This is NOT fiction.
*********************It was a day before my birthday. I was working with Courtyard by Marriott, Ahmadabad, which was around five hours away from my hometown. After working for straight 15 days, I had managed to get three week-offs, so I can be with my family on my birthday. Traveling to and fro consumes more than 12 hours out of those three days that I get, so I always preferred to travel as soon as I finish my work and come back to Ahmadabad few hours before my work, to use my holidays to the maximum.
This was the city I was least connected to. I had no close friends there, no relatives, no one I could trust or be with. I solely stayed here because of my work.
That day, I finished my evening shift at around midnight, went to my room to collect my luggage, had some grubs and took a rickshaw to the railway station to catch an early morning train which was scheduled to come at around 04 am. Though there was enough time left for the train, I preferred reaching the station before the devil hours of 1-3 am. I have always found railway stations safe and comforting. In fact, they were my second home as I spent half of my life commuting through trains. I was someone who always had the notion in my head that nothing worse could happen to me.
But that day, the same over-confidence was coming to crush me.
Now, before you imagine the stereotype, let me explain their appearance. They all looked well-educated, well dressed, Nike-Puma-covered, well-fed, I-spend-more-than-my-father-earns boys. From the looks of it, they were college students, who like me were going to their own home towns. They stared, smiled and chatted among themselves. One of them teasingly asked me if it was the right platform for the Mumbai train.
I frowned and kept walking away from them, for almost 5-7 minutes. I was supposed to board the first coach of the train, so I walked to the end of the platform. At every station, both ends of the platforms are usually very isolated and dark and have no shades or roof. I folded my hands to keep myself warm and sat on a bench. I was tired from working all day. I texted my sister that I would be reaching before lunch.
In less than a couple of minutes, I saw four other men, shabbily dressed with tons of luggage walking towards the platform. They saw me by the bench and smiled at one another. They kept all their baggage on a corner and all four walked towards me and sat around at four different places surrounding me. They started passing vulgar comments, making it sound as if they were talking to one another. I got annoyed and angry at first but, it started to get intense. I looked around and there was no one. I gave one sharp angry stare at one of them. He laughed and said,
"Aise kya dekhti ho, kha jaogi kya?" (Why are you starting as if you are going to eat us up?)
I stood up and started walking towards the center of the platform, which was pretty far. I had a bottle of Coke on the side of my backpack. They all started walking behind me and one of them teased again,
"Bohot pyas lagi hai, thoda thanda milega?" (I am very thirsty, can I have a sip of your coke?)
I was terrified. My blood was boiling. I did see two homeless old men, however they were lying on the floor, completely intoxicated. I kept walking fast and with a corner of my left eye, saw one of the guy just an inch away from me. He grabbed my shoulder and said, "Chali kyu jaa rahi ho, baat toh karo." (Don't keep walking away, talk to me.)
My heart was pumping fast. My legs were trembling. I wanted to punch him so hard, but I knew it would worsen the scenario and there was no one around to back me up against four shameless men, who had nothing to lose. The other three men also joined him, trying to circle me and started passing more aggressive comments. I knew nothing I could do, except run as fast as I could towards someone. I looked around and saw a police officer drinking tea at a tea stall, on the opposite platform, around 30 feet away from me.
I said, "Karti hu baat, yaha ruko ek minute." (Sure, I'll talk to you, just wait a minute here.) They were surprised by my response for a moment, but still kept their moronic laughter on.
I paced a little and shouted at the police officer,
"Excuse me, sir. Yeh char ladke mujhe chhed rahe hai. Please help!" (Excuse me sir, these four men are harassing me, please help!) pointing towards them.
He threw his tea cup in the bin and jumped on the tracks, crossed them and jumped right up on my platform. The four men saw me shouting for help and started running for life. As that was the end of the platform, they managed to run endlessly. I signaled towards their luggage which they couldn't take away with them and told the police officer, it was theirs.
I was still shaking with fear and anger. I was stammering.
The police officer said, "Bhaag ke kaha jayenge, saman lene toh ayenge lukhhe salle. Aap chinta mat karo, beth jao shanti se, me yaha khada rehta hoon. Paani piyoge?" (How far would they run. They would surely come back to get their luggage, assholes. Don't worry, sit here, I would be here all the time. Do you want some water?)
I nodded my head for a no. I read his name tag which said "Mr. ______ Rathod" (I don't remember the first name.)
I went through all the possibilities in my head, of what could have happened, if it wasn't for this police officer. I wanted to thank him a million times, but words weren't coming out of my mouth. I held my legs to stop them from shaking and sat on the bench.
A gentleman in his 40s walked towards us and said he saw them running too. He started showering the usual wisdom -
"Times have become too dangerous these days."
"These bastards should be beaten to death."
.... and so on.
Mr. Rathod asked me the reason why I was out alone at that time of the night and why I didn't prefer a morning train. I told him I had to be back to work in a couple of days and I wanted to spend more time with my family. I also told, I wanted to avoid the rush that is usually present in the daytime.
