We protest about rape, dowry deaths and the murder of unborn girls, but most of us end up ignoring men who consider it their right to stare at women.

One of the inalienable rights that men have--a large number of them at any rate, excluding some paragons of virtue, (see, I am not generalising, there are those decent men)--is the right to stare at women (commonly called ogling). The second more important one is the right to pass comments on their appearance, to say nothing of molesting them, another hobby, and then on to rape, a natural skill, and killing them for not bringing enough dowry or for just being female, even if they are unborn.

The list of those rights can be endless and they are exercised with a sense of righteous obligation. In Kerala, my home state, ogling and passing comments on women is a serious career option as in other states too, and in some cases it may even extend to throwing acid, or hot oil which is becoming a popular way of ending arguments with your wife/girl friend, dealing with unresponsive “objects of attraction”, even yes, in dear old Mumbai that progressive, unbreakable city.

While we protest about rape, dowry deaths and the murder of unborn girls, most of us would brush aside tasteless comments and try and ignore men who spit when we pass or make strange slurping noises. We may slap those who try to molest us if we manage to catch them and those of us who try and file police complaints, immediately lose faith in the criminal justice system in this country.

Even President Barack Obama couldn’t resist making a crack about the California attorney general which was meant to be flattering but unwarranted, and for which later he is said to have apologised. We have our own home grown politicians who can’ t keep their mouths shut when they see a woman. Immediately their size, shape, moral qualities or lack of them, whether she is worth a go or not have to be bandied about and if you are famous, then these sad comments make it into print and everyone gets worked up.

A friend called and asked why we women hadn’t made enough noise about what Congress leader Digvijay Singh said about Meenakshi Natarajan, an MP from his own party. Ms Natarajan’s response was lame and she even thought it was said in appreciation of her work as has been reported in the media. Surely there can be little doubt about what Mr Singh meant, a reminder that there are few who can resist being sexist.

Ms Natarajan elevated as All India Congress Committee secretary by her mentor Rahul Gandhi didn’t need a certificate of honour from Mr Singh whose chief pastime these days is to sharpen his foot-in-the-mouth disease skills. Other politicians are also distinguishing themselves in this competitive macho sport.

In Mumbai’s infamous lingo which is neither here nor there, women, depending on how they look, are commonly referred to as “maal”, not “sau tunch maal” as favoured by Mr Singh. This is Mumbai, we are brief and to the point. It is not uncommon to hear the comment “maal hai” , meaning she is good looking, of course according to the beholder. For we all know where beauty lies.

Then there is an acronym for young girls, even children with the potential of acquiring “maal” status. That’s BHMB or badi hokar maal banegi(which means when she grows up she will be a looker). So your potential to be a maal is astutely assessed from the time you are born and keenly watched till you reach puberty or the appropriate age when you are in the running for serious ogling, apart from criminal forms of unwanted attention.

Men cannot resist asking about your women friends whom they haven’t met, “maal hai kya?” Another occasion to use the word, quite common in the era of Hindi films with smugglers all dressed in uncomfortable leather jackets, was “maal aa gaya kya?” Simply translated it means has the stuff come? All that contraband gold, foreign cigarettes and bars of gold and silver and foren liquor, referring to the popular range of smuggled goods in this case and not attractive women.

For women, even walking on the road is a serious challenge and often when she is driving, you will hear men say, oh that car must be driven by a woman- look at the way it’s going. Only men are professional judges of quality driving you see. Once, one of my dear friends in whom I had never suspected such a streak, raced his car to level with a woman driver to check if she was “maal” and then braked suddenly on a national highway in disappointment.

On the road or in public places, chances are that as soon or as you pass by or as they see you coming, men will loudly clear their throats and spit, undaunted by all the anti spitting laws, otherwise they will make hissing/slurping noises(I thought it was hissing till someone corrected me and said they were trying to blow kisses, ugh) or else they will try and grope or pass so close to you that you have to cringe or walk with your bag held across your body. These criminals take their chances mostly in the crowded railway stations or places where they know women are not going to stop and fight back.

Being a woman, maal or no, sau tunch or otherwise, is no joke.