Of Midnight Knocks, Uncouth and Lecherous Men

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A midnight knock in a Circuit House had scared Hemashri. She was about to raise an alarm to punish the drunkard. But, other incidents crowded her mind. She tells us how a young lady officer had to deal with lecherous and uncouth men, in the weekly column. A Different Truths exclusive.

A midnight knock perhaps jolted me from a deep sleep to a half-awakened state. I increasingly became aware of the sound. I was afraid of the knocking sound, in the dead of the night.

I assumed it to be from the visitor’s room, next to mine, where the caretakers of the Circuit House slept. I ignored it and tried to doze off. But, the sound persisted. I heard a slurry male voice repeatedly say, “Open the door.” It made me aware that the sound was very near. I jumped up on my bed, in fright, to ascertain the source of the inebriated voice.

In the reflected light of the corridor, I saw that someone was pushing open one side of the window of my room. The tattered curtains of the windows were pinned up with safety pins and I could see his hands shoved in through the open window, lifting and tugging the billowing curtains. I could not make out what was happening. Paralysed by fear, I initially froze. But, I gathered courage and jumped out of my bed. Seeing me, the man again asked me to open the door. It was a weird scene.

He was a bearded, thin man. The door in my room had glass panels and I saw the man was again knocking at my door. He was clad just in a towel. I asked the half-naked man, “Who are you? I will alert the people.” I rushed to press the calling bell but suddenly some recent events flashed through my mind and I refrained from raising an alarm.

I was assigned the duty of a protocol officer to a Central Observer during an election, a senior IAS from Karnataka. This gentleman was keen to visit the interior places and was enthusiastic to know about Assam and its culture. One day, as we were crossing an interior village, the vehicle all of a sudden stopped. The engine of the vehicle could not be fired. The driver said that the fuel was exhausted. That was about twenty years back when we only had the PCOs. I walked about five kilometres in the scorching sun with the driver to make a call from a PCO and inform my senior, responsible for the vehicle. I requested him to send another car as the nearest petrol pump was quite far away. I was the only lady protocol officer and rest of the officers assigned the duty were below my rank. On our return, the Central Observer told me, “Connect me to your Deputy Commissioner, I will blast him.” I felt very hesitant to arrange that telephonic talk between the two big shots. Instead, I slipped out to call the Deputy Commissioner and narrated the incident to him. I requested him to relieve me from that assignment.

After 10 minutes or so I was told by someone that the Deputy Commissioner had sent the vehicle and I was asked to report to him. The moment I entered the room of the Deputy Commissioner, he yelled at the peak of his voice, “You bloody idiot, you cannot say no to me. You bloody idiot, how dare you say no…” I was hardly prepared to take this insult in presence of a roomful of people. Angry, annoyed and frustrated I banged the door aloud and left his chamber without allowing him to complete his sermon. That night I cried my heart out and slept without dinner.

Next day, I received an order relieving me from the duty of protocol officer.  I was made a Zonal Magistrate in place of a senior lady officer, who was pregnant. I was asked to report to another senior officer as I was a novice, a probationer for the assignment.  In the wake of a boycott of the election by the then active terrorist group, it was a highly sensitive assignment to complete the election process smoothly.

On the polling day, we proceeded to our respective constituencies at 4 am in the morning with police force escorting us. A senior officer asked me to board his vehicle and I obeyed him. After a few initial instructions, he asked me, “I heard that the Central Observer was drunk and he tried to misbehave with you. What did he try to do exactly?” I felt infuriated at such gross distortion of the unfortunate incident. I tried to be polite though I felt a strong impulse to stop the vehicle right there and get off. I spoke very little after that and most of my replies were in monologues.