He warned me to always opt for a public transport during rush hours or with a company. He also asked if I would be "bold" enough to file an FIR, which would enable him to bash those guys.
I was more than happy to do that. He asked for my work ID card, my complete name, address and other details. I think he was also responsible enough to make sure, I was not someone who was fooling around at that time of the night. I didn't mind his suspicion.
We heard the whistle of the approaching train. Me, Mr. Rathod and the "wise-advising-stranger" were all looking in the direction, where the four men ran.
As soon as the train arrived on the platform, we saw them, walking towards us. I was shocked to my life when I saw those smarty-pants, walking bravely, with different shirts. They exchanged their shirts among themselves to fool me. How naive! They really thought that wearing a different shirt wouldn't allow me to identify them.
How wrong were they. Their nasty, devilish faces were more than enough to haunt me.
"Yehi bande the na?" (These were the culprits, right?) asked Mr Rathod.
"Haa, shirt badal k aa rahe hai" (Yes, they changed their shirts.)
"Unhe pata nai, kis baap ko ullu bana rahe hai. Aane do saalo ko." (They don't know, who's their daddy.)
As they were coming closer, I could see the fear in their eyes. The same fear I had in mine, before.They came and started lifting their luggage on their back as if nothing happened. Mr. Rathod shouted, "Saman niche rakho aur ghutno pe, chalo ********" (Drop your luggage and on your knees, you mother effers!)
"Kya saab, humne kya kiya?" (What have we done, sir?)
The "wise-advising-stranger" kept whispering something in to my ears. I really didn't pay him much heed. I kept staring those men in their eyes, trying to find guilt somewhere. I didn't.
Mr. Rathod held one of them by his shirt collar and asked them to confess. They said they didn't do anything. One of them looked at me and said, "Kya behan, jhooth kyu bolti ho, batao saab ko, humne kuch nai kiya" (Why are you lying "sister", tell the police it wasn't us.)
He wasn't asking, he was threatening. And yeah, I was his sister now!
"Ek raat thane me rahoge, sab yaad aa jayega. Naam batao apna." (You'll get your memory back once you spend a night in jail.) said Mr. Rathod and asked their names to note down.
They kept begging to me, to take my complaint back.
"Thank you, sir." was the only thing that came out of my mouth.
"Koi baat nai madam. Aap jao, train chhut jayegi." (No problem ma'm. You should go now, you'll miss your train.) said Mr. Rathod.
I went inside and Mr.wise-advising-stranger followed me too and comforted me with,
"Chinta mat karo, main Surat tak saath me hoon apke." (Don't worry, I will be your company until Surat) which was a station an hour before mine.
I sat by the window and watched Mr. Rathod give the bullies, a taste of their own medicine. I saw the regret in their eyes. They kept asking me to persuade Mr. Rathod to let them go.
I didn't. I would never have.
The train started and I saw the platform moving away from me. I saw horror in form of those four men and saw gratefulness and bravery in form of Mr. Rathod, getting hazy and blur as the train caught its pace.
I closed my eyes for a minute and thought nothing. I just wanted to be home as soon as possible. My empathetic and talkative company kept talking about social vices women faces, for the next four hours. Strangely, I wasn't annoyed because he was still thousand times better than those who destroyed my faith in moving freely.
In less than two weeks, I left my job and Ahmadabad with bitter memories, making me dislike that city forever.
The terror I faced was very mild compared to what many women have been facing these days. We cannot even imagine their horror.
Enough has been already said, written and talked about this issue and I won't do it here, because my rage and directionless thoughts would go on and on. I just need to say a few things, which I wouldn't have learnt without this experience.
1. NEVER live with an over-confidence about how this could never happen to you. It could happen to anyone, anywhere. Be alert. Be prepared. Be cautious. Take preventive measure - ALWAYS! It took only four men, five minutes and an isolated platform to turn a confident woman like me in to a helpless, scared lady.
2. Just dump the stereotype of "bad" police. Yes, they can be moronic at times, but don't forget that not everyone is the same. If it wasn't for Mr. Rathod, I wouldn't have been boarding that train with contentment. It is our trust in them, that would motivate them to do something good for us. Respect them.
3. Women raise million banners in rallies, quoting how the females shouldn't think before traveling alone and that males should learn how to react etc, but that attitude is not going to help when you are landed in such situation. Things are not going to change over night and our aggressiveness isn't going to help either. Preventive measures will. Try to travel in rush hours and have a company if you have to travel after midnight.
5. I have yet not shared this incident with my family, but always text or call your family when you feel you are or would be surrounded in such scenario. Let them know about your whereabouts. It will be helpful to them to figure out stuff, if things go wrong.
6. Abusers and bullies do not always come in the form of illiterate, poor people in ragged clothes. It was those literate, well-dressed boys who chased me away to the end of the platform, whereas they should be the one, standing around a woman to protect her. That's what they learn in school and talk about, endlessly, on Facebook and Twitter, don't they?
I just hope those four men never repeat what they did.