Growing up in Bihar in the 90s
Self defense is a very valuable skill. Unfortunately, I don’t have any myself. But what I do have are skills to be on my guard. Not impressed? Believe me, being on your guard might even be more useful than self-defense many a time.
And just what might my qualifications be, you indignantly ask? Well, I’m quite the expert! I grew up in Patna, Bihar during the infamous “Jungle Raj” of the 90s.
Jungle Raj — A rule where corruption is the law, where people in authority are in cahoots with the criminals. The common man is as helpless as a deer in a jungle where predators abound.
If you lived in India in the 90s or the early 2000s, you might remember hearing the horror stories of Bihar in the news. You might have debated over cups of tea on what could spiral a state that quickly into utter chaos and lawlessness. You might have wondered at how one man and his flock of relatives could drive the entire state down the drain but still be in power election after election. You might have commented on the mentality of people who voted for such a government and how they deserved their fate. While you were busy doing all those things, back in Bihar, we were living that life.
To be honest, I was one of the lucky ones. Unlike many other teenage girls in the state, I was fortunate that I didn’t get kidnapped or raped or murdered. I was only leered at, whistled at, molested in auto rickshaws or crowded train stations, followed on lonely roads by mentally sick middle aged men who would expose themselves to young girls. Very lucky indeed!
And today, I will tell you how to be on your guard every moment of every day if you happen to be a young girl or a young woman who is dealt a bad hand by destiny and finds herself trying to survive in a Jungle Raj.
All right! Tighten your seat belts! Lesson begins…
- Be very, very aware of your surroundings. Knowing where you are and who is around you is paramount to safety. Be aware of shady looking guys especially if there are two or more of them. Look out for vehicles parked incongruously. It is best to be in a group as much as possible. While walking on the pavement, try not to walk too close to the road. It is easier for a van to stop and pull you inside if you’re walking too close to the road.
- Don’t wear clothes that would draw attention. Although, this doesn’t guarantee anything in my experience. This never seemed to help me or my friends. Even when we were covered from neck to toe in a salwaar kameez with dupattas (scarves) modestly draped around us, we were still whistled at or followed. Sometimes our dupattas would get tugged at. Couple of times, someone on a bike would snatch it away and we would do the walk of shame back to our homes, all the while afraid of meeting the silent censure of our parents’ eyes. So, I’m not entirely sure how one’s dressing style helps in this scenario. But it is wisdom passed on from the elders in my family and I don’t want to be amiss by skipping any points.
- Never stay out after 6 pm. Never! This one rule might reduce your risk profile by 50%. What about classes and tuition, you ask? In such cases, have a male family member pick you up after classes. If it happens to be a brother and they crib or make excuses, threaten to stop attending those classes! Get your mother to intervene. She will know how to convince them.
- If you’re taking an auto rickshaw, try to take one that has a female co-passenger. If the co-passengers are all men, don’t ever sit in the middle seat.
- If you’re sitting in a rickshaw or a 2 wheeler bike, make sure there are no loose ends of your dupatta or skirt floating around. Those will get caught and tugged at. It has been known to cause accidents. And of course, the victim of the molestation becomes the victim of the accident too while the perpetrators yell obscenities and ride away laughing. That is the law of Jungle Raj!
- Chances are your parents might already have told you the names or phone numbers of any and every influential connection your family has. Memorize that information like your life depends on it. Pretending that you’re well connected is essential for your survival. If ever stopped by a police official, give out that information first. The police in all likelihood are just criminals in a uniform.
- When someone whistles at you or yells a profanity, don’t ever look in their direction. Don’t make eye contact. Looks of anger or talking back will only encourage them. Avoid eye contact and get out of that place as quickly as possible. Any reader offended by my spineless suggestions, please feel free to take a hike. I’m not talking about a normal city here. This is about living in a jungle and being alive to tell this tale!
- And finally, forgive your parents. When they yell at you or curse you for no fault of yours every time you’re a few minutes late in reaching home, forgive them! Realize that they were haunted by fear while waiting for you. My grandmother used to stand at the gate waiting for me, come rain or shine, if I was even a minute late. Every minute of waiting, wondering, praying… probably seems like a decade to them. You have the hope of getting out of there one day. You have your entire life ahead of you. But for them, the helplessness of not being sure whether they can keep their child safe, that is a mental trauma they will never be able to escape.
All right my friend! You’re all set. But before you go, I have a wish for you — May you never need these lessons! May you be safe, may you feel safe! And may we one day live in a world where we don’t have to worry about being safe from one another!