30 years back……
Ammukutty and her friend Jamuna laughed as they walked. The Maths tution class was done and they were headed back home. They liked to crack jokes about their funny teacher. Both were ninth graders studying in the same class and school, and stayed nearby. They had been close friends since kindergarten.
They took the public bus transport to go to and from their tuition classes. It was just a short distance of four stops. There was nothing to worry. They lived in the biggest ‘maximum’ city in India.
But it was getting dark that evening and the bus stop was unusually crowded. To add to that, the buses looked as if they would burst at the seams. Ammukutty felt a slight tension in her mind.
The two friends kept waiting as three buses stopped one by one, took their share of passengers and proceeded on. The girls decided that whatever happens they have to board the next bus that came. It was getting late.
The bus arrived. Ammukutty and Jamuna waited a moment as the alighting passengers finished getting out of the bus. They tried to find a foothold or a grip to climb in between the jostling crowds that tried to make their way.
And then Ammukutty screamed. It was a scream of horror that took some time to originate from her mouth, which initially went numb with shock. Ammukutty did not know which pair of hands to battle with and disentangle from her body first. The ones which cupped her chest and squeezed her or the pair of hands which gripped their way through her skirt into her genitals. She could not find her feet touching the floor of the bus. The tightly packed crowd all around her made it difficult to move or turn to identify the perpetrators. All she could do was shout.
But did anyone hear? A few seconds later the pairs of hands mysteriously disappeared, just as fast as they had launched their onslaught on her. They seemed to have dissolved into the crowd. Ammukutty called out to Jamuna who had managed to find a place to stand near the first seat. “Jamuna! Someone did something very bad to me”. Ammukutty cried.
“Who is it, just look around you Ammu!” Jamuna panicked. Ammukutty peered into those faces of all assorted looks, expressions and shapes. She was clueless. She had not seen the cruel perpetrators of this crime. Were they next to her or around her or had they alighted from the bus? She had no answer to such questions. All she knew was that what happened to her in the bus was very bad and it scared her.
Ammukutty reached home. She was scared to tell the whole truth even to her parents. She mumbled that someone pulled her hand when climbing the bus.
Her mom admonished her. “From tomorrow pray to God properly and leave the house.” Ammukutty nodded her head. Mentally she decided she would only walk home all the way back from her tuition class. She was never going to take that bus.
Ammukutty flinched as she read the newspaper. Somewhere in the middle sheets was yet another news and statistics of female sexual harassment. She wondered when it would all stop. Would these statistics decrease and one day, become nil. She wondered if there was ever hope at that bus stop where another Ammukutty would not be touched as she had been. She only prayed.
*** All names changed for security purposes