The past few weeks have been a welcome change for India. Finally, Indian women are coming forward against a bulwark of social stigma and voicing out their experiences which were muffled and hushed for a long time.
India is a myriad of contradictions, Bharat Mata, Ganga, Yamuna, Kaveri, Narmada, along with many goddesses and local deities – form the archetypal identity that still resonates today in our nation. For a male-dominated and highly patriarchal nation like ours, it is poignant how these female names and motifs are just placeholders. Centuries of structural discrimination, regressive thinking and the lack of any real agency or accessible education has sidelined the women of our country. Their identity is always seen through a myopic paradigm where they are “someone’s mother”, “someone’s sister” or “someone’s wife” – instead of an individual who is equal in the social strata.
Things looked to change as the new millennium dawned. India wanted to be more equitable and sought to provide proper socio-economic reparations to women. Be it through self-help groups, push for an increase in literacy or trying to change mindsets at the grassroots level; India has been striving hard to bring about some change.
A change which is set against a backdrop where female infanticide rate is still staggering.
Women are still not widespread in the echelons of the corporate world in this country. For a society where political leviathans form the vanguard which protects sexual predators and leaders who respond by cultural policing and shaming the victim categorically, we are in no way a paragon of equity. A society where instead of teaching men to be respectful it is somehow expected of the women to put up with everyday misogyny, catcalls, lewd advances and lecherous looks in public spaces – all while managing the home, cooking the best meal imaginable and looking flawless effortlessly. This sort of skewed and unrealistic expectations thrust on females by the Indian society is regrettable.
It becomes problematic when a woman goes through all this (every day) and is not supposed to voice out her grievances. When a woman who already has the odds stacked against her in the status quo gets molested or assaulted by men in positions of power, parts of our callous society collectively shout “Wo sab theek hain, par proof kahan hai?”
These incidents are traumatic for the survivors to say the least. It quickly changes the worldview and causes severe trust issues and constant fear in the victim, When a woman who is genuinely harmed goes out and narrates her tale – she is dismissed as an attention seeker and media and the masses gaslight the veracity of her tale.
A question which pops up regularly is “Why did they take so many years to report it?”. To answer that we need to understand the psyche of the victims, these victims:
1) Don’t want to face social backlash as it might harm their careers.
2) Might have perpetrators in extremely high positions of power.
3) Might have a fear of not being trusted by society.
4) Might blame themselves for the incident.
When all of this constantly runs in a mind which faces society every day, it becomes tough – mentally and physically. To live with someone else’s mistake and not have some form of legal retribution while the Janus-faced perpetrator is still out free in a position of power and celebrated by people, is stressful.
What this is sadly causing is this mania that “Men are Not Safe”. Men fear that they will have false cases against them; oddly Men’s Right Activists (MRAs) have suddenly erupted, and are seeking to defend the chastity of these paragons of virtue who would later whistle at a female in a bus stop and call her “maal”. Surely, something is wrong, how can the Indian men be at fault?
Dear Indian Men,
What we need to do today is introspect. Introspect at how our actions affect those around us. If you have even an iota of social consciousness and empathy, instead of making fun of this movement or vilifying it – try to focus on the alarming problem: How to make a conducive and safe environment at work, college or public spaces.
Not harassing, groping or molesting a women does not make you a “good person”. It just makes you a normal person; the sort that should be the default etiquette. Things can and should change from childhood – where boys need to be taught to respect women and their space. In teenage make them understand what affirmative sexual consent is and how it is dynamic, to make them aware and empathise with the problems faced by the ‘Bharatiya Nari” – instead of pushing gender roles that men have to be dominant or aggressive.
These are not changes that will take place in a day or two. Religious dogmas, gaudy movies and incessant fear mongering will undoubtedly prove to be challenging, but to strive for an equitable society is necessary – where people breathe a sigh of relief when they are out in the open and where they are not given provocative looks, and everyone’s voice is heard and counted.
Feminism isn’t a zero-sum game of Male vs Female. It is society against patriarchy and oppression. Supporting a cause where a group is actively marginalised and oppressed doesn’t make you any less of a male. It is morally right to speak out and stand up against oppression, even if it is by those you know. All we need to do is introspect about ourselves and the ripples caused by our actions in today’s society.