By Shrenik Mutha
The last Saturday has marked a day of fear for me. A day of experiencing the wrath of moral policing, the despair and helplessness coupled with fear that grips us in those moments.
I had wanted to spend time with a friend, sit and read poems. And as usual, cities have no such spaces to offer, definitely not without having to pay money for them. After much thinking as to where we could go, she asked her cousin if we could go to the terrace. This building is Shreenidhi apartments opposite Siddhi Apartments in the Ashish Garden area in Kothrud, Pune.
And off we were, the sun shone after a few days, it was around 2.30 in the afternoon. It started drizzling slightly and hence, we just decided the terrace. The drizzle increased and the only way to still be able to sit was the room sort of a structure we saw above. Open and accessible, with a wire mesh on one side, this could be opened and shut. We went and sat in, it was quite dusty.
We barely managed to sit for two minutes and there were noises, a man on the gate who shut the gate and locked us in from the outside and started abusing-“I know you’ll are here to have sex. Is this how a man behaves-sitting in a room with two women?” This man had a white long-ish beard, an orange ‘U’ tika on his face.
My friend started arguing, asking him what had we done, we were just sitting and had barely come in two minutes ago. The intensity of his abuses increased, his words more gross, the patriarchy completely visible. Prerna (name changed, identity of religion stays same) asked him, “is this what your sanskruti really teaches you? To talk to someone your children’s age, like this?” He answered back with, “How dare you talk to me like that. Someone, call 100.” We said, “please do. Call 100.”
We were let out, with a bit of pushing from the inside which went in the opening the gate. The arguing continued, the adhyaksha bai (chair-woman) was called on the terrace and her coming brought different spirit to the group. By now, there already was a group of 20 to 25 people. The arguing continued, while I tried to think of ways to get out of this. By the time I could even process something, the right side of my face was shaken; it took a few seconds to feel the pain the slap left. The same hand hit again. And more people joined in. By now, I could already taste blood. I touched the base of my nose and realised I had blood leaking from my nose.
Prerna and her cousin, Jyoti (name changed)-who lives in the building- got angry and started arguing with everyone, then pleading to ask them to stop beating me. Until then, the women told them, “It is because you are arguing that he is getting beaten up.” I heard that and lost it but fear found me again. In those moments, I lost courage; fear engulfed me while anger was still breathing inside.
We had to somehow get out of there. A middle aged woman came and held onto Prerna, while trying to prove her point-why sit with a boy in a room? She ended up tearing her shirt sleeves. I realised we had to get out soon. The slaps and punches continued and I could not even argue or abuse or fight. I just kept quiet, taking it all, pleading as though we had committed a wrong. But what wrong was it, to go and sit in a room on a terrace?
This fear has found a place inside. A friend hugged me on the road outside college and my immediate reflex was, is there anyone around? I cannot live with this fear. I want to get this out. If we cannot be safe in our own buildings, where else would we find safety? Maybe, the idea of safety itself is a farce in these days. It is exactly living in a patriarchal culture, one which does not allow men and women to have friendships, their relationships need to be sexual. It is this denial which I want to fight. Do these people really not have friendships with people of the other gender, those who accused us? If not, then I pity them.
A non-cognisable offence has been filed at the Kothrud police stations. Police procedures will start soon. But, even as that happens, I know they will get away with it. They have only been charged with offences, all which are non-cognizable and bail able, specifically section 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt) and 504 (intentional insult) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
These ‘self-appointed custodians’ of morality openly beat up people; due to the fact that they know they can get away with it. But they cannot. Even if we were engaging in any ‘anti-social’ act, even if we were having sex, as they accused us of intending to do, who has given these people the right to be violent? Call the police. Follow the law.
This is what I propose, to each one of them present, those who abated the act: How about a ‘chai pe charcha on the terrace?’
(Shrenik Mutha is a student of Law at the ILS Law College,Pune)