Dubai: She was taking an overnight train from the Indian city of Allahabad to Delhi, the country’s capital. Ayushi Agarwal felt uncomfortable as she entered her compartment, all passengers in it were men. However, she decided not to let paranoia get the better of her and tried to sleep.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Agarwal recounted horrid details of what followed.
She wrote: “I woke up suddenly in the middle of the night. The passenger on the berth right above mine (perhaps in his early thirties...) was sitting on my seat right next to my legs, and I could feel his hand right above my right knee. Though I was aware this was strange, my first instinct was still to try and justify this in favour of the man.”
She tried to reason it out before jumping to conclusions and thought: “Maybe he needed support to sit up, may be kept his hand on my thigh by mistake, maybe he nodded off.”
But when she opened her eyes, she saw that he was wide awake and was watching something on his phone.
She even tried to convince herself that: “it must have been a careless mistake, his hand began to slide up my thigh.”
But when she realised that there was no room for doubt, she: “immediately said ‘aap kya kar rahe hain?’ (“what are you doing?”) in a voice that carried both anger and shock.”
He apologised and left.
Agarwal, who according to her Facebook profile has previously studied at the National Law School of India University, had to decide what to do next.
She wrote: “I thought about all the times I’ve been sexually harassed before, and all the times I’ve heard of the same happening to my friends. I thought about the regret I had each time that I didn’t call the harasser out or drag him to the police station.”
Deciding to take action, Agarwal “set out to look for the Travelling Ticket Examiner (TTE).”
According to Agarwal, the TTE listened to her patiently and asked her: “Aapne tab hi kyu nahi bola? Aapne thappad kyun nahi mara? Ab kya ho sakta hai?” (Why didnt you say anything while it was happening? Why didn’t you slap the man? What can we do now?).” Another passenger, who had overheard the exchange, said: “This is happening because you are travelling alone.”
Delhi based Agarwal also manages a group called the Alliance of Oversensitive Women. It is a movement by three women to challenge normalisation of sexism.
Agarwal wrote: “Thankfully, my dad had told me long back that a few police officers always travel on the train to take care of untoward incidents. I told the TTE that I wanted the police to be called.”
The police arrived soon and woke the man up. Agarwal told him “to sit in front of me and tell me how his hand managed to reach my thigh in the middle of the night. His excuse was that he had fallen asleep while sitting on my seat (even though his entire berth was right there) and must have put it there by mistake. This obviously couldn’t be true, since I distinctly remembered that he was watching something on his phone.”
She told the police that she wanted to file a case. The man started apologising and saying that he was a married man. He requested her not to file a complaint or it would ruin his life.
Agarwal wrote: “I felt pity and confusion weaken my anger and resolve - the same feelings that have prevented me (and perhaps many other girls) from filing cases many times. I decided that no matter what, I have to see this through to the end. By this time, the other passengers had also started egging me on.”
When the train arrived at New Delhi station, the police on the train escorted this man to the police station, and asked Agarwal to register the FIR (First Information Report).
She was constantly urged to drop the case: “The police also dropped hints that it would be in my best interests to take the case back. Meanwhile, the man’s family came and started pressurising me to take the case back. They followed me till my car, and didn’t let me get inside.”
She spent the afternoon shuffling from courtroom to courtoom to record her statement. Thankfully the female magistrate firmly advised her not to come under pressure from the family of the accused.
Agarwal’s post was met with positive reactions on Facebook and people were soon sharing it.
Many, especially women praised Ayushi Agarwal for standing up against the harrasser. Alisha Agrawal wrote: “You go girl! Awesome. Many women might not know what to do on a train when such an incident occurs but you sure have taught them a thing or two. I don’t know you personally but I feel great to read this.”
Facebook user Shagun Singh wrote: “I don’t know you but am glad another one didn’t let it go. I have done and always do stand up, report, take action. All of us need to do it and not succumb to pressure, your own and others!”
It is not uncommon in India for women to feel unsafe out in the public. According to a recent international opinion survey published by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, India is the most dangerous country in the world to be a woman.
Agarwal in her Facebook post had written that: “This is for every single time that I, and so many of my friends, held our silence due to fear, underconfidence or even pity.... I just want to say - we, as girls, have an equal right to travel by trains, whether they are overnight or not and whether we are travelling alone or not, and to feel safe while doing so.... This shouldn’t be happening, and when it does, we must not let it slide by. #Iwillnotletitgo”
Taru Suri replied: “Kudos .... Happy you mustered up the courage to speak up n not be intimidated or coaxed to withdraw the case.”
Agarwal has also asked other women to use the hashtag #IWillNotLetItGo to share instances where they stood up to their harassers in any way at all, or to recall their emotions during such instances that prevented them from standing up to their harasser, and to spread the word.