Safer Spaces And Saner Attitudes: Are We Asking For Too Much? #UnManifesto

By Pooja Malhotra:

In the land where the idols of Durga (the Goddess of Shakti), Lakshmi (Goddess of wealth) and Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge) are worshipped, women are often violated and ripped off their modesty & self respect. In the land where prominent politicos such as Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit hold key positions of power, there are women who feel powerless while commuting by public transport. In the land where women like Jayalalitha and Mayawati, are placed on pedestals and worshipped like Goddesses, there are thousands of women who suffer silently as they battle sexual assault, eve-teasing, verbal abuse and more. Double standards and gender bias in society is so appalling that there is an inherent need to create an ‘unmanifesto’- a voice which conveys what needs to stop, what needs to start, what needs to change. Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy that has somehow become an unwanted part of our existence.

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A 23 year old brave young girl fought to the finish, after the gruesome sexual assault on the fateful night of 16th December, 2012, but a million aspirations died when she breathed her last. It could’ve been me/my sister/my daughter/my wife…these thoughts generated mass grief, public outrage, anger and frustration. But look at the irony – women were groped while protesting against sexual crime, they were inappropriately touched while rallying for women’s safety, young girls heard lewd comments as they marched with candles in their hands to sensitize people towards a safer city. Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy.

Taking advantage of the recent public demand to put an end to crime against women, political parties are bound to make ‘false’ promises on this serious issue. Unlike their manifestos of the past (2009 and earlier) where ‘commitment to women’s safety’ was never addressed, it is bound to be in the core agenda in 2014 and they’ll try their best to add political colour to it. The 2009 manifesto of a leading national party has an entire section titled “Fear shall no longer stalk this land”, but ironically, mentions nothing against sexual violence. The manifesto pledges ‘security, dignity and prosperity’ for each and every citizen but women’s safety doesn’t come into the picture at all. Well, my question is- even if they amend their manifestos and include women’s safety issues, would real action manifest? Will our cities really become safer? Will mindsets change? Will the prejudice against women vanish? Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy.

Bollywood numbers and item songs only add to the misery…this may sound irrelevant, but at a deeper level, the coming in of (aayi) chikni chameli or Sheila ki jawani or munni ka badnaam hona definitely has a deleterious effect on a person’s psyche. The vulgar lyrics somehow tend to stick to their minds (even in the absence of ‘fevicol’) promoting lustful desires and fueling inappropriate behaviour. Add to this ‘a bottle of desi’ or ‘hookah bar’ and you don’t even realize but the ‘balma’ is already there to ‘douse the fire’. So what does the young girl in ‘high heels’ do to escape the ‘shikari’ stalking her? The coping strategies include ignoring, avoiding eye contact, dressing up conservatively, going out only during ‘safe’ daylight hours and last but not the least, being accompanied by a trusted male member. We fend off all offense as if we are not offended; we bury the anger deep within us, endure the agony and suffer silently. Our ‘unmanifesto’ should empower us to deal with this dichotomy.

In the past few weeks, the police have taken ‘baby steps’, like activating helpline numbers and setting up fast track courts, to ensure that offenders are brought to the book, but these are tiny pills being popped in to cure a disease that has grown to epidemic proportions. The key lies in ‘prevention is better than cure’. It is high time we start making a concerted, collective effort towards a safer society. It’s high time the Durga in all of us reincarnates as Kali and conquers the evil. It’s high time we create our ‘unmanifesto’!

But is there a way to create our ‘unmanifesto’? Is there a way in which young people can be given the experience of democracy early in their life to prepare them?

What can we do to develop them as responsible participants in democracy?

Can upcoming elections be seen as a space or young people to engage meaningfully and build themselves while engaging in nation building?

How can we make this happen? We are happy to invite you on behalf of ComMutiny – the Youth Collective and Pravah for Democracy Demo: youth create an un-manifesto for 2013-14 elections.

The event being held on 23rd February, 2013, Saturday from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM at Vishwa Yuva Kendra and is aimed at bringing together facilitators/educationalists/professionals working with young people to bring their experiences and explore these themes. This event is a culmination of 12 similar events on youth development that have been held across 7 states in collaboration with our NGO partners over the last 2 months.

Many of us have been perfectly conditioned to suffer silently and continue to live in this submissive state. Gender bias is only a part of the big picture…there’s a huge plethora of issues – corruption, environment, poverty, unemployment – that infuriate us and should be a part of our ‘unmanifesto’. Come…let’s create history!

This article is a part of the 5th space series on Youth Ki Awaaz. 5th Space is an initiative to facilitate young people to expand beyond the typical 4 spaces of career-edu, family, friends and leisure by exploring the 5th space, a journey from self to society and back.

Photo Credit: Please! Don’t Smile. via Compfight cc

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