As told to Amnesty International India:
Does sexual violence affect all women and men in the same way? Where are the commonalities and differences? Where is the stigma located? We took these questions to six different individuals from various backgrounds, as part of our campaign ‘Erase The Shame’, to break the silence around sexual violence.
In an interview with Amnesty India, Bindiya, a law student from Bangalore, shares her own experience on the stigma and silence around sexual violence, and what it takes to speak out about it.
Q: As a woman, can you share some of your experiences from campus?
A: In our campus, from the parking lot to the canteen, one feels a sense of insecurity – What you’re wearing, who is looking at you – a type of fear lingers, when you leave the house, where is it you’re going and what kind of clothes should you wear. Being a woman, there is always a hesitation.
In our society, the way we are brought up, the way our surroundings are, there’s always a pressure on women on how they present themselves. This doesn’t apply to other genders. Women are told to be responsible, careful to avoid and prevent anything that could go wrong.
Q: Can you share any experience, yours or anybody else’s on sexual violence?
A: I drive a scooty. We have to park it in the parking lot. One can notice that there is a group of boys in the parking lot – which includes students and outsiders. These people often pass lewd comments, making you feel odd. The way vehicles are parked in the parking lot, I often need help in taking my scooty out. These boys will offer to help, but to them it is just an opportunity. Helping is not their aim, their aim is to talk to us. They don’t understand if you clearly indicate you don’t like it. It doesn’t matter to them if it is making you uncomfortable. They somehow want you to acknowledge their existence, your disinterest doesn’t deter them. They enjoy it. It’s happened many times to me.
Even around the college, there will be some boys who will comment on your clothes, body shame you if you’re fat or thin. It doesn’t mean that they’re doing this because they like you and want to talk to you. It’s because they want to bother you or humiliate you in public, because they know you won’t answer back to them. And it happens in a lot of colleges. Another incident is that of my friend. There is a boy in my college, who is not even a student but hangs around our college. He stalks my friend to her hostel, and then back to college. He follows her everywhere. He found out her phone number. Then they would send texts and calls to bother you. I’ve spent five years in college now and not a day has passed when we girls don’t discuss about which boy is harassing us. It’s like a daily routine now.
Q: Why do you think people don’t talk about such issues more? When we talk about shame, especially relating to incidents of sexual violence, why don’t people discuss this?
A: According to me, for people, discussing such issues is a taboo. For example, men don’t feel shame in urinating publicly on roadside. But a girl reporting sexual violence is a matter of shame. If something happens to a girl, it’s her own fault. Then why would you talk about your own fault? Because people will assume if you raise your voice against sexual harassment, you are to be questioned and blamed. And who wants to be blamed for something that isn’t your fault. And who will you share it with. Your parents? They will say you should have dressed properly, you should not have gone out late. You should ignore it, be quiet and keep walking. Eventually it will stop. But this is wrong. Till the time you don’t report it, till there is no action against such people, there won’t be a fear that this is wrong and must be stopped.
Next is the police. They often would not take you seriously if you report against sexual harassment. For them it is not a big deal. They will say if something very serious happens then we will take action. And what will you report – somebody passed a lewd comment about you? It made you feel bad or uncomfortable? That is not enough. Nobody in our society will encourage you to take action. Till you don’t get that push and encouragement around you, taking action alone is very difficult. Even you begin to feel, if this happens daily, if it is happening to others too it must be normal. You get immune. You tend to accept it. People begin to treat such incidents as a piece of gossip that they will discuss and then forget. They know, even if you do report it, in return no action will be taken. That is why I think most people don’t report sexual violence.
Q: How can we reduce this feeling of shame and stigma related to sexual violence? Like you said, there are many problems, what can be the solution?
A: To deal with this first thing is the individualistic approach. You should feel something wrong has happened to you and it must be reported. Whether somebody takes action or it or not is another thing, you should raise it at least. I want to share a similar experience. I used to take driving lessons. My instructor was very touchy – I told him, “Please don’t touch me, just tell me and I will understand. Do not put your hand on my thigh to teach me.” But he probably thought I wasn’t serious or was just being shy. But it made me feel uncomfortable. When I shared it with my mother and she said, “OK then you should discontinue your driving classes.” But this is not a solution. Your parents should encourage you to pursue it and report. Eventually with my mother’s support I filed a non-cognizable complaint against the instructor, as a result of which I stopped the classes and he was ordered to relocate. You sometimes get help, but you have to be strong as well. Talk about it, the taboo has to be erased. You have to talk about it and do your bit.