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The place was the Thalasseri railway station and the time 8 p.m. The train to Kasargode had just arrived. A mother hurriedly boarded the train, intent on finding the berths allotted so as to get her brood settled for the overnight journey. She walked ahead clutching the youngest one’s hand looking for the right number in the dim light, while the two older children hastened after her, carrying their own bags, trying their best to keep up.

In the darkened confines of the compartment, illuminated only by a sickly yellow bulb, the hand of a young man walking in the opposite direction shot out towards he chest of the eldest one, feeling her, before he quickly got off the train and vanished into the night.  For the shocked girl, all of 13 years, it was her first direct introduction to the phenomenon called groping, a hobby indulged in by a sub-sect of homo-sapiens called by the mild name of eve-teasers by an over-indulgent society. That night as she cried herself to sleep, she learnt of one more thing she had to adjust to in life for the simple crime of having been born with two sets of X chromosomes.

Adjust, they tell us from the moment we are born, if we are lucky and get past that amniocentesis that reveals our sex. As life unfolds, we learn just to what extent this adjustment goes. It is not the normal adjustments like: I don’t have coffee. Will you adjust with drinking tea today?? I have not had work for the past week. Will you adjust with one meal a day till I find a job?? The roof is cracked. Will you adjust with the wet room?? So on and so forth…

Unfortunately, the adjustments women have to make go much deeper. It is all about control. We have to adjust to being controlled. Period. No looking here. No going there. No wearing this. No talking loud. No speaking to boys. No standing there, no sitting here. Do this, don’t do that. Eat this, don’t eat that. You get the idea, I don’t have to elaborate. Adjust to the control of our life and everything connected with it, is what is expected from us.

On top of all this is the adjustment of having to live with sexual harassment as an unavoidable part of our life. Even the best of men who are supportive and sympathetic to women and their causes have absolutely no idea what it is to lead such a life. How and why is it that society expects its females to adjust to the existence of such human beasts among us?? Why does society and its exalted members supposedly so concerned with protecting the females of the species, not isolate the afflicted and cleanse itself of such a disease?? Whose benefit does society have in mind by dragging its collective feet??

They expect (all else but their own) women to adjust to the situation, and save ourselves. The onus is of course on us for the unaccaptable behavior of such slime. Is it because the men are all in it together?? This is a question that haunts the thirteen year old who still remembers the lustful leer in the eyes of some of those who were mere onlookers that day, witnesses to the scene in the train. Where was sympathy for her plight?? The unholy glint only told the tale of a vicarious enjoyment at her plight, making her skin crawl in remembrance to this day. Adjust. It reminds her of the story of the Highest Expectation of Adjustment enacted in a court of a long gone era, when a wife was pawned by her husbands, stripped by her brothers-in-law, while elders, family members and others watched (in suppressed glee??) supposedly helpless, hiding behind some stupid reason for letting it all happen and for not coming to her aid.  Had there been a similar glint in the eyes of the watchers too, she wonders.

Here is another. A nineteen year old was trying to get off a crowded bus. It is true that the bus was jam packed. In spite of knowing that the girl wanted to get down at that particular bus-stop, the men refused to budge an inch. They didn’t even make a pretence of making way, instead they stood even closer together. After repeated entreaties, with bowed head, got no results, the surprised girl looked up, only to find them leering at her in a meaningful way. Disgusted, she roughly pushed her way through, unmindful of their bodies purposely pushing against her. This is a perfect case of total strangers forming a cohesive group to get some cheap thrills. Opportunity had knocked and the respectable citizens of society, who would otherwise have condemned eve-teasing most vehemently, had risen to the occasion as one. Why not, if they could get away with it?!!

Years back, as students and hostelers of a well known city college, some of us were forced by the nuns to make up the audience of a poorly attended function, Boring speech after boring speech followed as the girls sat in the auditorium inside the college premises. Since the function was open to the public, a few of the boys from the nearby (notorious) Law College hostel barged in, making good use of the opportunity to do some ‘girl-watching’. Word spread (even in the absence of cell phones), and more of the boys started trooping in. A couple of friends and I, got bored listening to the speeches and slipped off back to the hostel without the nuns noticing. Those who remained had a horror tale to tell on their return, which made us thank our lucky stars for disobeying the nuns.

When the speeches were over and the audience had dispersed, the men students from the Law College lined either side of the narrow corridor with malicious intent. They manhandled (and worse) the girl students as they walked past. The girls screamed, ran back to the auditorium for help, only to be sent back by the nuns. Don’t make a noise child. Their complaints were brushed aside and they were told to be on their way. The boys had a field day feeling and touching the girls and worse. They did so with loud laughter and cheers, egging each other on. What could the girls do?? Adjust.

I still remember the unbearable and intense feeling of anger on hearing what friends had to say. Why?? Why should we of the female gender go through this sort adjustment?? Apart from the fact that our supposed caretakers failed to protect, they had the audacity to shout at the girls to keep quiet, as if the girls were unnecessarily making a fuss. What makes parents, teachers and other elders scold the girls/women when they are the victims?? In situations that the elders cannot help, isn’t showing synmpathy, the least that they can do?? If things are inconvenient for the society/elders, just pretend nothing happened and reprimand the victims. Is that it?? Adjust.

I sometimes wonder at the other gender. What goes through their mind (apart from the obvious) when they grab and feel us at their leisure and discretion, that is supposing they have a mind at all?? Are they so blind and unfeeling (they must be, of course) as to be unable to see that we are humans too?? Each man wants his mother, sister, wife, daughter and girl friend to be protected from sexual harassment. The rest are ‘game’. If you object to harassment, some have the audacity to laugh along with the perpetrator and tell you condescendingly to not make a big issue of nothing. Adjust. Where and how did they get the idea that it is alright to treat girls/women thus?? Isn’t it the same society that asks us to adjust that gives the scum its tacit approval to harass??

How about those men making some adjustments themselves like not letting their wandering hand or other protruding body parts peculiar to their anatomy from brushing a female form standing near by?? Instead of expecting women to adjust and co-exist with such vermin, how about some teaching centers coming up, where they can be taught what they can do to themselves when they feel the urge to rub against women in buses and public places or anywhere for that matter?? Everyone has to make adjustments, you know.

How about giving a public platform and a mike to those who think calling out the names of body parts is a great sport?? They can then be asked to shout out loud whatever they want to say while the audience claps and encourages them openly. Instead of the tacit support they seem to have from society right now, let us all acknowledge them openly for their achievement of knowing so thoroughly, a limited portion of the human anatomy, and be suitably awed by the display of their biggest talent, that of knowing the names of the relevant body parts of a woman/man.

If I were given a boon, I’d wish for such pests to be turned to women (with their memory of their previous form intact) for a day, and that they are grabbed, poked, groped and touched as if they don’t own their body, yeah, just for one single day. At the end of that day, when they are turned back to men, I am sure they will realize how great is the adjustment that women make sharing the space on this beautiful planet with such scum as them.

Written for the Women’s Web Great Adjustment Story contest.

I preferred to write on a different sort of adjustment.

Here are 3 Adjustment Stories of another genre.

Women Against Violence