By Nikhila Loomba:
Dear Fellow Indian (Hindustani, Expat, NRIs et all),
Congratulations! Last week was a momentous one for us all. A special note of gratitude to three courageous women: Twinkle Khanna, Shenaz Treasurywala and Guneet Kaur. On December 9th, Twinkle took a pragmatic approach to bring forth the many heinous faces of sexual violence in the country and asked a very important question – “When do these men that began their days as boys playing cops and robbers, turn into violent rapists?” On December 11th, Shenaz took a bold step of sharing her personal encounters with sexual harassment and wrote an open letter asking those with a significant platform to speak up. On December 12th, Guneet wrote a response to Shenaz in the last paragraph of which she offered alternate solutions: “working towards gender sensitization, introspection on how we contribute to sexual violence, and standing up for zero tolerance against sexual violence.” The overwhelming response to all three women, positive or negative, was passionate. So this letter to every Indian hopes to capitalize on this passion and take the conversation one step further. It’s clear that everyone recognizes that we have an epidemic on our hands and a change needs to happen. So let us talk about the change, but first address the hindrances to this much needed growth.
Both Shenaz and Guneet had their share of critics. To Guneet’s critics, it is perhaps understandable that the method with which Guneet approached Shenaz wasn’t the most sensitive in nature and therefore brought about anger and disappointment. However, I challenge you to ask what positive contribution your criticism made to the furthering of this conversation. Attacking one another is taking leaps and bounds backwards. As Mahatma Gandhi quite sensibly once noted, “An eye for an eye, makes the entire world blind.” To Shenaz’s critics that suspected her open letter was simply a publicity stunt; whether or not it was is immaterial. Let us instead concern ourselves with the strength it takes to write such a letter. Let us applaud the courage it takes to share such deep secrets of your life that you had buried within yourself for far too long. Whether or not we disagree with their methods or their content, let us not dismiss their attempt to shine light on methods of improving safety and well being. Let us focus on appreciating the efforts, being more conscientious of one another, and band together for this cause.
The answers and solutions we seek do not lie in segregation, but rather in unification. The answer does not lie in separating boys from girls, and making this only an issue of women. The answer lies in unifying men and women and making this an issue about a safer tomorrow for the generations, future and present. The answer does not lie in criticizing or critiquing one another’s calls to action; rather the answer lies in empowering each individual that speaks up to speak up again and furthering the conversation with our own constructive contribution.
We need a systemic change. What is the method to bring about that change? The methods are plenty but they all require starting at our roots and educating our youth, changing our attitude towards sex, women and the effect of rape on the community. Creating a society where girls are not considered feared liabilities that are aborted even without having a chance to take their first breath. Creating a society where women are not considered property whose ownership gets passed on from one man to the next through the generations, or a meek species that can be overpowered by men. Creating a society where we recognize that this isn’t an issue that affects women alone.
Just as a home cannot be built upon a weak foundation, these solutions we seek for a safer tomorrow cannot be built upon a foundation of misconceptions. Let us begin by clearing some of these misconceptions.
Misconception: Rape is about Sex.
In the progression forward, it is perhaps most pivotal to understand that rape is not about sex. Yes, I used the word S.E.X. Rape is NOT about sex. Rape is about POWER & CONTROL. Theoretically, if rape was about sex then couldn’t these perpetrators seek out consenting individuals to fulfill their urges with; why prey upon non-consenting individuals? What thrill does a perpetrator achieve when he or she overpowers an individual and rapes them? It’s that thrill of power and control. Once we internalize this fact then we can begin to truly understand why rape is so prevalent within the Indian community.
We have this beautiful Indian culture where we consider the dignity of a woman as utmost and once “tainted,” dismiss the woman as a disposable or devalued being. We take sacred oaths in marriage in which men vow to protect their wives and in exchange women promise to unconditionally stand by their side. It’s really important to investigate how selective men and women are construing these oaths and gender-roles to fuel their impression that they own or can overpower an individual.
Methods of Reform:
– Start with youth and engage with them in conversations about relationships, “obligations,” and gender roles.
– Change the conversation around the portrayal of and perception of women as property or weak beings that are dependent upon men for their very safety and survival.
– Raise girls and boys to know that men and women alike are to be treated as independent beings that deserve the same quality of support, respect and preservation of integrity.
Misconception: Rape and sexual abuse only affect women.
It is perhaps most vital to understand that by making our concern for safety a women’s issue or one of women’s empowerment, we alienate all the boys and men. Boys do get abused as well and the statistics are quite alarming. A recent study showed that 1 in 3 boys in India experience some form of sexual abuse. Rapes of women may be getting media attention but this does not mean that boys are safeguarded against these violent crimes. The more we make this a women’s issue the less likely we are to provide a comfortable and safe environment in which boys and men can come forward. We can refer to reel life for proof of this; opposing counsel ridicules Akshay Kumar’s character in Aitraaz for being a man that was claiming harassment by a woman. The entire premise of the movie focuses on dismissing the idea that a man can be a victim of such a heinous crime. Thanks to some kick-butt advocacy on part of his on-screen wife, Akshay’s character got justice but not before being seriously heckled by the opposing counsel. If we harbor the deeply embedded belief that this is a women’s issue and only women can be raped then we, as a society, are sending a strong message to our boys and men. That they will be criticized and ostracized if they come forward because how could they have possibly been overpowered as boys and men and fallen victim to abuse and rape. Let us not alienate one half of our community.
