You've read much about the Bangalore New Year night's incident: inebriated men passing lewd remarks at the women gathered that night for celebrations, groping and sexual assault. You've probably seen the molestation incident at Kammannahalli caught on CCTV camera. You probably saw the onlooking bystanders who did not intervene- there were about five of them. I counted. They saw, some stopped and came back to stare more and did not do anything. It makes me sick to my stomach. You've probably read that a million times now on social media. Women are coming forward with these attacks, trying to raise their voice loud and clear above a drowning chant of men and other women who refuse to see the original problem of the situation. Sometimes it works, it does create awareness. But, I don't know if it has ever been detailed for some of you. I want to do that today. I want you all to crawl into a woman's skin (I'm writing this in binary as men and women/femme/queer- I welcome the thoughts of trans and other genders- I didn't write this in entire inclusiveness because I don't know your experiences and didn't want to write something wrong that may offend anyone) for a few minutes as you read this post.
You think sexual assault is horrible, a terrible act. That's a wonderful start for you to acknowledge it. But it's not enough. Those onlookers in the Kammannahalli incident probably agree with me- they agree it's wrong to molest anyone. But again, it's not enough. I would gamble on one of these being chief reasons for not intervening- fear of being attacked themselves, not wanting to be involved in an issue that could become a police case (and in turn, the possibility of their families being put at risk), nonchalance or of a she-asked-for-it-late-this-night mind-set. Some of them are understandable reasons even, but still- they are not enough for you to merely watch when someone needs help. Now, the woman in the video was brave (that's a default setting in women that I have to explain to you later) and fought till she could get herself away from these people but what if she had been overpowered? I hate to ask of men- What if it was your daughter/mother/sister/wife/girlfriend/friend? Other than hitting an emotional nerve at the thought to simply have you imagine the feeling, it makes me sick that I would have to put you through a fabricated hell dragging a loved woman into the picture in order for you to even see a fraction of what I am talking about simply because then, it is again not about the woman. It's still about you- a man, and what runs in your head when someone close to you is hurt. Step away from your privileged role with a penis. This is not about you. This is about us and our everyday battles and wars.
Now, some of you wonder why I would have to sound so crude in saying 'penis' instead of a man. I am sorry, but I am not really sorry. It is true. You have the privilege to be a man simply because of your penis. At the least, a cis man, of the heterosexual orientation. You have a privilege. You have a voice louder than a few people from other categories combined because we are historically still there. We live in a patriarchal world. I am writing things down this crudely because I want you to reflect on this. I don't know who this is reaching.I don't know if it reaches beyond my echo chambers but to the masses that I know to read and agree with this (as I see on my newsfeed), I want you to see even further.
A friend had recently posted about her experience with a stalker on her blog, racing thoughts of what to do, how to react and simply- the kind of fear every woman is acquainted with. Only yesterday, I was one of the two/three women at a poetry night to read poems surrounding sexual assault and molestation. I know of women in my family and my friends circles who have been victims of abuse and domestic violence. This is just what hit me in the span of three or four days. If I have to account every time a man touched me inappropriately, I could give you a book. Almost every woman would, especially if she is from India.
Now, you all know this to a good deal. Let's dig a little deeper.
Men: Assume you want to go from point A to B and you don't have private transportation. Say, you'd have to take the bus. What would you do and what would go through your mind? I want you think about it for a second before you read any further.
Done? What was it? Say it out loud, please. Great.
