We were traveling by train (second class) to Punjab on a hot May night in 1998. It was a last minute booking and we were separated, the kids and I got lower berths in one compartment, and Husband had to sleep in another compartment.
I had settled the kids and was almost asleep when I realized a hefty looking man had sat down on my berth near my legs. I asked him to get up, he said he was going to go away in a while, but I insisted he goes right then. He left unwillingly.
He appeared again, took a look at the people sleeping there, and left. I noticed there were the kids and I on the lower berths, and one woman diagonally opposite me, she had her son with her on the same berth. There was no one on the berth above mine. I continued trying to sleep.
I was worried but finally must have dosed off to wake up again to find this fellow spreading a sheet in the space between my berth and my kids berth. If he slept there, I would not have been able to get up without stepping on him! I stood up and told him he couldn’t spread his sheet there. He said his friend had the berth above mine, it was fine, and he was going to sleep there. I said he couldn’t but he continued. I told him I would be getting up many times to check my kids and he couldn’t sleep there. By now I was standing up and arguing very loudly. He reluctantly left again.
I couldn’t sleep because I was worried he might come back. The thought that the man above was his friend also troubled me.
I woke up again to find four pairs of legs on the berth above. Two were dangling, and two were rested on the berth where the woman was sleeping with her son. They were pinching her back with their toes. She squirmed and turned away, and then again turned back.
There was silence except for train noises, everybody else was asleep. This was a terrifying nightmare. They couldn’t see me right below them, I pretended to be asleep. I was hoping she would pick her son and put him between herself and them. She didn’t. She simply pushed herself away from them, but how far could she move? Her son was asleep behind her anyway, so there wasn’t even that much room. Then she turned her back towards them. One of the feet reached closer and plucked at her kurta with toes. Why doesn’t she make some noise? Everybody was asleep. And these were four tall and strong looking men. I realised that that woman could have been me. Maybe that was why he first tried to sit on my berth, and then tried to sleep right next to my berth. They had noticed there were two women and three children in this compartment. This was bad. They could throw the kids out of the moving train. I decided to pretend to be asleep. And then she made a little uncomfortable noise, one of the toes, I saw, had plucked at her bra strap under her kurta.
Next moment I was standing and yelling. “You think nobody is watching you? I am not asleep, I have been watching your acts all evening, first you tried to sit here then you tried to sleep here!! Is there any space to sleep here? And now four of you sitting there imagining everybody is asleep! You are harassing her, but I have been watching you and I was thinking you will stop on your own but this is simply too much, I had realized you were up to no good when you were walking past here all evening, I suspected you…”
I have no idea how this would have ended but Husband in another compartment, along with perhaps half the train, heard me yelling. Husband asked them their CO’s (Commanding Officer) name and told them (a lie) that he was Colonel so and so. They were army or BSF jawans, they apologized and were sent away to some other compartment.
What made me blog about this now after all these years?
The fact that I was wearing jeans and the woman was wearing a peach salwar kurta with dupatta.
All criminals look for easy target. No matter how hard we try, no matter what we wear, we cannot become invisible, although I am still horrified at my yelling, because they really could have turned violent, they could have been armed or they could have pushed my husband out of the train, but I do realize that the reason why I was spared the harassment was that I was not an easy target. Nobody wants trouble, specially criminals.