Today I was going to begin as part of the Women's Day blogathon, a long post on being harrassed and being afraid, and being a woman and all that. And then I got to thinking, and scrolling through my phonebook and thinking of happy memories and yeah, boys figure heavily in that. Boys whom I have loved, boys who have loved me, boys who have backslapped, boys who I have slept against, boys who looked at me admiringly as opposed to lecherously, boys who I have met briefly for coffee and have given them extensive advice about their love lives, we all know boys like that.
For every ghastly incident, every nipple tweak in a crowded place, I've had men who stand glowering behind me, or next to me, when we're in a crowded place together. Okay, perhaps not glowering, but if I light a cigarette say, in a place where women usually scamper around hidden by their dupattas, they will look casually threatening, so no one dares to say anything, and usually no one even dares to look. There are men, friend's lovers even, who know me only because the woman they love loves me, who would come if I called them at 4.30 in the morning with a flat tyre. And think nothing of it, waving away my effusive thank yous. There are the men I know professionally, photographers who I work with, who are careful to let the PR guy who addresses them because they are men and not me, because I am a woman and on top of everything else, look rather young, know that I am the one doing the story, and I should be treated accordingly.
There have been boys who have seen me home, boys who told me a hundred times to give them a damn missed call when I got home. And if I forgot, they'd call me, to see if everything was okay. There are men, boys whatever, who live with the same fears of Delhi not being safe for women, because we are its women, the other men, the ones who rape, the ones who held a knife to the throat of one of my friends, the ones who attempted to drag another friend into their car, the ones who follow me, so closely, that I can feel every indicator of mine being watched and mirrored and almost drive off the road with panic, they are not all the men in Delhi. They are, I admit, about eighty per cent, but they are not all.
There has been a cop who helped me when my car broke down, helping me push it to the side of the road, keeping an eye on me in that lonely place and when the mechanic arrived asked me whether this was the person I was waiting for. Auto rickshaw drivers, who, when I'm followed by some men on a motorcycle, speed up so that their rickety machines vibrate even more. Men brought up by parents like mine, parents of almost every woman I know who ingrain into us how our bodies should be sacred, special places, ours, to be guarded. For every man who doesn't listen when I say no, there are men who respond to even the slightest stiffening of my shoulders, stopping when they feel I'm not comfortable with where things are going.
Women's Day is about women, yes, my mother, my flatmate, my strong friends, my aunts, even my gentle non-confrontational grandmothers. But we're open enough to let the men share it--my father, my grandfather with his "burden" of four daughters whom he encouraged to study as much as they could and get proper jobs, Small's boyfriend Rahul, whom I love, and who goes to investigate mice in the kitchen because we're too scared, and my friends, always ready with a muscle flex, a cigarette and a back rub.
ps: I got this email the other day, from a male reader, Nishant Ramachandran who has some strong thoughts. I haven't edited anything, except added paragraphs.
I remember as a little kid standing amongst my peers in line at the school prayer, shouting with the sincerity and gusto of the very young, hand rigidly extended forward, the lines "all Indians are my brothers and sisters." A day came whence the shorts were replaced by pants, the face started sprouting hair albeit soft and downy, a growth spurt began with physical changes that were too baffling (anyway at first) and too surprising to comprehend fully. The same girls we ran and romped around with, playing and hollering around without any thought nor mind to being different from us boys, began to look like an alien species from wonderland. Emotions so unfathomable yet so deep began to flower in our flighty minds. Yes my friends the day came when we stood in the prayer lines, albeit among the senior students, and shouted with equal gusto and insincerity "all Indians are my brothers and your sisters." This last came about when we began to comprehend and appreciate the opposite sex.
As a young man dealing with the emotional lability associated with puberty and the growing realization of my own sexuality, I used to look upon girls with awe and longing, not knowing what was right or wrong, just that they fascinated me like nothing ever had before. I believe every boy who enters manhood goes through this phase and it is at this phase that the grain gets separated from the chaff. Boys compete with each other to grab the attention of the opposite sex, vent their energy through approved channels such as sports and some through violence towards each other. Testosterone surge and immature minds make a heady mix.
