Behind Reema Moudgil’s fragile charm is a woman of steel. She began standing up to harassment, no matter the consequences, from a young age and will never stop.
A woman is seated alone in a movie theatre for only the shortest time, and it’s enough to get a group of boys in the same row to start tossing sexist remarks. Most women would squirm, even seethe, but remain silent. Not so Reema Moudgil, author, RJ and co-founder of unboxedwriters.com. Here’s her account of the incident: “That night, in the movie theatre, I felt a little unprepared without my camouflage gear because I was still in smart work clothes though it was a long dress and a shrug with not an inch of skin showing if you discount my neck and face. A bunch of boys watched me walk up to my seat alone (my son was buying popcorn at the snack stall outside), and began to look me up and down. Then one of them who was sitting at the far end of the row began to joke that he had chosen the wrong seat and would have liked to exchange seats with the boy closer to me. They laughed. When my son took his seat next to me, he sensed something was wrong and I told him, loudly for the group to hear that ‘tameez’ and manners are not things that can be bought along with movie tickets. They were surprised that I had chosen to call them out because they had not even chosen to consider that I could hear the banter they were having about me or that I could get affected by it.”
What does it take to stand up and call harassers out? “There is no other way,” says Reema. “Those who harass women don’t want to be shown up. And when you call them out that’s what you do. I am always conscious that I am not the one who should be ashamed and hiding. This is something all women who are victims of harassment should know. When you’re provoked, fight back. It’s good to be angry.”
This toughness is not unusual for a woman who, some years ago, jumped out of a moving auto when three strange men suddenly boarded the vehicle. She had no idea what they were up to, only that she had to escape, even if it was jumping into the rush of traffic. Earlier, she had been hit by a bus conductor for objecting to his behaviour. “You are always being told to keep quiet, let it pass,” says Reema, but that submissiveness is not for her.
“I grew up in a small town in Punjab where eve-teasing was rampant. I had chosen to be different, wear jeans, be bold. In a household where it was just my mother and me after my dad passed away, I learned to cope with crackers in the mail box and other forms of harassment. You have to go out and take those people on,” she says, resolutely.
Reema recalls a time when, during her college days, there was a harasser she did not know, but could identify by his two-wheeler. “I tracked down his Luna and confronted him. He was falling at my feet asking not to be shown up.”
Social media, she says, is helping women fight harassment and victimisation. But for this woman of steel, it’s about standing up face-to-face, and asking to be respected as a woman and a human being.