Predators, Prey-shamers & the Jungle Book of Sexual Harassment


Predators, Prey-shamers & the Jungle Book of Sexual Harassment

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

The predator surveys the outback of Mumbai’s Khar Road railway station. His prey seem ripe for the picking today. The only question is, which one? There’s a buffet here.

There’s that Giraffe in the sari; the flashes of her stomach are enough to make any bhai go, “Aye hai.” Then there’s the Doe with the earphones, her lips moving almost imperceptibly along with the song as she waits for the train… irresistible. And there, in the distance, that Wee Little Chicken in her school uniform, on her way to tuition. The predator knows that if he waits a little longer, the number of prey will multiply with the arrival of the Borivali Slow. God is kind indeed.

But why wait when nature has been so bountiful already?

The predator moves in for, well, not the kill, but his morning “timepass” nonetheless. A quick hiss at the Giraffe, an innocuous brush against the Doe, and the sexiest pout he can muster at the Chicken, before moving on to his next target, the vada pao that has been eyeing him lasciviously from across the platform. He knows that his actions have no serious consequences – the Giraffe lowers her gaze and quickens her pace, the Doe gives out a loud “tsk” and goes back to humming, the Wee Little Chicken pretends not to see but tugs her skirt down further down her legs.

After a quick snack during which his eyes are glued to his mobile phone screen where Varun Dhawan forcibly kisses Taapsee Pannu, our predator strolls back onto the overbridge, singing Main Tera Hero to any woman who passes by.

He’s met with dirty looks at best, and mild chiding at worst. What! Singing is a crime now? God, women just think they own public places! OH MY GOD, HE’S JUST SPOTTED A BRA STRAP PEEPING OUT THROUGH A SLEEVELESS TOP. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS. HE HAS TO GO TOUCH IT NOW.

Wee Little Chicken makes the mistake of going home and telling her parents how she’s often whistled at while she’s waiting on the platform. Her father starts yelling at her about the length of her uniform.

Two minutes later, he’s dragged by the ear to the railway police. While the policeman on duty gives him a whack across the face as he begs for mercy over this “simple misunderstanding”, the police woman pulls aside the Revealer of the Bra Strap to one side gently and advises her not to wear “such clothes” at railway stations. “I mean, really, we’ll take care of this right now, but what did you think would happen? You see, these kind of men come from villages, they are not used to seeing women dressed like this. You can prevent this from happening to you!”

But no, “these kind of men” do not emerge from villages. And they do not prowl the railway stations alone. You can run into them at a plush pub in Pune or a subway in New York. It could be your friendly neighbourhood uncle or a media mogul. Harvey Weinstein and his brand of predators are everywhere and every woman has encountered them. Every woman has probably been implicated by their harasser in their acts, has had self-doubt, and felt guilty.

The Revealer of the Bra Strap is no different. Suitably admonished for bringing this upon herself, the Revealer waits for the next train. She’s going to be late to office, her boss is going to yell at her, her day is screwed, and the lout is going to walk free in 3… 2… 1… Maybe the next time this happens (and it most certainly will), she’d be better off ignoring him instead of getting outraged. And yes, she is definitely going to start carrying a scarf in her bag from tomorrow.

Wee Little Chicken makes the mistake of going home and telling her parents how she’s often whistled at while she’s waiting on the platform. Her father starts yelling at her about the length of her uniform. She’s the one at fault, he says, because men will be men, right? It’s the testosterone that is behind it all; they can’t help when they’ve been “led” this far.

Doe keeps her earphones plugged in all day. Once, when a similar incident had happened, she had confided in a professor. Her professor had asked her what she’d done – if she’d responded by yelling at the guy or complaining to the police. When she said no, he said that the harasser would have gone and done it to another woman because of her lack of a reaction. The harassment of that other woman would be on her, how did that make her feel? Like shit, that’s how. How would he know that this happens to her too many times to count? If she complained about each one, she would have no time to do anything else and no peace of mind. The professor pats outraged Doe on the back, magnanimously forgives her for taking out her anger on him, and tells her to use it on the next guy who “disrespects” her instead – you know, those “poor, immigrant kind who hang around street corners and leer at women”.

After a long day at work, the sari-wearing Giraffe is catching a drink with some of her buddies. She mentions how men stare at her and brush against her nearly every day, how she has often contorted her body to avoid it, and how it still manages to bother her after so many years. One of her colleagues (male, of course) ribs her, “Come on, don’t give all men a bad name. It’s not like I go around doing that. You should clarify that SOME men do it the next time you tell these stories. Anyway, you should take it as a compliment – he thinks you’re hot even though you’re in your thirties.”

Her boyfriend gives the colleague a look as if to say, “Women, right? So much drama!” before turning to his lady love and saying, “I understand it’s irritating babe. If I’d been there, I’d never have let the bastard go… but he didn’t DO anything to you right?”

Nope, he didn’t. Nothing serious, except turning the women into pieces of meat, into prey that will be hunted into submission. On a good day, we’ve all been either the Giraffe, or the Doe, or the Wee Little Chicken. On a bad day, we’ve been all three — unfairly burdened with the labour of not just protecting ourselves, but also of apologising for it.

But what will it really take for the world to cease being a hunting ground? The day the predator stops himself before reaching for the bra strap.