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I was twelve years old, clad in a simple blue shalwar kameez, when I first encountered what every Pakistani woman has gone through. The “accidental” shoulder bump.
A taxi had dropped my parents and me off at an intersection. It was a weekday, and very few people were out. My parents were a bit ahead, and I tried my best to keep up. As I walked through space between two empty rickshaws, a man as old as my grandfather decided to walk the opposite way. Despite the fact that there was enough space for another rickshaw to park itself, this man thought it would be fun to ‘bump’ into a young girl.
I was startled. “Sorry, baji.”
I could have passed it off as a mistake, and I almost did, if it wasn’t for the wide smile and appraising gaze that scanned me from head to toe. I pulled my dupatta further down, and speed-walked to catch up with my parents. My cheeks felt hot. I was ashamed.
That was almost six years ago, and I still remember the shame I felt.
I feel no shame for myself anymore. I feel ashamed that such men exist. Men who are so unsatisfied at home that they smile and stare at strange women. Men who think any woman who accidentally looks at them is begging for attention. Men who bump and scan young girls and older women alike. Men who travel with families yet have eyes on other girls.
Don’t tell me that I should cover myself if I want to avoid it. I was twelve and wearing shalwar kameez and a dupatta. If that doesn’t stop certain sleazy men from harassment, then donning a burka won’t either. I am a hijabi who dresses accordingly. Does that stop these perverted men from smiling or staring? No.
Dear men, I ask you: Am I inviting attention just by being out in public? Is my skirt too loud or are my heels an invitation for you to stare at me? Does my lipstick make me stand out among the hundreds of women wearing lipstick? Or maybe you’ve watched enough Bollywood movies to think that bumping into me will make me fall in love with you.
Sorry, but you’re not Shahrukh Khan and I’m definitely no Bollywood actress.