Firstly, let me make it clear that this blog isn’t about something to do with technology or tips to use your phone or camera for Selfies. If the title has misled you, then I sincerely apologize for the same.
However, this blog does talk about how during my long and eventful travel to India, earlier this year, I got introduced to the art of voyeurism through selfies (sarcasm intended). Also, let me warn you that this one is a long read so feel free to skip reading at any moment!
I had been traveling to India almost every year since I moved to Canada and let me clarify that I am not new to the ways of Indian men too due to being born and brought up in India and having spent a lot of time struggling to get independent as a girl (I am not trying to demean Indian men but only sharing my experience that I have gained by spending most of my life in India as a girl. Although I have personally known far better Indian men in life, including my father, my husband and my-father-in law included. And, I would like to add that men are not the only ones responsible but I know way more women who are responsible for suppressing their daughters, encouraging their sons’ wrong ways with other women and continuing to take their husbands’ suppression without a peep and setting an inappropriate example for their future generations.)
To cut the long story short, let me start by describing this incidence that happened with me and my family (how can they be unaffected by things that affect me) on 20th of January 2017. We reached Mumbai and after a few days, i.e. on 20th of January 2017 we all were to board in ‘Goa Air’ airplane (the airlines were very helpful during the whole incidence onboard) to have some family time in Goa. I was traveling with my son, husband, my parents and my sister. My father had made sure that we all sit in the same row and hence he blocked the whole last row for six of us. Three on either side of the aisle.
Although, as soon as I entered with my ‘careless self’ into Mumbai airport, after a few glares from men of different status and ages, I realised that I had forgotten the ways of my beloved country. I, as a woman, was not supposed to be carefree but rather be vigilant during every second of my public appearance (pun intended as I am not a celebrity!)
After security check, the uniformed officer who had been helping with bags made sure to make me uncomfortable with his gaze that followed me till I was lost in the crowd. A suited man, probably waiting to board plane for some official meeting in some other city, his vision followed me in a very uncomfortable manner as I kept moving around different gates, chasing my highly mobile son. And of course, not to mention, another man, almost double my age was bold enough to stand in front of me, sometimes a few inches and sometimes a few feet away and give me those all so familiar looks. First two annoyed me and this last person I mentioned, frankly speaking, I found him to be irritatingly funny. He had the guts to do that and won’t budge from his stand despite me giving him unhappy looks. I felt like I should go to him and ask him, “Uncle, what is your problem? Why are you continuously staring at me instead of paying attention on your wife? Am I too fat? Or I look like an alien? And even if I do look like any of that, then please don’t stare at me! Because I am still a woman, who feels discomfort in being seen through those peering eyes, even though I would show that I care the list bit about it.”
And then, I let the matter go with a smirk, thinking about how things haven’t changed a bit and what used to be considered as something that was done in buses and trains by men to demean and objectify women was now also transported to the airports too. Clearly the country has been prospering; gender harassment, eve-teasing, inappropriate touch, staring at women in an inappropriate manner, all these special characters that while growing up I used to associate with traveling in local buses, trains and other inexpensive public transport ways have been transported to relatively expensive mode of traveling, i.e. flying. So, money hasn’t got anything with how people treat women.
Coming to the actual incidence, we boarded our plane and got seated on the last row. I sat on 30 C (aisle seat) with my husband on my side and my son occupying the window seat. My parents and sister sat on the other side of the aisle. Everyone was still settling in their seats and it was still some time for the plane to take off. Me and my husband were happily chatting, excited for our beach vacation with the whole family. I noticed a man sitting on 29 E, middle seat of the row in front of my parents’ seat. The aisle seat beside him wasn’t occupied by then. This man had been turning and looking at us (because there was no one behind me and my husband!) and he was happily taking his selfies with his smartphone. While I was still busy talking to my husband, a glance in front captured my attention on his phone. Yes, that man was taking selfie of himself, then why was I in the picture? I noticed a few times and realized that every time, I was in the frame. And then I saw him trying to view the photos by zooming and I could clearly see that he zoomed on only my image (particularly my chest) and that is when I was sure that he was trying to capture my images in the pretext of clicking selfies. I tried to hide my face while continuing to talk to my husband, hoping that my face won’t come up in his photos. Anyway, it didn’t look like he was interested in my face. By this time, his aisle seat was occupied by his friend/colleague and they were happily clicking more pictures of themselves. Once the flight took off, I casually told my husband that I suspected that the man had been trying to click my photos in pretext of selfies. My gentleman husband heard me and nodded. After that I completely ignored the Selfie man and tried to enjoy my flight (like I had been doing all my life!) But my husband kept an eye on that man and he too noticed that this Selfie man had been turning to look at me frequently and shamelessly. My parents were fast asleep and from there position, they could not see where the person in the seat in front of them was looking. Through out our 45 minutes in air, my husband noticed this awkward staring.
