think twice before attempting to misbehave with any woman in public.
The police officer had handled the situation really well. But, it had been a lucky coincidence that he had been present when the young man had misbehaved with the young woman.
I think the turning point in this incident was the reply “I am a police officer” to the young man’s question “Who are you to slap me?” Many of us would like to do exactly what the police officer did. But we cannot ‘take the law into our hands’. We are powerless when an offender asks, “Who are you?”
I think the time has come for the government to create bodies of volunteers (similar to the Home Guards or Traffic Wardens) where citizen volunteers are trained and empowered to take action against men who sexually harass women. Secondly, support systems (also staffed by volunteers) should be created to assist victims of sexual harassment and sexual crimes to cope with the trauma that follows such incidents.
To start with, this could be introduced in a few cities. After fine-tuning, the same could be introduced all over the country.
Are we, the citizens of India, willing and enthusiastic to do our bit?
Or do we think our role ends with raving and ranting on television talk shows, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in our homes, taking part in candle light protests, writing blogs, reading blogs and commenting on blogs?