Saturday, January 12, 2013

Speaking up

Note: 
1. This post has some explicit language of the kind that I do not typically use. However, the nature of the topic demanded such a usage. I hope the language does not offend anyone and that you are able to see beyond and appreciate the point I am making.
2. This should be obvious, but still. If this article makes you think less of me, especially because of the incidents I have mentioned, I honestly don't give a damn. I do not think that another man's crime is a measure of my virtue. And I am not ashamed to call a spade a spade.

I typically try not to write about topics that everyone is writing about at that time. Maybe because I hate to be a voice in a crowd of voices. You might call it ego, or a stupid desire to be heard. I justify it by saying there is no point adding one voice to a cacophony of voices that aren't being heard anyway. But today I was thinking about it, and I realized that the voices are not adding to the crowd. The voices MAKE the crowd. So, I went back to the whole starfish story type of thinking. ("But it made a difference to that one"). So, though I know my post is not going to become viral, that my voice shall only be heard among the few people I know, and much of what I am going to write is probably stuff they know already- stuff that has been written in so many blogs and newspapers in the last few weeks- I still think it is worth writing this post. 

Like everyone else, I am very angry at the rapes that have been happening in India. It is a shame, to say the least. Reading the outcry that has been echoing in the media lately has made me feel a little hopeful, but some of it was just ruminated material. After a certain point, the discussion became repetitive. Everybody was saying the same things as everyone else. It sounded like this issue would eventually die out, like other issues in India die out after a while. My hopes were beginning to thin.

Then I read this post today morning. And I thought I have no right to give up ever again. There is this woman who has been gang-raped and has survived to tell the tale. She has actually led a normal life after that and here she is, writing beautifully. After reading that, how could someone like me, who has led a comparatively normal life, ever be afraid of anything again? What right do I even have to give up or be despondent about anything at all? What right do I have to shut up when it is the time to speak?

Yes, I have not been raped. I have never gone through the kind of trauma that this woman has. I hope I never shall. In fact, that kind of trauma is something I cannot even imagine. But you know what. I have been nudged, pinched, touched, spoken offensively to. A thousand times. By innumerable men. While standing in a bus, while going in an autorickshaw, while walking to school. Why, just a week ago, someone pinched my butt at the Puri Jagannath temple. And unlike what many people write, I did not feel humiliated or violated. I felt angry. I cursed the offender (whoever he was) to my heart's content, almost childishly- May he never find a woman. May he fail in his most important hour. May he be born again in Afghanistan and may he be stoned. May he become impotent. I don't remember what else, but I was using the choicest curses and swear words I could think of. In my mind.

And there lies the difference. I did not yell. I did not even tell my parents what exactly happened. I have not told them yet. Maybe yelling was pointless. Maybe I couldn't have caught the offender and slapped him because there was simply too much of a crowd. But I should have spoken up. I should in fact have spoken up about this explicitly to my parents, to my friends. The 'explicitly' is important, because all I could bring myself to say was- someone touched me badly. If the offender was not afraid to pinch me in a public place, why should I be afraid to simply mention this?

And it is not the first time. A complete stranger (an adult) tried to forcibly kiss me when I was about 9 years old. That was a time when I didn't even realize he was kissing me. I did not like what he did, but I had no idea what was happening. And I never, never told anyone about it. Maybe because I was uncomfortable talking about it. But now I think I should have screamed when he did that. I should have created a ruckus and ensured people beat him black and blue. I didn't do it because I lacked the awareness at that time. I did not know that my silence is what pushes him on. Offenders do not do these things because they are turned on by the woman not wearing a duppatta. (I was too small to have tempted anyone to do anything at all.) They are not encouraged by women who are trying to attract them by wearing revealing clothes. Rapists are not motivated by the fact that women step out at night and try to get a life. And to the people who claim that if women stuck to Indian "culture" these crimes wouldn't happen, I want to ask- "Was Seeta trying to tempt Ravana to kidnap her? Did Draupadi ask for Duhshasana to disrobe her? Are you going to argue that Seeta (who is, by your own culture, an avatar of Lakshmee) 'asked for it'?"

As for the argument that men cannot control themselves, I have a simple thing to say. When that person pinched me in Puri, I wanted to kill him. I wanted to butcher him to pieces and leave him for the hunter dogs to tear apart. I wanted to inflict pain. But obviously, I did not do it. Why did I not argue that he asked for it, and simply stab him? Would any court of law have protected me if I brutally murdered him and said "He was offending me and he deserved it"? Then society would have told me that I was wrong and that I should have used the right channels of justice. Like the woman in the link above says- "I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina, just as I reject the notion that men’s brains are in their genitals." I think that summarizes everything I want to say to people who think men are animals who cannot stop themselves from raping when they see a woman. (Beyond the fact that it is not the most provocative or hot looking women that get raped, but normal average women, and that this argument is too stupid to even bother listening to....)

So the first thing I think everyone should understand is that speaking about these things openly is extremely important. It is important for us as a society to encourage children to speak up and ask their questions. It is important for us to make children and women feel COMFORTABLE to speak about these topics. I would never use the words "butt" or "breasts" in my home because I have been conditioned to think that I am a bad woman just to say these things. While the men in my house would get violently angry at an offender, they would not be comfortable discussing these topics in explicit detail. But if the offender is ok with grabbing my breasts why should I be afraid to name the exact thing he did? By making abuse an uncomfortable topic, we (especially women) have given room for crimes to happen. Those stupid politicians are partially right. Women are asking for it. Not by dressing provocatively, but by being afraid to speak up and fight for their rights.

The second thing we need to understand is that if society respects a criminal, that crime shall never vanish. Most common people do not commit a theft or a murder because they know that nobody shall justify them saying the victim "asked for it". When you file a complaint for a robbery, no policeman says "You did not install enough protection measures in your house, so you deserved to get robbed". Then why does our society leap to defend the rapist? It is my strong belief that crime is not stopped simply by locking criminals up or by hanging them. Capital Punishment is a deterrent, but not a solution. Crime is automatically reduced when it is identified as crime, when criminals stop being respected in society. (The same is true of corruption. Bribing is so prevalent in India because people don't feel any qualms in accepting they gave or took a bribe. They are justified by society). This implies that people should not just stop justifying offenders, but also support women when they complain. We must create an environment where it is comfortable for women to speak up.

Oh, and one last thing. When someone touches you or behaves inappropriately to you, don't be humiliated. Don't feel bad. Do not let that "virtueless" stranger control one single moment of your life. Instead, laugh at him. Mock him. He will be confused that instead of humiliating you, he gave you room to humiliate him. Make him feel ashamed he ever thought he could humiliate you. Because with every word you speak up against him, you become purer.With every little thing you do to fight him, you have grown thousandfold on the virtue scale.

Stop justifying offenders. Support women when they complain. Speak up. Speak up. Speak up. And remember your virtue is NOT located in your vagina, just as men’s brains are NOT in their genitals.

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