Alright. Do you want to know what we go through? It starts at home with our parents asking us to be careful. An average Indian woman's mother would have asked me (an average Indian woman) to adjust my dupatta if it looks like my breasts are garnering attention; I am asked to be safe (I really don't know what that means- it's out of my control). I go out to the road, I wonder if my clothes are in order. Is my cleavage visible? Are my bra straps peeping? Is that guy across the road a threat? Why is he staring at me like that? Is it my dupatta? There is the bus stop. I hope I am not attracting too much attention. Would that neighbour aunty think I am promiscuous because I am wearing extra kaajal today? Here comes the bus. Oh boy! It looks crowded. Do I wait for the next one? But I'd be late. All the seats for women are taken. I could wear my backpack and keep the men away but I'd be yelled at for taking up too much space. There is the stalker boy. Why doesn't he give up? I can feel someone's groin against my back-wait-is it just a lunchbox? Maybe. No. It's a hand- definitely a hand. Here is this woman making an eye contact with me- she knows. She understands. Maybe if I moved a little? No, that would mean two men at my back. One of them looks harmless though. But are they, really? Why is this bus jerking so much! There is my stop. Let me get past this crowd. Did that guy just touch my waist? Get out. Get out. Ah, air. Let's get to college. Oh, great- I have some sneering, lewd comments. How does that guy know my name? Is he following me? Shit, he's following me. There are not many people on this road either. Wait, oh, I am okay. He wasn't following me. There is destination B. Breathe.
(In fact, I wrote to a publication about this 6 years ago- An Open Letter to those Opportunist Uncles who Sexually Abuse women on Buses).
Now, tell me. Was that tiring to read? Yes? That's how we feel every single day. Don't get me wrong, we are not fragile, defenseless women. If a man would try to touch me brazenly, I would now raise my voice. I would try to hit him and defend myself. But more than the physical strain I would ever have to go through, coping with issues of trusting men at all comes to the foreground. I have been sexually molested several times- starting from when I was in Grade 2 or 3 (that is the earliest I remember) and here is the thing- it's not just that preying man on the road. My Grade 3 memory is with a family member! These people are within families- extended and otherwise- people that your parents trust you with. One of my closest friends and I are conversing about this fatigue just as I write this and with her permission I am telling you her story: She was inappropriately touched by her grandfather. She is still uncomfortable about getting physical with her own boyfriend of several years- her heart says yes but the body screams no. She is one of the strongest and well-read people I know with a clear voice but no one but for me and a few others perhaps, know about this-not even her mother, whose father was responsible for this. Can you imagine how deep a disgust has to be if we can all feel it in our mouth after decades? I've been sexually harassed by opportunistic uncles on the bus, a bus conductor, stalkers when I was in school, a coach I loved with all my life- you have to understand how much energy I need to summon in order to write all this so publicly. When I read my poem yesterday at a poetry night I consider to be a safe space, a piece that took me 9 years to write, I saw in the eyes of some women that they felt what I was talking about. It's a kind of experience almost most of you men will never go through (I am not dismissing the innumerable cases of men who have been molested and raped though. Again, our society doesn't validate their trauma either. They ask them to buck up and be a man).
Do this, my dear men reading this. I know you are against sexual assault and victim blaming. I do. But have you ever sat down to talk to your lady friend or sister about what goes on in her head? I bet you have listened to these experiences but have you asked them to tell you in detail, to trust you enough to tell you how it hit them mentally? Do any of these incidents after decades still have a hold on them; weigh in on their everyday decisions? ASK your wife or your girlfriend. Go on. I would ask you to be prepared to listen to the disgust, though.
Is this post one of those big rants? I would partially agree. But would you learn more about your own stance against sexual assault towards a greater understanding- I would be inclined to say yes. Learn more about consent. Learn more about empathy. I am trying not to hug my own 4 year old niece without her permission- consent is everything. I hug only when she is okay with it. We have a lot of experiences and one kind of physical contact that you deem harmless may in fact, scare a woman to no ends because of her experiences. I read an article online that summed up what rape anxiety is-I need for you to read it. Almost every woman you come in contact with has definitely experienced this. Do you understand how real this situation is? Do you understand how tiring it is to be un-trusting and on-guard all the time?
