It's hard to be a woman in India. The statement would attract several diverse opinions. But the fact remains unaltered. It's hard to be a woman anywhere in this world. I do not have first-hand experience to back that statement, so let me walk you through an incident in which I was stunned to the core.
I would like to pick one from my train journeys to understand the situation. This particular one dragged me through all possible colours of pain. By the time I came out of the Howrah-Ahmedabad Express, I was black and blue from all the metaphorical blows. There was already enough chaos in the compartment that I had to get into, but it's the general compartment, so what else can one expect? This tale is a summary of the train journeys of all the women combined, especially the ones that travel by the general compartment, the option that we choose to travel by due to economic reasons.
I was aiming to get down at Jalgaon after boarding the train from Ahmedabad. Three of my friends and I were all set and excited to venture out into Ajanta and Ellora caves. After quarrelling with a few people lying down without tickets on the seats people were supposed to sit in, we forced ourselves to believe we were comfortable. I was getting into the art of doing that when a man came and sat at the edge of the seat opposite to me. The woman constantly nagging the people trying to sit there did not have an opinion this time. She was silent and let him sit. The man started to converse with me, and after a while, he settled down on the floor to sleep, or so I thought. A girl was already lying between the lower berths' space. He lay down on the way that people walk through. The tale takes a dark turn when this man starts bending the upper side of his body towards where my legs were. I could barely sit at the edge of the seat, and now I couldn't keep my legs on the floor. I hugged my backpack tight and folded my legs. He had a lot of space to put his head comfortably, but he snuggled by my legs. When he found out that his prey had realised what he was up to, he moved on to the girl lying on the floor between the lower berths. I saw him slide his hand under her skirt, which was it for me. The woman who didn't want men to sit anywhere near her, even on the floor, did not want to protect her granddaughter after she realised that her voice was thinning into the air he was breathing in. I pulled my right leg out and stomped on his right hand. The entire time, he had his head inside his bed sheet and pretended nothing was happening. He withdrew his hand, but he did not mean to spare me. He raised his hands and touched my legs "accidentally" as he lay there twisting and turning for no particular reason. I kicked him again, but it was almost as if I turned invisible whenever I started to react. This frustrated me even further, and my eyes began to water.
The setting is further mystified by the fact that no one wanted to help me out after clearly observing my helplessness. Forget help, a few men were even smirking and laughing at the commendable thing that he was doing. No one raised even a finger. Patriarchy and Internalised patriarchy crushed me from both ends. Then, after watching my struggle for a while, a man watching a cricket match on his phone chose to call him out for me. He was the only human that I could find among the savages that I was surrounded by. The abuser felt attacked, and he sat silently for a while, got up and left after some time. You might be wondering where my friends were all this time. The compartment was generally very noisy, and this event faded into the background. They were sound asleep on the upper berth and did not notice my struggle. I am the kind of person who would never ask for help, which is a horrendous trait, and I am aware of it, but I can't shake that trait off.
The tale now takes quite a breathtaking turn. A big crowd of people rushed onto the train from a random station. The man had returned and used the situation to sit on my feet. The man who had helped me had left by then. Again, there was space to sit on the other side of the floor. But he chose to disturb me, yet again. I asked him to move to that space, and he called someone standing and asked him to sit there, and the free space was gone. I pulled my feet out and folded my feet again. Now, he began to lean backwards and rested with my support. I used my bag to push him away, and it was pretty evident that I was struggling, but no one batted even an eyelash. By this time, one of my friends had noticed and asked me to climb with her to the upper berth. But it was a matter of pride at this stage. I would have felt like I had lost a war if I had done that and I refused to move. The opposite would have been the more peaceful option.
I had seen the threshold of my patience and started shouting at him. He became defensive and shot weak comments like "You smell bad" and "Have you seen yourself in the mirror?" I gathered my strength and hurled sentences at him in my broken Hindi. This was quite risky, as who knows what he could do. But I did it anyway. I had to single-handedly chase that man from the compartment, which could have taken a wrong turn at any moment. I glared at the men who were laughing, and they stopped doing it, and honestly, it felt like I had won a tournament.
So yes, being a woman is not a cakewalk. We carry safety pins and pepper sprays, which are essential for survival. We think twice before going out alone at night. We get scared when a random man walks home, afraid he might follow us. We also must be cautious when standing up to men in public as we would first imagine the possibility of rape and ending up in a body bag. Being a woman with no support on a train is a nightmare that I never wish to relive again, and this tale symbolises the joint struggle we are going through daily.