TW: Mentions of rape, domestic violence
2020 has been a roller coaster of sorts for everyone. For some, it was the pandemic and its ensuing worries of job losses, work from home, salary cuts and of course the fear of the virus itself and the fear of the growing number of infections. All this affected every one of us in ways no one could imagine and they were justifiably the biggest concerns for most of us. But alongside this, there was a surge in a parallel world of exaggerated violence against women and children.
For the first time in history, the incidences of violence surged across the world and people were forced to think deeper and delve on what was causing this surge and how must each of us address these incidents of rapes, molestations, female infanticide, child brides, domestic violence/ intimate partner violence, online sexual harassment, sexual harassment outside, acid attacks, trafficking, and more.
While the problems seem to be growing, and in many cases seems exacerbated due to the pandemic, finding solutions seems distant. We look up to the policymakers, the legal systems, civic society to help deal with this burdening reality. But have we considered the youth?
They make up a large part of the population. Think radically. They are more than willing to adapt to new societal norms. They are breaking barriers in every field of study. They are the real change-makers. At Durga, the youth are at the centre of all our work because this group, when steered in the right direction, will be the ones who can be the torch bearers of positive change in society. They are eager, enthusiastic and ready to march forward to bring the change we need to see.
To garner and channel their energies, we try and build awareness around the problems that exist and allow them to explore the likely solutions to these issues. Since each one has a responsibility towards themselves, we navigate through the solutions together. And here is where small efforts in the right direction will go a long way to eradicate these injustices meted out to those who are vulnerable and help bring about a longer-term change towards this end.
When someone suggests that change is necessary, there are shrugged shoulders and ‘how-can-I’ questions that get thrown around.
Each one of us has been responsible for creating this problem either directly or indirectly and as only as by keeping quiet. Other times, we have in some sense perpetrated the existing narrative of “boys will be boys” and “women are the fairer sex and must be protected”. These statements are problematic and have in many ways caused a large part of the population to believe that any form of violence perpetrated on a woman or child existed because they needed to be “kept” in their place and that they needed to be policed at all times.
This has only led to more violence and a very skewed gender perspective. It is time these are questioned, unlearned and changed. Here’s how we can make a difference as individuals.
Most often, when survivors reach out for help or even to talk about their experiences, many of us choose to either play it down or encourage her to ignore the abuse. And worse, we also justify the instance in some ways by questioning the survivor if she was out at a time that was “inappropriate”, how was she dressed, what did she do to provoke the perpetrator and on and on.
The first step as an individual whom a survivor has reached out to is to listen. With no judgements and no bias. Allow her the space to express herself. Support her. If you have information that may help her, local police contacts, legal aid, a safe space to stay or any other kind of support she may need at that point of time, share with her. This small gesture will ripple into the community you are a part of and eventually everyone around will also start responding in a similar manner. There is great power and strength that a survivor can derive from a small act of support like this.
Many times we are advised against intervening in any untoward situation. Be it a street harassment instance, an online harassment instance of domestic violence. In every one of these situations, we are asked to keep quiet, mind our own business and move on. This inaction has led to emboldening the perpetrator from going about his harassment with impunity, knowing fully well that no one will stop him at any point of time.
This inaction has led to making women feel that they are alone in this situation and that they do not have any recourse. Imagine the power you will instil in a girl who is being bothered if you only reached out to her and asked if she was okay. In that brief instant, she will feel assured that someone is watching over her and in that very instant that perpetrator will be forced to step back in fear that his actions are no longer going to be tolerated. One doesn’t have to fight off the perpetrator at all. Leave that to the movie heroes. In real life, you can be a hero by just reaching out to the survivor. And that’s all that matters.
If every one of us takes a pledge that they will have zero tolerance for any form of violence against any woman or child, that in itself is an assurance that they are protected. Look around you and question how or what the women and children are feeling around you. That will give you a fair amount of idea if there is any form of abuse or harassment that they have been subjected to. Build on empathy. Communicate more and broaden your mind and learn about the various forms of violence that exist and decide to take charge of the community you are in.
One of the most important elements to eliminate violence is awareness- of the problems and the likely solutions to them; awareness of the policies available, awareness of your legal rights and awareness of how the other communities/ nations are tackling these issues. Learning more about the problems will also help you understand the depth of the issues and how at each level, we as ordinary citizens can do our bit to make a change.
Raising awareness in the communities you are a part of will also help build stronger systems to be able to tackle this better. Most forms of violence are systemic and deeply entrenched in community behaviours and norms. Even one person standing up and questioning these will start a ripple effect of others joining in the chorus. And eventually would lead to more communities adopting the new roles and gradually building a nation. This sounds simplistic but this is a start.
All these years, all we did was “allow” the violence and turn a blind eye to these instances that perpetrated violence against the vulnerable. But this must stop and this must stop at the earliest. This violence must end and we the young citizens must do all we can to stop it.
Now is the time to engage in meaningful conversations to understand the root cause of these behaviours.
NGAGE – a first of its kind online forum from Durga – is aimed at bringing these conversations to as many youths as possible from Dec 10th to 12th. Across the country, many esteemed speakers will take the participants through three days of enriching conversations, panel discussions, insightful learnings and in-depth knowledge sharing. Veteran activists and young changemakers who work on gender-oriented issues will collectively tell us what we need to know and could do to move towards a gender-equitable future.
For more details about the forum visit – www.ngageforum.com.