Vantage point

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Innocence of the French Girls

This happened a couple of years back. A big crowd of European students descended upon IIM Lucknow as a part of the Student Exchange program in the fifth term. Most of these students were girls, and so we had a big crowd of French "babes" studying with us for an entire term.

One night a few friends and I had gone to the city for dinner. IIML is around 10 km from the city and the institute has an hourly bus service to and from the city. The last bus from the city leaves at 10:30 pm. We had finished our dinner, and taken cycle rickshaws back to the Purnia Chauraha, a place from where we board the bus.

As we approached the place, we noticed something strange. It was a group of French students, four of them female and one of them male, standing at the bus stop, laughing and talking amongst themselves. They were very clearly having a great time. What was strange was that around them, in a radius of about 15 metres, stood at least 25 guys. These guys were the roughneck types, and they were standing in two or three groups, staring at the French girls, talking amongst themselves. Me and my friends were standing a few feet away, buying fruits.

We then noticed that a few guys started creeping closer and closer to the French group. One guy, who was on a bicycle, started riding it in a circle very close to them. A few other guys were very obviously discussing something animatedly, and we weren't sure what the topic of discussion was, but one of us heard the words "apni maruti van kaafi hogi" (our maruti van will be enough).

All this was happening very fast and by the time we bought fruits and moved towards the bus stop (there were 6 of us, all desi guys) the group of shady looking guys were spread uniformly all around the French students. It almost looked as if all these guys were also waiting for a bus back to IIML. Their intentions were very clear.

We walked up to the French students and started talking to them about the evening and other stuff. Within a few seconds I noticed a change in the attitude and demeanour of the guys around us. Suddenly they seemed to have discovered the concept of "space" and "privacy". The cyclist stopped cycling around us, and a few of them left almost immediately. The group started dispersing and within a few minutes, the street was deserted, with just us students waiting for the bus.

I found two things extremely remarkable that night. One was the difference in the attitude of the group of men towards a group of four women and one man, as opposed to four women and seven men. I have no clue what they were planning to do, and giving them the benefit of the doubt, I will assume the men just wanted to examine from close quarters the firang girls. I will assume that there was no "ulterior" motive of harrassment or worse. But earlier they were "examining" them from extremely close quarters, and when 6 desi guys joined the girls, suddenly they backed off.

The second thing is, that the French students had barely noticed what happened. When we spoke to them about the group of men surrounding them, they seemed puzzled. Yes, they had noticed a lot of men around, but they had assumed all of them were waiting for the bus. They seemed a bit amused at the advice that it would be unsafe to stay out so late unless there were at least two or three guys with them.

The French students displayed a kind of "innocence" about this whole issue which made me realise how bad things are for women in India as compared to a place like, say, France. Here we had four girls standing on a street at night in India, with a big group of men staring at them, seemingly advancing towards them, and yet they didn't notice it or feel alarmed. Because incidents of women being harrassed by strange men on the streets in France are very rare.

Contrast this with Indian girls who are always cautious and wary of any strange man they see on the street. This caution and wariness is a result of years of conditioning due to harrassment that they have to face on the streets of India.

This post is my contribution to the Blank Noise Project.