“How dare you, woman?” the commissioner thumped his fist on the mahogany table. At 6′ 2″, with broad shoulders, big red eyes, biceps almost tearing through his sleeves, bandit-like mustache covering much of his face and police uniform complete with a pistol, he towered over my petite, soft-spoken mother.
When I was 13, mom took me to a music audition in another city. It was midnight when we returned. Cabs are hard to come by in our small town, so we had to stand outside the railway station for thirty minutes before we found one. While we waited, a police car whizzed past us and my classmate Sachin, the commissioner’s son, waved at me. I yawned and waved back.
My classmates were huddling and murmuring in the school corridor when I walked in the next morning. Suddenly from somewhere in the crowd came Sachin’s voice “Here she is! She and her mother wait outside the railway station every night. I saw them yesterday. Now you know how her fees get paid!”
I was a tough kid from a tough neighborhood. It was already hard living in a single-parent household where mom worked two jobs to send me to school. Classmates and seniors bullied me every day. Some days they tore up my books, other days they hid my lunch box so I’d starve. I could deal with that. But abusing mother? That was crossing the line.
Fire raged in my eyes. I hurled myself into the crowd, looking for Sachin and calling out his name. He ran but I pushed him to the ground and a brawl ensued. “Don’t you dare speak badly about mom!” I punched his jaw. His tooth broke.
Teachers came running to separate us. Within minutes, we were dragged into the principal’s office while still wrestling and shouting at each other. Sachin had a history of bullying girls, but he was also a bigwig’s kid. I was the ace student, a definite rank holder for the upcoming Class 10 exams. The principal called his and my parents for a meeting the next morning.
I went home and told mom what happened. She knew Sachin and seemed disappointed at his comments, but she looked real upset when I described our brawl. “You demonstrate strength through the power of your convictions” she said, “Physical violence is for cowards. My girl is not a coward. Are you?”
She placed my palm on the Ramayana (a scripture) in our prayer room. “Promise me: no more brawls. Ever”.
“You apologize to Sachin tomorrow, I’ll do the rest.”
When we walked in to the principal’s office, Mr. Commissioner was already seated at the oval table along with Sachin who kept looking at the floor and rubbing the blue patch on his cheek. Before we even sat down, he said “Is this how you raise a daughter? Girls must treat boys with respect. Your child doesn’t understand this because you parented her poorly. Take her and leave this school.”
Smiling, Mom gave a sheet of paper to the headmistress. “Relax, I’m withdrawing my girl from this school” she said to the cop, “because she must not grow up around boys who disrespect girls. The government employs the police force to keep this town safe for everyone. If this is how your own son treats women, your failure as a parent is bigger than mine.”
“How dare you, woman?” And a thump that shook my bones.
I spoke. “Sachin, sorry I punched you. I will never do that again to you or anyone else. But I want you to speak respectfully about my mom in future.”
The principal eventually declared truce. Sachin and I would continue to be classmates. We shook hands and smiled.
“You were a #girlboss in there. Didn’t that cop scare you?” I asked mom as we walked out of the school. “Hell, yes!” she said “but I was determined to make your voice heard. As you get older, people will find a million ways to buy your silence. They will intimidate you, threaten you, bribe you or spy on you. Never take the bait; always speak up for yourself in a polite and firm manner, because no one else will.”
Always speak up for yourself because no one else will.
Mom showed me that a woman earns respect through bold words and actions. Whether it was managing finances, dealing with bosses or raising me, she always made her voice heard. Her courage continues to guide me when I face tough personal or professional decisions. This International Women’s Day, I salute her indomitable spirit. I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today if not for her.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on March 8, 2017.
If you enjoyed this post, hit that heart button below. It would mean a lot to me and it helps others see the story. Has any woman changed your life for the better? I look forward to reading your stories in the comments.
Originally published at medium.com