I’ve been reading the vitriol directed at Oprah’s comment with growing surprise. Yes, she made an ignorant remark but not one worth getting into a froth over. Not when we have our own local idiots telling us that Sexy is a compliment. Seriously.
Oprah’s remark displays her own ignorance, and er…we’re used to certain parts of the world being absolutely ignorant of customs beyond their own. Neither does it harm us in anyway. The dross seems to distract us more these days. She asked a question. Period. Answer it, move on. She didn’t say – Ugh, how can you Indians eat with your hands, did she? Why are we Indians so quick to take offence where none was intended. Do we really imagine she came all this way to go on a show and deliberately offend us? I myself have taken offence to entire articles written against India etc, but there, the malice intended was obvious. Displaying her ignorance reflects poorly on her, not us. And if we’re agreed that it was not deliberate, then lets excuse her and get a life. If you think it was a deliberate slight, then we’ll just agree to disagree and get a life anyway. The last thing I’m bothered about right now is some celebrity from another country being unaware of my customs.
If you want to take offence, I can give you a number of things to get het up over. In Ranchi you can get acid thrown on you if you’re a woman in jeans. In Dakshin Kannada you need to wear bangles and bindis to college. You want to get het up, send the steam there. We have khap panchayats telling us who we can marry. We are getting mob molested across the country for no fault, but being born with a body that comes with breasts. A lone working woman must now fear even the security guard provided for her own safety or she might end up with her throat slit. Is it any wonder that people from other countries look at us strangely? They don’t know what to expect. On the one hand you have an industrialist building a 27 storey home with a helipad, on the other you have this sort of misogyny that to them, must appear so backward – acid on your face if you wear jeans! I might have said, hey, we may as well move to Afghanistan. Except that I hate to malign that country either. Years ago they wore dresses and held parties with the best. Way before we did. They were as horrified by the Taliban as we are. And I wonder what it must be like for an Afghan to hear of his or her country referred to as the benchmark of orthodoxy and restrictive life. I see the comparison made on several news sites and forums and I always get a little sensitive.
For instance, I feel bad when people call it the Guwahati incident. I hate that Guwahati is getting maligned and suddenly being treated as an unsafe city. It’s just a mute city that stood by watching its citizens do the unthinkable. If I hadn’t stayed quiet that day in Bombay, I’d probably have made news myself. Here’s what the headline might have said – Girl interviewing for airline job gets stripped and molested on Bombay local.
Yes, I was a stranger to the suburbs in Bombay – I lived and studied in town. It was the first day I was taking the local train back because I was so far out in the suburbs. I didn’t know I’d pay such a heavy price for standing on the platform when the train pulled in, trying to figure out which was the ladies’ coach. I didn’t know I’d get pushed in by 20 male hands with one collective mind, firmly lodged in below their belts. I didn’t know that the train would jerk to a start even before I knew what was happening. I didn’t know that more hands than I could count would start ripping my stockings off, would pull off the new jacket I’d worn for the interview with such pride. I didn’t know that I’d be left in a pile on the floor, sobbing, while no decent man stepped in to save me or raised his voice in my defence. I didn’t know that I’d stagger out as soon as I could, get into an auto I could ill afford and limp back to my room. I didn’t know I’d bathe when I could summon the strength and then quietly go back to college the next morning. I didn’t know I’d keep it from my parents because I didn’t want them worrying and calling me back home. I didn’t know that the whole notion of Bombay being safe, was a farce. Because a few years later, it happened again – only this time, it made news. I didn’t know that men in Guwahati, Gurgaon, Bombay, Mangalore and the rest of the country are all the same, just looking for an opportunity to plunder and rape. No one city is better than the other – the only thing that matters is chance. If you live in a deserted area, it’s more unsafe. If you live in a city that doesn’t sleep, it’s just your good fortune that you’re in too crowded a place for anyone to get an opportunity to harm you. They’re vermin, see. They need either numbers or a dark street. Bereft of both, they melt into slime like slugs under salt.
When I sit here checking the news, all I can say is perhaps in many ways I’m better off having not got justice and the attendant media attention an incident like this gets. How many times must people be replaying the video of her getting stripped? What will it take to get justice, empathy and sensitivity, free of the media glare and the hoopla that comes with it? We’ll move on to trifles like Oprah’s faux pas, while that poor girl will spend a lifetime terrified of that video resurfacing.
Save your outrage for the things that matter. Save your passion for Mary Kom, Saina and Tintu Luka. I’m sure everyone has read everything on Mary Kom available – but I must link back to this piece by Rahul Bhattacharya once more. It’s brilliant writing about a brilliant person. Years ago I tried to interview her and thanks to phone line issues and more, it didn’t end up happening. I did speak to her for a short while though and it’s a memory I’ll cherish. To quote a friend, Hail Mary!