The family plays an important role in this stage of a male's development. I was fortunate in having an older sister who was very influential in shaping my outlook positively towards the opposite sex. Peer pressure at this stage is another difficulty to surmount as a group of young men make as much trouble as an avalanche if given the right conditions. The pressure to smoke, drink, indulge in objectionable attitudes and acts to prove manliness rises and many succumb to it. This is the cauldron that gives rise to such grave social ills as eve teasing and worse. Some young men make it their pastime, getting around in groups, following and annoying passing females with indecent propositions and suggestive filmi songs. I would be a hypocrite if I said I have never been tempted in my extreme youth upon seeing dark flowing hair and beautiful eyes to sing "ai haseena zulfon wali jaane jahaan, dhoondthi hai kathil aankhen kiska nishan," but respect for my sister always kept these ditties in my minds eye rather than on my lips.
It is said a thing of beauty is a joy forever and there is nothing more beautiful in a young man's eye as a beautiful woman. An appreciative and admiring glance was all I indulged in. Most young men look at this as harmless fun and outgrow them as they mature, but when this seemingly harmless sport becomes a serious affliction for some then it becomes a menace to society and women in general. My first awareness of eve teasing as something other than harmless fun was in college. By this time I was losing interest in studies, bunking classes, into alcohol, getting influenced by revolutionary ideology a la Che Guevara, and making serious attempts at disrupting peace. A classmate of mine was being followed around and harrassed by a group of hooligans from another class. A classmate who interfered in their sport and told them to lay off got himself roughed up. I had the pleasure of making them see the error of their ways and this incident hammered into me how difficult it is for women to live a normal life with the threat of such harrassment constantly hanging over their heads like the sword of damocles.
Our society is unquestionably a male dominated one where women traditionally have little or no rights. Nothing illustrates this better than the practice of female foeticide and infanticide that has become such a menace that the government has been forced to outlaw sex determination tests such as amniocentesis etc., but still people find ways to detect and abort female foetuses. The government of Tamil Nadu even had to initiate a cradle baby scheme so that parents would rather give up their female children than kill them. Child marriage is prevalent across large parts of the country and it is as yet undetermined how many young women die of pregnancy related complications every year. Then there are conscientious people like Bhanwari Devi in Rajasthan who got gangraped and abused as punishment for requesting people to not be part of child marriages or Shakuntala Verma in Madhya Pradesh who got her hands chopped off for counseling people against the same.Women are perceived as weak and helpless, dependent on males for their protection and survival, a burden to their families as the dowry that has to be given in the marriage market usually bankrupts a family. This mentality is deeply entrenched and all pervading in our society thus giving rise to male chauvinistic behavior such as eve teasing, which in turn progresses to sexual harrassment and more heinous crimes like sexual assault. In no way am I suggesting that eve teasing, sexual harrassment and sexual abuse is a situation unique to India, it is a worldwide phenomenon, but this menace is much more dangerous in the context of the Indian Subcontinent because few women here would care to make an issue out of it for fear of social ostracisation. Even though we have laws to deal with crimes against women, there are too many loopholes in the present legal system which allow the vast majority of perpetrators to walk away scot free. This is best proved through the example set by our capital Delhi where city courts found only 16% of alleged rapists guilty in 2005. This is keeping in mind the fact that only a miniscule of rape cases actually get reported.Women from the socially and economically forward communities have the advantage of education, equal opportunities and hence are making a difference in the way society perceives them by occupying decision making posts and contributing towards the emancipation of women as a whole, but the vast majority of our country lives in backward villages, agricultural communities and slums where there is little or no social justice, where feudalism still reigns, where women are little more than puppets to be manipulated. It is very rare for a girl child to not lose her humanity if she survives to become a woman in such conditions.
Today's India is not the India of five years ago. There has been a quantum leap forward in terms of economic prosperity with the economy growing at an estimated 8% per annum. A lot of effort is being put in by the government, but more needs to be done to raise the female literacy level which would be the key to tackling poverty, raising awareness among the women about their rights and empowering them at the grassroot level.
ps 2: (I seem to keep updating today)
But, before you think I'm glossing over the whole thing, and missing the point, here are some facts I found out today, to make you think.
> 84 per cent of women who are raped know their attacker.
> Less than one third of rapes are reported to authorities.
> 8.5% of college men in the US admit to sexually abusing women - but don't consider that rape.
> In India every 26 minutes, a woman is molested.
> And every 42 minutes, an incident of sexual harassment takes place.
> Worse, every 34 minutes, a woman is raped. (By the time you finish reading this post, and check a few more blogs and drink your first cup of coffee. During your lunch break. As you drive home. It's happening to someone.)
And always remember this and this.
Be safe. Celebrate your women (and your men) friends. Don't do anything I wouldn't do.