The inspiration for this article came to me from the Twitter hashtag #NotmyPresident that people in USA used to express their dismay and anguish on the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. The anguish was directed more at the electoral victory of the brand of ideas that Donald Trump represented than the man himself. His ideas of intolerance of almost all groups that faced discrimination like women, blacks, Latinos, migrants, LGBTQ that till then were on the fringe of US politics had reached the White House, the pinnacle of democracy. This forced the people to take to Twitter to disown the newly elected Trump. According to them, Trump did not represent the ideals and values that had come to symbolize their democracy.
So, where does #NotmyIndia come in?
The idea for this article had been in my mind for sometime due to the events happening in our country. I planned to write a series of articles to say out loud the anguish at the direction our nation and society is going towards, but was not getting the right trigger for it.
But the mass sexual assault on women on New Year’s Eve in Bangalore really became the trigger for me to put my thoughts to words. I want to denounce this India. This is not my India at all. I was born in the 90s and spent my teenage years in the glorious era of the 2000s, when globalization was changing India into a better place for all, especially women. My mother has been a working woman since her college days, but she used to always say that her senior male colleagues always encouraged and helped and understood her situation in raising a child as a single mother.
In my college days, there were instances of fights over girls or some issues about girls being proposed to through phones or Facebook, but they were always harmless or stupid attempts of teenage love. Nobody crossed that invisible line of decency.
Then, I joined my first job and shifted to Gurgaon.
I had heard horror stories of sexual harassment of women in the NCR region, but I was witness to only one such incident of eve teasing and that was promptly dissipated. The boys responsible were thrown out by private security before anybody needed to intervene. In my office, an MNC, the first thing that was drilled into me was to always respect the women in my office and the dire consequences for disregarding these policies.
I think I developed a more keen sense of respecting women’s space and to avoid even any unintentional harassment of women in office. So, overall, there was an India especially in urban areas, where women were finally being treated as equal partners both at home and office. She had achieved the right to make decisions about her education, wedding age, clothing and even home curfew time. I could envision an India, where in few years men and women would be treated equally throughout the country and the parents’ rule book for sons and daughters would be the same.
But in the last 2-3 years, the collective morality and common sense of our country especially the government, politicians and civil administration seems to have nosedived. In the aftermath of the 2012 Gang Rape in Delhi, the public stormed Raisina Hill, the seat of Indian government, to force them to take prompt action, pass laws to assure the public that such incidents would not be repeated. But to our collective dismay, such incidents keep being repeated increasing in scale not only in unabashed shamelessness of the culprits but also the stupid excuses that the immoral custodians of Indian morality make to shame the victims. The government and the police more often than not seem to be taking the side of the culprits than the women who are targeted.
If a woman employee is raped while returning from office after late-night shift, the police bans women from taking on night shifts instead of ensuring safe roads and public transport. If women complain of harassment in parks during early morning or late evening hours, they are advised to exercise during respectable daylight hours rather than ensuring safer public spaces. If women employees complain against harassment, they are told to either quit or to not make issues out of small incidents instead of ensuring tighter compliance of workplace harassment laws.
Even in the horrific incident in Bangalore on New Year’s Eve, the first reaction of the Home Minister was that such incidents happen when women wear western clothes and go out in night. The spokesperson from the main opposition party in the state (whose leader, our Prime Minister, frequently champions slogans of equality for women and education for all) blamed the entire incident on the western influences on our “pure” Indian society.
I would like to ask these gentlemen – Which western country, from where these western clothes and influences seem to have arrived, condones such mass sexual assault on women in the busiest street of a major metropolitan? If women would be assaulted in Manhattan in New York, USA, would the culprits have been allowed to get away like this as we have? Instead of punishing the criminals, we censor the women by restricting their freedom of employment, movement, dress or even their dancing partner.
But why are these incidents increasing in both scale and numbers? It’s because the current leadership of our country has failed to take a stand on women security. More needs to be done than empty campaign slogans to ensure that no Indian parent is worried at the birth of a girl child or fearful to send her out for education or work.
Every major celebrity, be it Virat Kohli from cricket or Akshay Kumar from Bollywood stood up and condemned these incidents and the assaulters. But, did we hear a condemnation from PM Modi, Rahul Gandhi or even any major women politicians like Mamta Banerjee or Smriti Irani? More than real punishment, it’s the fear of authority to punish that keeps the wrong doers from committing a felony. But our police and judicial system has totally collapsed under undue burden and the lack of political will to reform the system.
My hope for a better future seems to be fading. It is scary to think that we would end up with an India that is even more backward and conservative with regards to women equality than the one I was born in. It is this fear of leaving behind a country that is worse than the one we inherited that should really scare us.
Will the legacy of my generation be a country ruled by the doctrines of Manusmriti or Sharia? Where women are bound to the whims and fancies of the patriarchal male society? And Khap panchayats will decide whom they can marry, what they can learn and what work they can do?
Equality can be easy
I know for a fact that we as a society especially the youth respect women and their contribution to our lives and society. What we need to do is to also start respecting their rights. It’s difficult especially for those who have grown up in families where women are treated inferior. But, this can be the contribution of our generation towards making India a better place for all. The rights that women enjoy in India are a consequence of successive generations of men and women of India who understood the importance of equality for women.
One does not need to be a woman or a feminist to understand that economic and social progress happens when equal opportunities are provided to all, especially women. Let’s stop being hypocrites by just changing our profile pictures or sharing slogans for woman safety when such incidents happen. Raise your voice and weigh the concerns of a woman while you make every decision in your life. Be it office, home, restaurant or a street, stand up for a woman’s rights by standing beside her and against the culprit. It’s the silence of the innocent that allows the cruel to exploit them. India is made of Indians and if we Indians change, India also will change.
For now, my country is #NotmyIndia, it’s not the nation that our founding fathers envisioned when they declared their intent to build a modern democratic nation that belonged to all. But, it can be if we try to understand the other person’s, in this case, a woman’s point of view.