Looming Threats, Blooming Hearts

Sowmya Swaminathan
Posted March 15, 2020 from India
Looming threats, blooming hearts
My debut painting. Another glorious illustration of how Technology empowers us. I discovered an art workshop through the Internet, and my teacher turned out to be a beautiful soul, and was great at guiding me towards this outcome!

My story begins in India’s capital city Delhi — now infamous for the riots, rapes and relentless air pollution. This story partly is about an incident that happened to me in this city. I don’t remember the exact date and month of its occurrence, but every other detail is vividly imprinted on my brain.

A few hours before the incident, I was inside a massive air-conditioned building that houses the headquarters of one of India’s biggest English dailies. This is where I worked as a journalist for three years.

It was not a typical workday, and therefore did not have the orderly chaos that permeates and defines India’s newsrooms. The day was dedicated to training many editors, including me, in a new publishing software. 

Before the sessions could even begin, a few senior and elderly editors had decided that they disliked the software. My infectious enthusiasm in learning a new tool did not dent their iron-clad skepticism. 

I jumped headfirst into the training with joy, repeatedly telling myself that learning something new would be fun, even if it would make my work life more hectic in the days to come. (I was not wrong!)

After a series of back-to-back sessions, in which I managed to get through to an editor (who ended up becoming excited about the software!) I got ready to head home.

I walked out of the building, feeling proud of myself for having mastered the software (to an extent) in merely a day. 

Basking in my cognitive sunshine, I approached the main road and extended my arm to hail an auto-rickshaw so that I could travel to the nearest metro station.

It was a weekend, and autos were scarce. My patience began to wither, and I unlocked my phone to book an Ola or an Uber auto. To my dismay, they were unavailable.

I began feverishly refreshing the two mobile applications in a desperate attempt to summon an auto.

Suddenly, I felt a weird sensation in my gut, and I looked up from my phone immediately. 

A man pulled my right arm. I screamed my lungs out, and he sprinted away! My heart pounded so loudly that I wondered if anyone else had heard it. Anyone? 

I looked around and saw no one near me — excluding the two security guards standing outside my office building.

I glared at them — surely they heard my scream? Why didn’t they rush to help?

I tried to recall my attacker’s face. He had a medium dark complexion and a beard that grew well past his chin. He was not a beggar, but seemed to be someone who couldn’t afford nice clothes either.

Where did he come from? Did he crawl like a snake or move like a stealthy cat? Either way, I paid a heavy price for a moment of mindlessness. 

My heart rate began to lower. I tried to breathe, and to my surprise found that I was able to inhale and exhale again. However, my mouth was dry and my face turned red-hot.

I remembered that I still needed an auto to travel to the metro station. Miraculously, an auto raced into the road, and I jumped into it, wondering if this would be my last ride.

---------------------

I went to a decent J-School in the southern city of Chennai to pursue my Masters. Chennai is my hometown, and welcomes one and all with its delectable Sambhar and serene Marina Beach.

The J-School had students from all over India. One of them was a young woman. Let’s call her B. 

B was a feisty, charming and effervescent person. I admired her personality, but was able to interact with her only once or twice during my stay on the campus. We were not friends, so we did not keep in touch.

She, was, however, my Facebook Friend, and on a sleepy morning, I woke up to find her photos appearing repeatedly on social media. 

I logged into my social media accounts and saw that there were many articles about her, and all of them narrated the same story: She had spoken up about an incident in which she was at the receiving end of online harassment.

As soon as those stories appeared on social media, many of my friends, acquaintances and colleagues tweeted and retweeted their solidarity and support.

Note that this was long before the #MeToo era. 

Both B and I faced some form of harassment. We are from the same age bracket, have similar educational qualifications, went to the same J-School, and even worked in the same industry. 

While women gave her unconditional love online, no one had my back on that deserted Delhi road. All I got were passive stares from the security guards. 

The Internet is a difficult platform to navigate. To put it mildly, there’s a lot to be concerned about: Loss of privacy, harassment of all kinds, fake news, misinformation, algorithms that play into our worst insecurities and deep-seated biases, trolls that inject hatred into vulnerable communities, etc.

But life offline isn’t safe either. When I walk on a road, my safety antennae is always UP! I’m at my most mindful self on the streets, always ready to jump into a self-defense mode, even though I have no formal training in that department.

The biggest boon that the Internet — and by extension, Technology — can provide us is this: We can always lean in and on sisters (and some kind brothers) during moments of turmoil.

My favorite fictional character, Albus Dumbledore, said: “Help will always be given at Hogwarts, Harry, to those who ask for it.”

I’ve seen this come alive, time and again, in the safer nooks and crannies of the Internet.  

My net-banking account could probably be hacked tomorrow, but I can definitely count on a dozen digital angels to stand with me — shoulder-to-shoulder — in solidarity, from the safety of their cushioned rolling chairs. 

<Dedicated to the invisible for whom Technology is a luxury even in this 21st century>

This story was submitted in response to #SheTransformsTech.

Comments 13

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Vidya Rajagopalan
Mar 15
Mar 15

Thanks for sharing this, must've taken hella courage to pen this down......loved it

Sowmya Swaminathan
Mar 17
Mar 17

Thank you so much for saying that, Vidya! :)

Kirthi Jayakumar
Mar 15
Mar 15

Sending you lots of love and strength, Sowmya. Thank you for articulating your thoughts and thank you for being who you are <3

Sowmya Swaminathan
Mar 17
Mar 17

Thank you so, so much, for your kind words, Kirthi! Sending you all my love! <3 <3

Hello, Somya,

You are so right in saying women are still not that safe online and even offline based on your experience and that with your FB friend.

Thank you for raising your voice on these issues, dear. I love the photo you uploaded, by the way.

Stay strong and courageous. May we live to see a safe world for women both online and offline, and may that begin today.

Sowmya Swaminathan
Mar 17
Mar 17

Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Karen! And yes, everyday is a new beginning and a real chance for us to build a safer world!

You are welcome, dear sister. I agree!

Anita Shrestha
Mar 16
Mar 16

Thank you for sharing

Sowmya Swaminathan
Mar 17
Mar 17

Thank you for commenting. :)

pjames
Mar 19
Mar 19

Sowmya, I'm so sorry that you experienced physical harassment when leaving your workplace and that nobody helped or supported you during or after it happened. It's not right to feel alone when these things happen, both women and men should want to support anyone who is being harassed.

Sowmya Swaminathan
Mar 19
Mar 19

Dearest pjames,
Thank you so much for saying this. Everybody deserves a support system during difficult times. Thank you for your solidarity and support! <3

Rebel in Rise
Apr 02
Apr 02

I loved your narration....i love the sarcasm in the ending note...

You must read this book called "Why Loiter"...it talks about why it is important to occupy public space.

Sowmya Swaminathan
Apr 06
Apr 06

Thank you, Rebel. :) Yes, I've heard about this book and I do want to read it! If you have the book, would you like to lend it to me? (after the lockdown). Thank you so much! <3