When we were about to land, my husband called up the flight attendant and asked him about their policy regarding sexual harassment in flight by passengers. The nice flight attendant asked in concern about what had happened. My husband told him that he suspected that the other man had been taking his wife’s photos in the pretext of taking selfies and he isn’t sure about it so if his phone could be checked to confirm the same.
The flight attendant approached the relevant passenger (the Selfie man) and requested for his phone. By this time, this passenger had realised that he was in a big soup (I hope that it was a big deal for him!) He handed his phone reluctantly and the flight attendant skimmed through the last few photos of his phone and confirmed our suspicion. So far, we hadn’t seen any of the photos on his phone. This passenger wanted his phone back but after our disapproval the attendant made sure that the phone was with him till it was handed over to the police. He then showed us the photos and I quickly took photos of those pictures from my phone. Yes, I was in most of the frames and in two of them, this passenger wasn’t there but just me and a portion of my husband was there.
We told the flight attendant that we wanted to file a police complaint against that passenger as soon as we landed in Goa and we were told that surely, airlines will cooperate with us. In the mean while, flight attendant told us that we will have to find two witnesses as police might ask for them. How can we, who were sitting on the last seat have witnesses? But then two gentle men who were sitting in the row in front of me volunteered. They hadn’t seen anything but they wanted to support the cause and said that if the photos are so self explanatory then they would like to stand with us. We thanked those two co-passengers who were so nice to stand by us as we waited for every one to disembark from the flight and then to proceed to the Police.
Meanwhile this passenger started apologizing and his friend/colleague who had occupied the aisle seat asked us to forgive his friend as he had two daughters! We were amazed by the logic and told him that in that case it was even more necessary to pursue this issue further so that his daughters also knew that what kind of person their father was.
At the air-port we were asked to wait along with this Selfie man who took my photos, his colleague and the two co-passengers who had volunteered to be with us while we speak to the Police. Airport security personnel left us all while we went to fetch the Police officer. A police security man who had a dog with him stayed by us for some time before leaving us all on our own to see how much time it was going to take get a Police Officer to us. After 15-20 minutes of waiting we were told that Police were having lunch so we should all go to the Police station. In the mean while we felt bad for the co-passengers who were with us only to support us and asked them to not spend their precious time waiting for further action but leave for their further destination. Initially they refused to leave but then decided to leave as the photos should have been enough to make our complaint stronger.
A Police official came to us and asked some basic questions, he then took us to the Police station outside Dabolim (Goa) airport. With that my family and the Selfie man with his colleague, we all went to the Police station. Thankfully my son slept through all this!
In the Police station, the inspector in-charge heard our complaint patiently and guided us helpfully. We came to know that this selfie person was a 55+ (near to retirement,) a state government officer (I know which department and position he worked as but won’t mention it here.) So, he was an educated, working class family man at a respectable position. His colleague told me to forgive his friend once again as he didn’t forward my pictures to anyone and I should feel content with that. I was repeatedly being shocked by the thought level of these men.
Police Officer gave us the option of filing an FIR or a Magistrate complaint. Being foreign nationals, we decided to not file FIR as it wouldn’t have been possible for us to travel to India every time with court’s summons (it felt very unfair and things should be different when it comes to such cases with foreign nationals. I wish I had lived in India to personally pursue this case further by filing an FIR.) The Police Inspector told us that he will represent us in front of the magistrate if we decide to file a Magistrate complaint. I wrote my complaint and handed it over. We told the police Inspector that we would let him know in two days if we want to proceed with FIR or a Magistrate Complaint. And after two days I called him up to let him know that we wanted to register a complaint with the magistrate.
We left tired and exhausted with the experience, to our resort to continue with our life and hoping that this selfie man gets his due punishment from the Magistrate. We don’t know what happened after we left and It is in my ‘to do list’ to follow up with the very kind and helpful inspector about what happened to my complaint during magistrate hearing. I wish I could file an FIR but now I can just hope that justice be served even though it’s through a different channel.
