By Prageeyaa Khanna:
The world is about to experience the 17th year of the 21st century, but, we are still grappling with a woman being groped in a crowded train, a police constable refusing to file the complaint of eve-teasing because it is the concern of another police station or a three-month-old rape victim being neglected by hospital authorities. It gives me a chill down my spine, and, I really hope that it would do that for everyone. We live in a day and age where a barbaric gang rape can shock the nation only for so many days.
Human memory is not the problem, human behaviour is. The need of the hour is a fundamental transformation of how women are perceived across the various demographics and psychographics on the globe. In order for mankind to evolve and free itself from the clutches of heinous crimes offending the gender of a woman, it is incumbent that each person takes the responsibility of believing in the dignity of life, and by life I refer to all genders.
There seems to be strong ideological contradictions in a diverse country like India. Where the body of a woman is the temple of god, fatal objects are inserted into her vagina. Where the goddesses are prayed to with passion and belief, she is brutally raped, mercilessly murdered and thrown in the same river that bids the goddess goodbye. We have empowered the woman today, but, terms and conditions apply and she is empowered with a clause of entitlement to a man.
“You are a working woman after marriage because I am not like the other husbands, you can wear what you want because I can protect you, you can do whatever you want once you are married.” Yes, we live in a society where we give the power but we claim the source of it. The absence of an egalitarian approach is too deep-rooted in our society and so intertwined with our daily lives that we don’t even notice it. These rigid beliefs and stereotypes have generously contributed to the misplaced sanctity of the body of woman.
Eve-teasing, molestation, cyber-bullying, sexual harassment at the workplace, child sexual abuse, stalking, rape, murder: women are facing a range of sexual crimes on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps people have even stopped reacting to this anymore because it is so common. People are now operating from tolerance and a strong sense of denial. Every woman, at some age or situation in life, would have faced, is facing or will face a type of sexual violence and/or abuse.
The problem is looking us in the eye. We cannot continue to allow this. But how should I stop this? How many guys am I going to give it back to? How many police complaints will I file? If every woman actually reported every incident, women would be disbelieved for crying wolves. But, the truth is that she is not a crying wolf but that is exactly how many times it has happened with her today. We need to believe them. They are not suffering from hallucinations.
This social evil has to be uprooted from the fabric of the society for good. SheSays undertook that every boy and girl needs to be able to identify this as their problem and not just that of the survivor. The situation will begin to show light when each one is sensitised enough to first acknowledge that this is happening, secondly that it is a problem, thirdly, that it is every person’s responsibility to not tolerate this at all and lastly, believing that every one is an agent of change if they want to be.
Attacking the grassroots level was required. We set out on a mission to educate the youth that you have to be gender sensitive and be proud about it. The youth have to feel that this issue is relevant to them. Every session that I conduct with the youth, my opening question to them is always – “Do you think that this is not your problem? Do you believe that you are too young to discuss this issue and that you will not be taken seriously?” In every session the response was – “No.” They do feel connected. They do feel the need to give their opinion and they all have a lot to share on the subject, some from experience and some from knowledge, but they all feel party to the problem.
Our aim is to empower and enable each person that we reach out to, first, fully understand the sanctity of their bodies and beings, and understanding that respecting the gender and rights associated with gender are stem from the basic human right of dignity of every life. We created the Sexual Violence Preventive and Educative Curriculum to comprehensively address these issues and educate people that perhaps what they are brushing off as something that always happens could potentially put the perpetrator behind bars. I know it is perceived as overrated, but educating the mind in the real sense with respect will induce a more progressive approach towards women and their bodies.
I am no exception to sexual abuse or harassment. I wanted to do much more than just feel frustrated. I was craving to connect personal with the youth, getting their insight on the subject and attempting to make a small change by having a healthy discussion with them on the subject, both educative and preventive.
I joined SheSays as a gender advocacy lead and I support the founder in her vision of not only spreading awareness on the subject but actually taking real-time action, and empowering every life to take this action. By action, I emphasise the effort in training the mind to bring about a behavioural change at the most basic level of humanity, by accepting the body of a woman and cherishing it with respect. Action means being vocal about the subject and not slipping into a complacent zone of tolerating it. Action means parents discussing this issue with their kids at home. Action means the survivor not becoming another victim of mental anxiety or depression. All of this will happen, when each of us believe that we are agents of change. This realisation is gender sensitisation.
As every new endeavour brings forth, this one too has its challenges. The biggest one being sustaining your own belief in the cause and not losing sight of the end goal. While interacting with young adolescents it gets really challenging to capture their interest and keep them engaged in the session throughout. The key is to adapt each session with the crowd that I address. Some of the adolescents come up and share their personal struggles on the subject and it does get unnerving to know that their parents encourage brushing such incidents under the carpet.
We were faced with the assessment that there is a lack of parental inclination to engage in healthy and informative discussions on the subject, further suppression and shaming of the victim, unabashed repetition of sexual offences, bystanders conveniently ignoring such crimes, possibility of increased risky behaviour and indulgence in destructive activities due to such incidents being shut down, and the lack of trust in the authorities to bring about justice. This came to us from a range of sessions across institutions like R.N Podar, St. Xavier’s and also with children of the Dharavi slum, which then lead me to building a new curriculum on child sexual abuse primarily for sensitising the parents and encouraging them to become agents of change by fearlessly addressing these issues at home and investing in educating their children to not ignore any untoward advance that is offensive. We are also working towards creating a unique curriculum that would cater to workplace specific gender sensitisation.
The children would say after the session that, “It is essential to stop every form of abuse, starting at the most basic level” and that “Ignoring a crime is a crime [in] itself” and also, “Now that I know my rights, I can help the [survivor] better” which gives us hope of the domino effect of conducting the sessions as a positive initiative.
The next step is to work more deeply into the fact that sexual abuse is a public health issue and more awareness needs to be brought amongst the women of the socially and economically backward strata of society on sexual health and hygiene.
The one thing that we must not forget is that we are all agents of change, whether progressive or regressive, that depends on our choice. SheSays simply envisions every boy and every girl to bring forth this change through education, behavioural change and impactful action, beginning with truly respecting ones own and the being of another, without exception.