As a young teen, I led a simple life. Every morning my little brother and I would wake up and drag ourselves to school. My mother found it a task to get us out of bed. Then when we got home, we would be exhausted with the day and the afternoon heat, so barely ate some quick noodles and flopped back to bed. We would sleep like logs. Not even a bomb could wake us up from our deep slumber in our air conditioned bedroom. There were times when we would forget to remove the keys from the door and Mother would have to call the caretaker of the building (haris) to climb into our balcony and house, on the third floor, from the neighbour’s house so that he could unlock the main door from the inside and Mother could get into her own house. A scolding would follow that, once we finally woke up, of course. If not for the deep slumber, I would spend hours on the phone with my best friend, talking about all sorts of things. And once Mother came home, a scolding would follow that too. Cell phones were rare in those days so the landlines were the only mode of communication through which Mother would know we were doing alright in her absence.
We would spend the weekends going to Church and then dinner as this was family time. In the absence of Father, and Mother trying to be both parents and working hard to make both ends meet, the three of us had to spend quality time in some way. My brother would join us for a service only on the pretext of getting his hamburger later. We would normally have dinner at a Chinese restaurant or a burger joint. The distance from the Church to the restaurant area was a kilometer or so, through shopping complexes which were mostly filled with men sitting and spending their holiday time meeting with their species.
Even though I was a sweet and simple girl, from the age of 8 I hated abusive men; men who physically, verbally, spiritually and mentally abused women. I was filled with such despise that I would tell Mother I would kick the boy who asked for dowry rather than marry him. She would laugh, nod and give me a tight hug. Back then, even the Indian movies mostly portrayed helpless women at the mercy of men, which instigated my feelings even more.
So on this particular Sunday, we walked hand in hand through the male-filled shopping complexes after the Church service. We checked a few shops for a couple of items we required. Just as we were getting out, a mob of men suddenly followed us through the automatic doors and I felt someone grab my backside and pull at my skirt. I was 12. I forced my hand behind, grabbed the hand and scratched deep into the flesh with my young but hard nails. While I did that, I told Mother about it and we stepped aside when we reached outside and looked for someone suspicious, in vain. I was so angry; I had tears in my eyes but there was not much we could do though I was quite proud of my strength and the fact that I had hurt him as much as I could.
Looking back, I’m thinking, maybe I should have reported it to the police. But then, the policemen in the Gulf (dominated by the decisions of men) were not very supportive of expatriate complaints and being a single mother there was close to impossible. My mother had gone through endless emotional stress to keep us with her after Father’s death. If anything, it would make her life even more stressful in this male chauvinist country.
In the end, the question still remains as to how men can be so atrocious that even an innocent 12 year can fall prey to their vicious minds. How a 10 month old baby can be physically abused by her Grandfather (read in the news). How young kids are lured with chocolates and then molested daily (watched on ‘Crime Patrol’). I think we can start putting a stop to this by talking to our kids first, especially our daughters, and letting them know that horrible people exist; that they should tell us if any ‘uncle’ or ‘aunty’ is upsetting them in any bad way. We can teach them the ‘touch me not’ areas of their bodies. We can teach them to yell if anyone caught them against their will. Only then can we start changing things around us and change the minds of people who think they can abuse anyone and get away with it.