So, why do I want a legal action to be taken on an elderly, respected man for taking few snaps of me, with just a shadow of my cleavage visible? He didn’t touch me or say anything to me. It is because, this simple task of taking photos of my body parts without my consent in an offensive manner is a symbol of objectification of females as a person. I am not saying that I haven’t experienced other types of sexual harassments. Yes, I have been touched, groped, whistled at, asked for my rate and much more… a few times I objected, but most of the times I tried to brush off the humiliation and decided to move on. Few times, I had been frankly scared that if I spoke something then the perpetrator might do something more severe to me. I give due respect to my husband for raising his voice for me. I felt embarrassed that why it wasn’t me who raised my own voice loud and clear this time. Why I worried that I had a family with me. I thought about my parents and thought that it was better to keep my mouth shut. Why?
Growing up, most of us girls learnt to not bring these day to day eve-teasing stories to our parents or else our freedom to walk and travel on our own, to go to school, to be with friends, to pursue a career, to wear what we like and a lot of very basic simple things which most of the boys took for granted, could be snatched away from us for the sake of our safety. And that is what I did most of my life. If I rose my voice outside, I didn’t bring it home to share. I worried to lose my basic rights and freedom. Forget about parents, while growing up, most of us girls didn’t know that it was wrong to be seen, touched or talked about by other people that made us feel dirty, and it was not okay, and we needed to raise our voices against it. No, we knew that we were supposed to keep quiet and walk off as quickly as possible to avoid any confrontations. Our other girl friends would tell us that we must let it go, forget it and we couldn’t do anything. This is what we learnt in school too, from our teachers who would make us think that we were not to raise our voices if another teacher makes the young, teenage girls in school feel vulnerable and sexually humiliated.
I remember an incidence from my college time (my early twenties) where after playing Holi (festival of colours, where every one splashes colour and water on each other) with my friends, I took bath, wore clean clothes and stepped out to eat lunch in my mess (canteen) close-by. Roads were empty post the Holi fun and when I was coming back from the mess to my room, a group of boys started singing cheap Bollywood songs. I got nervous and walked fast. And then when I crossed these singing group of boys and when my back was towards them, they threw a balloon on my rear. It hurt, more than any physical pain, it was the pain of humiliation and of my self-respect being snatched away from me (although it sounds like a very small incidence but ask a girl who faces this disgrace.) It was a pain of being touched not by hands but a balloon that those hands threw on me with a target, without my consent. Within seconds I was left as an object that provided some momentary pleasure to that sick group of boys. I walked to my room quickly, trembling with anger and humiliation. Angry on myself for not running back to them to scratch their faces off. But I didn’t do anything like that and I still feel disgusted about it. In the room, my girlfriends observed my disturbed state and asked me about what happened. After my narrating the incidence, they told me to forget it as it was Holi and I shouldn’t mine. I was shocked and I was heart broken. Then the next day I left for home to be with my parents to get a break from the incidence. My parents suspected my unusual trip during college days but didn’t ponder too much after seeing my reluctance to share anything with them. It’s been more than a decade but I still feel the rage inside me simmer up when I remember that Holi. It wasn’t a first Holi where I was hit with balloons. In the past, I had fought for my friends as well as for myself, but this time I didn’t and that enrages me more. I have experienced more tangible forms of sexual harassments, but this one points out very vividly in my memory because even my girl friends considered it to be okay because it was a festival. So, the whole point is most of us girls grew up not having the clarity about, that it was not okay to do anything obscene with a girl without her consent and every time we needed to raise our voice against it. We were not educated, trained, or informed about our rights, freedom and situations where we needed to speak up, neither at home and nor at school. We learnt from what we observed and that was to suck it up and keep your mouth shut. This is what has encouraged the opposite gender to take advantage of us. We don’t raise our voices, we don’t complain and we continue to live under this constant mental and physical assault and let things happen to us.
I wrote this blog in the hope that more and more men and women would read it and take this message that every time you see anything like this or anything wrong happening to you or someone you know, then please raise your voice, please take legal actions, please make sure that the person who just humiliated you knows that you will NOT TAKE IT!!! PLEASE, it is our collective responsibility to bring the change and set examples for the little girls, and for the grown-up women to know that they have all the rights to complain, to raise their voices and let everyone know that they don’t have their consent to undress them with their eyes, touch them deliberately or say anything to them that is sexual in nature. PLEASE be part of this change. PLEASE be an example for yourself, for your daughters, sisters, mothers and even for the men in your lives. PLEASE pass on the message to everyone who would benefit from reading it. No human needs to be dealt like an inanimate object, and everyone’s feelings and self-respects are equal, irrespective of their gender.
Note: I would like to thank everyone who had been supporting and kind with me and my family during this incidence. The Flight attendant, Co-Passengers who stood by us, The Police Officer (not disclosing his name here) who empathized with us and patiently guided us through the process, and my husband and my family for standing for me and by my side!