What exactly is ‘molestation’, Sirji?
Someone ‘literary’ (ha!) asked me in all seriousness at my book launch this week, “Does Zaira Wasim know the meaning of molestation? She is just 17 years old.” I told the self-styled literary genius that even a sevenyear-old child, boy or girl, knows what molestation is, even if the word is alien to the kid.

Adults who may not know how to spell ‘molestation’ without consulting a dictionary would still understand what it denotes, in any language. You don’t have to be an English professor (or Shashi Tharoor) to figure out the nasty, repulsive, and disgusting act of being physically stroked, touched, caressed, kissed, held, fondled — forcibly, stealthily, deliberately, or ‘accidentally’. Molestation is never an accident. Never. It is a conscious, well planned action taken by someone who wants to touch another person without consent.

Molestation takes place most frequently in crowded places — bazaars, malls, events, railway platforms, train compartments, buses. Sometimes, the perpetrator moves so swiftly, it is impossible to catch and nail him. Though I have observed a pattern over time — if you suspect a man of deliberately rubbing against you in a crowd and slinking away, your instinct is to confront the vile person and teach him a lesson. If your eyes keep looking in the direction of where that nudge or pat came from, at some point, the culprit will turn around to see if you noticed. He will meet your enraged eyes from a safe distance, smirk cheekily and melt into the crowd, knowing it’s too late for you to nab him. But he knows that you know something dirty has taken place. And he gets his kick out of seeing you upset and angry.

Imagine then the audacity of 39-year-old Vikas Sachdev, who was seated behind Zaira Wasim on a flight. He allegedly stuck his bare foot on the armrest of Zaira Wasim’s seat, kept nudging her shoulder and continued to move his foot up and down her back and neck. This is not the first such instance. Many women passengers have similar stories to narrate, but have preferred to keep mum. Men who dare to take such liberties do so hoping their victims would feel too embarrassed to attract attention and would put up with an elbow or knee nudge without complaining. Unfortunately, far too many women do just that and end up feeling rotten at the end of the flight, wondering whether they had somehow given the copassenger some weird vibe or signal.

I wish Zaira had screamed. Had she raised an alarm and asked the crew to tell Sachdev to remove his foot from her armrest, perhaps this story would have panned out differently. How dare Sachdev intrude into another person’s space in the first place? That is offence number one. The flight attendants should have ticked him off then and there. Then comes the alleged molestation. Come on, what else does one call it? A friendly neck massage delivered by a stranger’s foot?

Ialsodon’t understand why passengers seated near Sachdev have spoken on his behalf and given him a ‘good boy’ certificate by saying what they saw was not molestation. So what was it? Just aguy stretching his leg all the way to a woman’s back and neck and moving his toes around while she squirmed? Who are these people to intervene and decide what constitutes harassment and a clear violation of a passenger’s personal space?

Then there’s the weak response from the airline, which reportedly told DGCA officials that Zaira’s mother didn’t want to file a complaint in the first place. So? Does that mean nothing happened? Did Zaira share a tearful video for publicity? Was it all play acting? Give the young girl a break. Yes, Sachdev has been arrested. But why question Zaira’s motives?

Iwas aghast when I read some of the vicious comments against her on social media. Threats and abuses were hurled at anyone who supported her. Trolls wanted Zaira hanged for daring to raise the issue. They also wanted Madhuri Dixit hanged for supporting Zaira. After this column, my name may also be added for the umpteenth time to the list of women who should be hanged, shot, maimed, burnt, or raped for daring to speak up. This is the pathetic level of public discourse today.

To quote Kangana Ranaut, who spoke strongly about the Zaira Wasim case at my book launch and asked why media was so reluctant to take up the issue: “In her place, I would have broken the man’s leg.” So would I. And if Sachdev is found guilty, I’d be happy to meet him and massage his neck with the heels of my stilettos.