A lot of mothers tell their daughters: ALL men want one thing. Now, I have my qualms about that statement. I would like to think it is not true. I was talking to the previously mentioned friend about this and this is what she said: "That's the problem you know. Remember the uncles you wrote about, in the buses. They are someone's father. Someone's husband. They are men that care very much for their families and this families care very much for them. Love them. Just the way we do our fathers. What goes wrong? Why can't they be trusted? It makes me realise that it's all men. And the futility of that. All men! How does one fight that?[sic]"
What can I say to that? These are merely some difficult conversations and thoughts we have to have every day. I am not saying I don't trust men. I'm actually on the other end. I try and trust people on the outset, with my own boundaries. I try to let not scarring incidents change my trust in men. But it's something I have to dedicate myself to do- I have to spend time and energy on something I would very easily get blamed for- as a victim. Victim-blaming is way too real. My relatives have implied that of me. Your parents are doing the same when they say 'This is why she shouldn't go out late in the night!' A lot of this is care and concern but it's stifling and suffocating. I can't have a regular life because a boy on the streets can't control his sexual urges? I can't wear comfortable clothes, I have to avoid crowded buses, I can't hang out with male friends, I can't watch a late-night cinema, I can't stand around tea-shops, I can't do this and I can't do that- all of this is for absolutely no fault of mine. I have a curfew because I might get raped. Do you realise how fucked up that narrative is?
This issue has been misinterpreted in many ways. The #NotAllMen hashtag in response to the Bangalore's incident is a disgrace. Am I supposed to give you an award for not molesting someone? These hashtags are virtual good-for-nothings. What happens to us is real. The trauma and the hurt is real. If a woman cries when she sees something like this happen, like when you remember Nirbhaya's incident (remember this?), it is because we know this. We can feel it in our bodies- it's a lot of disgust. And I don't even want to start on marital rape which is still not considered a crime in India!
For starters, we want you to acknowledge this situation we are in. Let's agree that there is still a chauvinistic, patriarchal setting in the country that blames the victim and not the perpetrator under the guise of cultural values and belief systems. Read about it more. Ask people. I want you to understand this inside out to the point where you feel like you can't bear to hear of the details anymore. Then, I want you to use your privilege for good. Next time your parents say that the girl in the shorts was asking for it, tell them they are wrong. The next time one of your peers tells you that a woman is over-reacting, call them out. There is nothing manly about standing there and not saying anything about it. The next time a woman tells you how tiring it is- listen. If you see someone being attacked on the streets- help them. Let's all call out on misogyny and making all this sound normal. It's not! Movies are constantly showing the lead actor as a stalker who pursues a woman until she says yes. (If you know and understand Tamizh- see this. It's nicely-explained to some extent) I would assume that the man who hacked a woman (who refused to fall in love with him) to death at the Nungambakkam Railway Station is one such follower. Let's use social media to boycott such movies and raise opinions. What else can you do beyond sharing FB posts and outrage on Twitter? I would love to hear from you.
My dear men reading this, I am not saying you're all like this. No. But I am saying that most of you do not really know how much trauma lies under this because you're privileged. You're privileged if you can go out at 2 AM for a run without being worried about being sexually harassed. Now, you may be afraid of being robbed- have you been afraid of being touched without consent? Especially in a country like India where this is happening, it's growing and it's scary. The response to these things are a list of victim-blaming and chauvinistic tones coming from people in power, politicians. Why don't we have a sex-offenders registry in India yet? If I can report every single man who touched me inappropriately, if there is a fear in the system, I would readily do it. (We are going to have a sex-offenders registry in India, hopefully soon) But a lot more of what we have are men and women in positions of power that say 'boys will be boys'. That, I hope never becomes something you teach your kids, even as something that could be interpreted in a matter-of-fact way. It's a shame!
I have to stop this for this is something that I can keep going on about. All I am saying is you are privileged in more ways than you know, as men. I want you to see to the maximum possible extents that you can, what it is that women have to face every day. Ask them. Make this a breakfast table topic. Learn, educate yourselves. Tell others who might not be on social media, not in your echo chamber. If you don't tell your parents who victim-blame a woman that they were wrong to be wearing what they were, or drinking, or out at 10 PM, you are still helping the oppressor.
You are still a part of the problem.
Be the change you wish to see.
Much love to you for reading all this!
Also watch other videos that shed light on the things we have discussed here and the like :