Once we had to board a train from New Delhi railway station. I was 11 years old. With my hand held firmly between her own, my mother was steering me through the crazy crowd that besieges the capital’s platforms. Suddenly, she turned around and in one fluid movement slapped the living daylights (I would use a four letter word here but propriety demands otherwise) out of the man following her. As she felt the slight brush of fingertips around her neck, she did not hesitate even once to drive home an important lesson- to that man and to me.
There was no messing around with her. That day was a game changer. That day taught me that I did not have to wait for the men or for anyone else to save me. I learned to stand up for myself.
Because this is the world we live in?
The #MeToo phenomenon has forced us to comprehend this issue of mammoth proportions- assault on women (sexual, physical, verbal, mental, emotional). Harvey Weinstein’s actions have opened the floodgates. While we always knew about these incidents, the harassments and the innuendos, the actions and the words, the looks and the thoughts- we did not speak about them collectively. That is why this message has become more powerful, louder, stronger and more serious. The stakes are higher this time. Will we ignore the call for justice again?
Women are sharing their own histories. The stories prove that the predators care neither for colour, nor age. A baby is as much as risk as a grandmother. The social strata one belongs to makes no difference. A woman is a woman is a woman. Rich, poor, educated, illiterate-no one has been spared. Women have faced harassment at homes, outside them- nowhere is safe.
Diwali: Triumph of hope over despair?
This Diwali, a festival that epitomizes the victory of good over evil let us take a step back. Brush aside the tales of valour and perfectionism that have been woven around Ram. Therein emerges the quiet fortitude of Sita. The first time she grudgingly agrees for a trial by fire to prove her chastity. The second time when Lord Rama asks the same of her, she says a resounding ‘no’. A ‘no’ that shakes not just Rama but the entire kingdom; a ‘no’ that paves way for later generations of women to look up to her because she defies the pervasive patriarchy as prevalent then as it is rampant now.
From the ideal wife, Sita traverses the chasm with utmost grace to the other side- of being an ideal woman. Whose sense of dharma needs to be extolled- Rama who rejected Sita on hearsay or Sita who rejected Rama because he hurt her dignity? The answer is universal. She might appear submissive but Sita is fierce, unapologetic, a feminist. Perhaps this is why one wonders- if the divine could not escape the claws of patriarchy, then is there any hope for the rest of us?
A move from darkness to light
The narrative is changing though. The passive is being replaced by the active voice. Rapes don’t happen- they are done consciously. When a man makes sexual advances, threatens violence if his advances are thwarted, he is making a choice. The victims are stepping up; men are coming forward, sharing the blame, apologizing. It is not much but it is a start. And that is why we need to set examples that instill terror in the hearts of these men who think they can get away with everything. There should be consequences to the choices they make.
My question is- for how long women should lay bare their dark histories for the voyeuristic gratification of the others? Why? Why must we stand up time and again and again to be counted as victims of violence? Everyone I know used the #MeToo hashtag. It won’t have been different for anyone else. Haven’t we spoken out earlier? Will this too meet the same dead wall of silence, by the perpetrators and by the law?
This Diwali, I hope that #MeToo doesn’t end up becoming just another trend that caught the fancy of millions. The victims have spoken up, raised their hands, been counted. They have been braver than most of us can ever hope to be. Can we deal with the attackers now?
To the womankind, the family that asks you to shut up and not speak for the collective honour or the collective good, ask yourself – isn’t the family looking out for itself; who is looking out for you?
Only you can save yourself. Only you can lay the limits to what you will tolerate.