Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Bigger Battle

Every hour I get new updates of the gruesome gang-rape case in Delhi. Every new bit of information seems to add to the horror of the event. Protests are abound, options for elevating safety are discussed in the parliament, and ways to punish the perpetrators discussed widely on social media. At the other end of the world, a nation reels as 20 children younger than 10 are shot by a gunman on an incomprehensible killing spree. Two acts, difficult to pick which one is worse. But a common theme seems to emerge.

Just as the US parliament debates that taking guns away from people may not be the true solution to repeated occurrences of such crimes, increase of safety and justice to the victim are necessary but not sufficient to bring this national shame to an end.

As the dignitaries discuss in their boardrooms what steps to take, I feel that common people like you and me have a big role to play. Not by going on Facebook and Twitter and expressing disgust, outrage, although I do not mean to say that is unfounded. But by fundamentally changing our outlook towards women in society. If you want to change the world, start by organizing your closet. So here goes a short list of what I feel we must change. The 'we' is emphasized. It is the responsibility of not only men, but women, and children, and parents.

Stop treating sex as taboo

I think this is the most vital step. Throughout India (and a greater part of the world), society is rife with the ill-prudence of keeping sex a hush-hush affair. Parents won't discuss it, teachers discourage it. If I could slap a label on the faces of all these people, it would have hypocrite written over it.

Everybody wants sex. Everybody needs sex. The sooner you accept this, the better. Repressing this fundamental urge incubates a monster in us, men and women alike.

If you are a parent, please stop praying to make nuns and angels of your children. Please stop handholding your teenagers through vulnerable hormone surges. Instead, talk to your children about how to have sex responsibly, to use protection, to avoid diseases. Support live-ins. If your child is old enough, do not divert the TV channel when it flashes news of rape cases - talk to your kid about why this is unacceptable behavior. Uncomfortable as this may sound, this is the only way. Nothing else is going to work. And the outcome will only be worse. From abortions to rapes, you are unknowingly sowing the seeds by not confronting truth head-on.

If you are a young adult, please seek to learn from those who have experience, from a reliable source that cares about you. Not from a random website or a blog. Information that is too free is perhaps equally unreliable. And yes, "bindaas bol.. condom!" Stop being ashamed, be responsible. Your muteness will result in much more shame than you can imagine.

If you are the government, think again about legalizing porn and prostitution. In your attempts to create a "pure" society, have you actually led the path to a worse one? I understand it is a sensitive issue. I understand unwilling victims are trafficked into prostitution, and that requires a crackdown. We have to draw a line. But that line cannot be at zero.

And if you are the media, please stop peppering pointless item songs in movies. By repeatedly displaying a woman as marketable material, not only do you disrespect them, you show them in similar light to the men of the society: meat.

Women are not from Mars

"Kya be, ghar me maa behen nahi hai kya?"

The old adage. Have you ever thought erotically about the fat saree-clad woman? Or your mom, in extension (I know some do, but its pretty rare)? Truth is, rarely do we think ill of the women we see every day. Exchange that for a girl in a top and a tight pair of jeans. Add leather boots and long hair. Make her blonde and fair for good measure. Ooh-la-la, right?

No, my point is not to dictate how women should dress. Au contrare, this is how most real women in the world actually dress. But in our society, we have been relegated to think that respectable (read: non rape-worthy) women dress conservatively. And if its otherwise, it looks so foreign, so different to us, that inherently we feel this is outside our set of defined morals. This is a whole new bird altogether, therefore it is OK to think lecherous.

You and I can overcome this simply by getting used to it. By accepting that women are not from Mars. That beautiful and attractive women live, work and walk among us, alongside us. That we can be friends with them, talk to them just as freely as we would to a friend of the same sex. That there is nothing wrong in our mothers or teachers wearing 'modern' clothes. We need to set our definitions of normal straight.

And if you are a young girl or a parent of the same, please stop running and hiding from guys. Do you ever see kids around 5 years of age treat girls or boys any differently? By repeatedly advertising that you are some alien object, you encourage men to think of women as objects to be hunted down and conquered, not befriended.

Would you marry a raped girlfriend?

I could not have put it more clearly than the header question. Would you? If not, why? And if this was a guy who had a rape charge on him, would you sun him outright, or would you first ask the question "Was he proved guilty?"

More than half of rape victims do not end up injured fatally in a hospital. Most suffer minor physical injuries. The brunt of the blow is emotional, and it is exacerbated by our society's attitude towards a raped woman : "Iski to zindagi barbed ho gayi". In raw-but-honest words, she is 'second hand material' now.

Are kyun bhai? Aurat ki izzat koi chaadar nahi hoti hai ke yun uthaya aur phek diya.

Stand beside those who suffer or have suffered. Give them the feeling that what they went through was a crime whose justice will be meted out, and beyond that everything is, and can be restored to normal. The more you press on the fact that they were raped, the more you keep reminding them that somehow, they are not like us anymore. Its like they have been branded to be different. And this causes the biggest blow and trauma. From family to neighbors to media and women's rights commissions, we are all part of this same game.

And the implication goes beyond that. Is it because any involvement with a rape is so shamefully marketed in society that bystanders refuse to be involved? Is this why people do not rush to help, fearing for a similar label to be placed on their foreheads? Think about it.

Is it really, really equal?

Lastly, I put forward this statement to women in particular. If you want to be treated equally, stand up for it everywhere. Everywhere. Including cases where you are in advantage.

Why do you not hate seats reserved for women on public transport? Why does it not bother you to be paid equally in a job for less hours put in? Do you mind when you are promoted for being a "woman leader"? Do you refuse to be interviewed as the "woman topper" in board exams?

If you hue-and-cry when you are at the receiving end, please stand up for your rights of equality when you enjoy an advantage as well. No developed country treats women as any different from men. Chivalry and manners may have their place, but that cannot be a general rule of society. By accepting such favors, you indicate, fundamentally, that you are weak. Or that you support equality as long as you are on the winning side. That is not justice. Stand up and face hardship. Earn your respect, do not receive it through charity. Then, only then, will men acknowledge you as equals.

I believe in the power of society and community. I believe that together we can change something. I believe that there is hope. Lets join hands.