Something deeper and more instinctive that most of us understand, but which most of us experience only when we allow it expression, through our eyes, our posture, our tone.
Aggression needs to be restrained. But it also needs to show itself, like a flash in the dark, like a sudden snarl, like the hard assertion of its potential.
This, I have learnt after being involved with the Blank Noise interventions over the last month.
For instance, I learnt to look. To stand in a crowded public space and look. Not to smile, not to shuffle my feet, not to use my phone as a social shield, not to speak to my companions, not to flinch, not to give way.
Not to give way.
Just stand there and look into the eyes of the passersby.
True, I was not alone. There were about eight of us women in a busy subway near a south Delhi market. A few male volunteers accompanied us but did not join us in the more confrontational, challenging actions. They stood to one side and guaged crowd reactions.
We, the women, just stood there and stared back. Some of us sat down on the stairs, others stood right in the middle of the subway, facing either direction. We were instructed not to pay attention to anybody who tried to ask for explanations. We did not owe anybody any explanations. But we did give out letters, starting, 'Dear Stranger', and going to describe a woman's first-person account of street sexual harassment.
We heard a few warnings; for instance, a watchman told a college-going volunteer that she should not stand around because 'koi galat samajhega' (somebody might misunderstand). She retorted with 'Let them misunderstand... I'm just standing'. He tried telling us that it was forbidden. We told him to show us where it said so - any sign saying 'Do not stand'? Any written order?
Somebody suggested that we would be brushed against or pushed about because 'you are in the way'.
The point was - we were not! We were neither pushed about nor brushed against, nor pinched nor groped nor even came up to suggest that 'make friendship'. Nobody dared.
Because all we did was to stand there and stare, right into the eyes of the passersby, men and women both. As soon as they realised that they were being stared at, they'd look away.
And I discovered something wonderful - we women were not just standing there, looking. We were confronting. We were challenging. We were daring.
And nobody dared.
In the face of aggression, there are two ways to react - one is to fight with one's own inherent aggression, which might result in a physical fight. The second way is to look away, acknowledging that, for the moment at least, you are giving way.
Too long, women have given way. When a man comes striding down the street, we step to one side. When a man takes up too much space on a shared bus seat, we cower in our corner, uncomfortable, but silent. When a bunch of men hang round, staring at us, we hurry past, trying to ignore the threat of their eyes.
This time, we did not. No slogans, or placards, or black arm-bands, or violence. All we did was let our inherent aggression loose. Stand there - feet apart, eyes unblinking.
Jasmeen organised interesting variations each time. One evening, there was a sound element - two recordings playing simultaneously. One was that of a group of boys describing what they looked at in a woman - what their bodies should be like. At the other end, there was the sound of a woman's laughter, hysterical, uproarious.... ever noticed, that in public spaces, very few sounds are feminine? Women rarely laugh loudly, uninhibitedly.
[In fact, when I was in school, our Hindi teacher specifically told us not to laugh openly; it was not considered proper for girls].
But before that, there was the night walk.
To our collective discomfort, there was too much media. Too many cameras, too many TV crews. This was a problem, because the point of the night walk was that a bunch of women should be out at night, doing what they wanted, wearing what they wanted, challenging the public space that prevents women from being out at night.
The moment you bring a TV crew into a space, things change. People perceive the whole proceeding as a film shooting, a sham, a staged drama, and not something that is - or should be - a normal part of the cityscape at night.
The TV reporters had been warned - if they wanted to come, they'd have to come as participants and volunteers, not as people who gawk, ask questions and leave. This, perhaps, was too much to expect.
However, what really made me feel ashamed of my tribe was this article.
It says - "the protesters were “leched” at, ridiculed and booed along the three-kilometre stretch of the march, the first of its kind in New Delhi"
Factually incorrect. I did the whole stretch and was neither booed nor ridiculed. Questions, yes. Arguments, yes. Booing, no. Leching? Possible? We were too busy to notice.
Further, "The organisers, who ran into trouble even before the roadside Romeos, managed to round up just 15 participants."
What was this supposed trouble that the organisers supposedly ran into?
"The protesters, in their spaghetti tops and accented English, made quite an impact on the streets. Those who hadn’t turned up in a “mod and hep” attire seemed clearly overdressed."
False. False. False.
Not everyone was in spaghetti tops. [I was.] The women had been asked to come dressed in something they would not normally wear. One friend came in a mangalsutra - the one thing she does not wear. Her friend was in a shalwar-kameez. Many others wore standard T-shirts and jeans.
The reporter has placed 'mod and hep' in inverted commas. Any particular reason? Was this supposed to be a reference to western clothes? Also, those who were not in western clothes were in regulation cotton shalwars... Overdressed? Who?
"Armed with placards, posters and red arrow tags, the protesters..."
We had posters and red arrows. There were no placards. Did the reporter dream those up? What we did have were stencils.
"A midnight march by women to protest against "touching, staring, groping, pinching and stalking" sounded heroic enough until the protesters ran into stalking Romeos lining up the path."
We did not run into stalkers lining up the path.
I did run into two young men who seemed concerned at my putting up a poster in Sarojini Nagar. One of them said, "Where's the point of putting it here? This is a government colony..."
Implying, of course, that sexual harassment is not a problem in government colonies.
I responded by asking, "Why? You think government people are all very shareef (decent)?"
That made him laugh in an embarrassed sort of way, and leave. That was all.
Anyway, being on the receiving end of media ignorance and inaccuracy is not pleasant. But what really bothered me was the tone of the article. The insensitivity of it. Here is this bunch of women, trying to do something that is generally acknowledged as a huge problem, across the country... And all you can think of writing is the straps on their shoulders or the accents they spoke in?