When a Man Flashes a Woman, What Does He Think He’s Achieving?
I wonder if there is any woman out there reading this who has never been flashed. The first time it happened to me, I was in the third standard – which would make me 8 years old – when the driver in a parked car began masturbating, knowing full well that a gaggle of schoolgirls could see him.
Another time, I was walking to the bus stop near AIIMS in Delhi when a man called out to me and there it was, waving in ugly fashion at me. The third time, I was with my friends near my all-women’s college when a car pulled up and the man asked for directions that I began giving before I noticed, oops, no pants. The fourth time…well, you get the picture.
Is flashing a male epidemic? I ask because I do not know a single woman who hasn’t experienced the wholly unpleasant sight of a stranger’s penis being waved at her.
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The first time she was flashed, recalled novelist Kiran Manral, she was barely 10, on a BEST bus on her way to school.
“Me too,” said interior designer Soni Aggarwal. “In Italy, as a kid and as a young lady. It’s rampant there as well.”
Because we are grappling with far more heinous crimes of sexual violence – gang rape, acid violence, stalking – we tend to dismiss flashing as a relatively harmless crime. As if it’s a minor nuisance akin to manspreading – the man who, for instance, hogs up the common armrest – and something we must get used to and ignore as we navigate our way through male-dominated public spaces, whether that space is public transport, a deserted road, a sunlit park, a bus-stop.
And, yet, why should women have to accept this? There is, of course, a hierarchy of sorts where sexual violence and assault is concerned and I am not implying that flashing brings with it the same degree of violence as, say, a rape. But where does it begin, and at what point do we say enough? A leering look? Being groped?
Accept flashing today, then learn to ignore groping tomorrow. Concede that public space belongs to men, and then learn to put up with sexual harassment at work. At what point do we actually say ‘No more. It’s too much. I have every right to be here, to take up this public space and to be treated with dignity as long as I occupy it’.
What is remarkable about Sunday night’s incident at a bank ATM in Mulund, Mumbai, is that the woman who goes by the handle Shibxni was able to video the incident. In her Instagram feed she explains how she was returning home in an auto rickshaw at night and stopped to withdraw cash from the ATM near her house.
The machine didn’t seem to work, which is when the flasher, Sandeep Kumbharkar entered and asked if she needed help or wanted him to pay for her ride. She declined and went out to talk to the rickshaw driver to explain the situation. A cop car then pulled up to find out what was the problem.
At this point she went back to the ATM to try to withdraw cash again. The man returned, she writes, and “moves in closer and touches my shoulder and thigh, again asking if I need help. I instantly back off and yell at him to stay away from me.” Soon after, ‘he’s calling out to me and blatantly asking me to look at his hard d*** that he had pulled out of his denim’s zipper area’.
Incredibly, this is happening with the man’s likely knowledge that there is a cop car in the vicinity. Definitely, he is aware that the rickshaw driver is waiting outside. And unless he’s completely brain dead, he knows that ATMs have security cameras. Somebody is going to see this, somewhere there is going to be a recording of his act. Does he not care?
The impunity of this man is perhaps shared by his co-flashers. Do men who commit sexual violence ever weigh the consequences? This certainly is a man who has no fear of his actions bearing any consequence. Clearly, he hasn’t bargained for the woman’s presence of mind in recording him.
You can see his shock in the video posted by the woman on Twitter as he realises she is filming and he quickly turns around, zips up and makes a hasty exit. But the story isn’t over, because the woman then runs to the cop car and shows them the video. They follow the flasher on his scooter.
In the morning when she goes to the police station, Mumbai’s finest inform her that Kumbharkar is already in custody where ‘he’s crying and pleading’.
The woman says she plans to follow up her case in court.
Hearteningly, there is nearly unanimous support for the woman. None of the usual sympathy for the perpetrator’s family. No moral sermonising about adventurous women who return home late at night.
On her Twitter feed I can only see support for the woman.
Thank god for a new generation of women armed with their smartphones. Thank god for presence of mind. Thank god for evidence. And thank god for a changed world, where such behaviour is not acceptable. No buts. Just quite simply, no.