Methods of Reform:
– Let us change the way we speak about rape and abuse to make it more inclusive.
– Let us work towards making rape laws gender-neutral.
– Let us educate ourselves to understand that rape and abuse do not discriminate between a man and a woman and anyone can fall prey to it.
Misconception: Women are the weaker gender and therefore require a savior.
While I excitedly await for my knight in shining armor to ride into my life, it’s not because I feel I need to be saved by a powerful, influential man but instead because I would like to ride into the sunset with my very own Clyde, Ranjha or plain old prince-charming. I am a woman of petite frame and average stature and have been blown over by the wind quite a few more times than I’d like to admit, but still disagree with the notion that I need a man to save me. Instead I am convinced that even for a second if I allow myself to believe this, I am doing a disservice to myself. I am sentencing myself to a lifetime of dependency and fear.
Methods of Reform:
– Dismiss this idea of women being the weaker species that need protection from men.
– Understand that harboring this belief is monumentally discouraging and feeds into gender stereotypes that perpetuate the idea of overpowering, which is the foundation of rape.
– Identify that thread that connects us all, no matter how influential a person is or not, no matter their gender, the thread that connects us is that we are human. We need to join hands, strengthen as a whole and through this joint force, work to protect our entire community.
Misconception: Five individuals can holistically address this issue.
A call to Indian leaders to take a stand is an amazing recommendation, however making such a lofty demand from them and then not being present to contribute to the conversation and support them in constructive methods of using their platform would be doing a disservice to the entire community.
It would be naïve to assume that if Mr. Amitabh Bachchan Ji stood up one day on Kaun Banega Crorepati and said, “Boys don’t rape, Raping is Bad!” or Mr. Salman Khan stood up one day on Big Boss and said, “Guys- make a commitment to yourself not to rape aur phir apne aap ki bhi nahin suno,” automatically all people are going to understand and internalize this. Absolutely not!
These are extremely sensitive issues and it is important to respect everyone’s right to speak on or refrain from speaking on them. Just because a person may be influential does not mean he is responsible for the progression of the entire nation. It is important for us, as a community, to realize that this isn’t an issue that will be resolved by an influential minority, but rather by the camaraderie of a non-partisan majority.
I will admit that there may be a level of ignorance here on my part, as I did not grow up marching down Delhi’s streets. I really do not know what kind of an influence a sit-in can have on the Indian government but I do know a sit-in cannot make a difference within each and every single home – where the change needs to occur in order for us to have long-lasting reforms. We need to tackle this issue from the grassroots level.
We can gain inspiration from Twinkle, Shenaz and Guneet. The three women have vastly different platforms and yet are united by their passion for this cause, and are maximizing their unique skill-sets and platforms by spreading this message of urgency around this cause.
Avenues by which influential men and women can contribute if they choose:
– Politicians: Work on changing the laws involving rape and investigations of rape so survivors feel safe and comfortable coming forward.
– Medical Professionals: Work on fine-tuning the skills of the medical exam and rape-kit so that the exams are done in a sensitive manner so that the survivor doesn’t feel objectified and violated again.
– Celebrities: Became ambassadors for a cause such as Unity In Adversity where you can familiarize yourself with the violence statistics, gain an education around the cause and work closely with a team that will investigate refined methods with which you can use your stardom for the advancement of this cause.
This is just the beginning! There is so much work ahead. I applaud all three of the women who spoke up last week and I hope that more people will do so.
UIA was founded because I envision a world where no one feels alone in his or her battle against adversity. It hopes to become that platform upon which the non-partisan majority, everyone, can collaborate. UIA will be starting or furthering the conversation in different communities around the world and engage the communities to generate ideas and methods in which each individual can contribute to a positive change; empowering each individual to make a difference in their community and at-large. This article is just one of many from UIA, so be sure to check back in to witness this conversation evolve.
To the critics: You may find a reason to dissect, disagree and challenge this post as well, but I encourage you to conserve that energy and instead invest it into furthering the conversation that has begun. What do you perceive are misconceptions surrounding rape and abuse? What methods of reform would you like to suggest? Post them here! Start the discussion! Venture over to our Google + Page and provide your feedback to the two live polls.
This global movement is beginning its global tour by touching down in the States and India in the spring of 2015. The time to start these conversations was yesterday; so hop on your computer today and share your wealth of knowledge, ideas and suggestions and become a part of this global movement for a united and safer tomorrow.
Advocate. Activist. Anomaly.
Founder & CEO of Unity In Adversity
About the Author: Nikhila Loomba is a career student but is best defined by her humanitarian work and passion for equality in quality of life. She has worked and volunteered as a sexual assault crisis counselor, domestic violence counselor and medical advocate. She developed culturally sensitive programs during her volunteer work as an educator for rape prevention programs. She thrives most in remaining dedicated to her humanitarian efforts and is currently focused on “Unity In Adversity,” to manifest her passion and vision for a United, educated and safer tomorrow. You can stay connected with her on Twitter at @UnityNAdversity