Again, on my return after the election process, the senior officer instructed me to board his vehicle in view of the deteriorating law and order situation. The two escort vehicles were arranged to follow and precede our vehicle. Reluctantly, I obeyed again. With a devilish smile, he told me, “You know my colleagues were saying that I should stay back and halt the night here. They said when I have a young lady magistrate as a companion, I should actually stay back here.” He laughed at his own joke. This time I felt like giving him a tight slap yet I did not do anything. I swallowed my insult and anger. I just kept mum to let the senior officer realise that I was not at all amused by his stupid jokes. I only felt sad because until that day I had treated him as a brotherly senior. That day, I realised he is actually a monkey inside. I was also thinking how people distorted incidents to create their own stories, baseless and insinuating.

All these things kept rolling back like a movie in my mind as I was about to press the calling bell. The drunkard had disappeared after my scolding. I recovered from the frightful trance. When I checked the watch, it was 2.30 am. I had no idea how long I was awake, in the middle of the night, lost in my world. That day what perhaps inhibited me to raise an alarm was a strong intuition. I felt that if I alert people at such odd hours for the disturbing drunkard, in the morning these people would spread nasty stories that I was about to be – or had been – raped or molested and what not. It will be me who would be at the receiving end explaining to the people actually had happened. I decided to wait until the morning.

That day, the sunrise took an eternity, as I could not go back to sleep. I also felt sad for my mother. Very often she used to call me in the evening asking me to check the doors and windows before going to sleep. I had rebuked her saying I am a grown up. A mother’s worries turned out to be real. Hopelessly that day I realised the helplessness of a young woman! That was the most awkward moment of my life as I could not shoo away the idiot, which was the most natural thing to do!

In the morning, I went to my next door neighbour and narrated the incident and asked her what I should do. She said that a similar incident took place with one of her batchmate, a lady officer. She had reported it to the DC. The DC took stern action – he issued an instruction that the abuser, an officer would not be allowed to play cricket match for the team of DC Office on 15th August and 26th January. I realised that would be the cruelest of jokes. So I decided, I will handle it like a tribal chieftain. I narrated the incident to the caretakers and asked them to find out who was this guest – a lean and thin man with a beard. Also, I called up my batch mate to kindly come to Circuit House. The man was located but was reluctant to come over to the visitors’ hall where we had the telephone and the sitting arrangement. He finally had to come. I asked him in the presence of all, “Last night you came to my room at odd hours and knocked at my door requesting to open it. Please, you tell me what urgency you had. I assume you must have something very urgent on your mind.” He refused to admit it was he. I asked him. “Do you have a twin brother lost in a mela during childhood?” With few choicest gaalis, I closed the chapter there. After office hours that day, I bought a long bamboo stick and a powerful torch for self-defence, poor me!

 Nothing untoward ever happened after that incident. However, the tribal sardarni developed a mild sleep disorder. Even a somewhat delicate sound would awaken me and I would get up to inspect the source. One day I heard a strange sound. I got up with the torch and the stick and followed the sound. Finally, I located it. With the blowing wind, leaves of a coconut tree were grating against the glass panel of the window and were creating a strange hissing sound. It was eerie.

Today, women are in every service. What these so-called empowered women actually go through? Are they given secured accommodation to live with dignity? Have we sensitised our men how to behave with their female colleagues? Who knows how many skeletons are buried underneath the carpet?

Democracy does not guarantee civility or safety.  We shall have to work on it – perhaps for a long time!

©Hemashri Hazarika

Photos from the Internet

#Democracy #MidnightKnock #CircuitHouse #Rape #Molestation #DeputyCommissioner #GovernanceGallimaufry #DifferentTruths

Hemashri Hazarika is an Officer of the Assam Civil Service since 1997. Her research on Assam Civil Service brought reforms in 2015. A first-class Postgraduate in Economics from Gauhati University, she was awarded JRF/NET by UGC in 1997. Her experience as a bureaucrat has sensitised her to human sufferings. A solutionist by passion, she takes an active interest in issues related to Governance, Development, Women, Children, etc. Reading, Writing, Speaking and Painting are her hobbies.