Playing catch up with the news

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!

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67 thoughts on “Playing catch up with the news

  1. The growing disparities in India are making people go batshit crazy. On one hand there is so much wealth and prosperity, sparkling bollywood, industrialists and the like. And theyre being watched by the rest of us, who dont get a sliver of the pie. People dont know what to do with themselves anymore. The more I read the news the more enraged I get. So I’ve stopped altogether. Im okay to live under a rock, because news like this is depressing and makes me wonder where we can go to escape it. If i ever have children, I’ll have to think long hard, because this si the world I’ll be bringing them into. Out of choice.

    • Agree! Although, we did not have TV at home until I was 12, and even then, watching the news never caught on. Whatever little news I watched or read, I gave up long ago.
      When it comes to children, I often find people on opposite ends of the spectrum–the ones like me who shudder at the thought of bringing them into this world, and the ones like MM who know exactly how they would like to bring them up. I hope to someday walk the middle path–adopt someone in need and attempt to do a great job with them, taking inspiration and lessons from people like MM.

  2. Multiple hands ripped your stockings off and pulled out your jacket in Bombay? THAT HAPPENED? I know you’ve spoken about being molested in Bombay, but I imagined it was a sole man feeling you up. Even that is sickening, but this? I feel ashamed beyond words. You are right. No city is safe.

    And all those links you’ve put up. They depress me and make me question my decision of moving back to India. If I ever have a daughter, I wonder how and for how long I can keep her safe..

      • SImilar things have happened to me multiple times on the way to college in Bangalore (I had to change 2 buses, in some of the most crowded parts of the city). Each time I’d stumble out of the bus in pain, physically and mentally. SOmetimes in tears, sometimes ashamed. Sometimes angry. SOmetimes all of it at once. It seems like seeing a woman (not even necessarily “provocatively” dressed — in case someone feels like blaming me for it) is reason enough to help yourself. I then started carrying a nappy pin on the bus with me. When it would get crowded and I’d feel uneasy, I’d pull it out and keep it open, in full view of anyone who would think of approaching me to do anything lewd. I guess we just ;earn to live with it, rather than do something about it.. It IS a shame.

        • I once brandished a Swiss Army knife at a bus conductor. He was drunk, it was 9 p.m at night and I was the lone passenger on the bus. I was scared and angry all at once and I remember jumping off the bus, before it came to a halt and running home. Arrgh. No city is ever safe.

            • Like Pepper, I am pretty shocked this happened to you in Bombay…when I came to the city 6 years ago after marriage, loads of people told me its like the safest place in India…I have had my share of being felt up and being stared down, etc etc, but what happened to you is awful..big hugs

  3. says the woman who reacted to a useless rant made by a random person “on her own blog” – yes I talk about shahana and her open letter…. was that important, coz even that talked of stereotypes and narrow-mindedness….no doubt India has a lot of internal problems, which should be tackled first but what I read and saw of the Oprah issue, reeks of a stereotype which she chose to display and filmed accordingly, and at certain levels it reeked of “oh-you-poor-3rd-world-people-u-seem-alien”…. you must read this pls..
    http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/oprah-winfrey-defends-criticism-indian-viewers/story?id=16846172#.UCffraHiYr1
    you are, no doubt, a very good writer and as every next person, certain issues touch u more dan others and watever i say, if i don’t agree wid u, u will get all flared up and launch in a tirade, which is alright, it’s ur blog after all!!!

    • Well if you can’t appreciate the difference between a foreigner making an ignorant, even ill-bred comment, and a petulant Indian girl being viciously and maliciously racist in lashing out at the-delhi-boy-who-sends-happy-guru-purab-messages-and-i-will-shove-his-head-up-his-arse, then we clearly have nothing further to discuss.

      I think its our own insecurity that often shows through when we react to this whole -3rd world issue. I just visited the US for the first time and asked people a million questions about how they lived. I was definitely ignorant and I was definitely trying to understand a new culture. I’d be rather upset if instead of explaining their culture to me, they took umbrage. Even if my question came across as ignorant and ill-bred. It’s rare that some celebrity like her, will go on TV and deliberately offend.

      You got the last 3 words right though. It IS my blog, you ARE clearly here to read my opinion, so why not just accept the fact that out of a billion Indians, a few of them looked at Oprah more compassionately? Wouldn’t be very exciting if we all had identical opinions, would it?

      PS: No more anon comments getting approved on this post. Peeps, you’ve been warned.

  4. And MM is back 🙂 (Not that you’d gone away, but it’s been a while since you wrote such a post.) It’s such a touching piece about Mary Kom that’s also very rational, isn’t it? How cool that you got to speak to her!

  5. Really, I don’t get why we claim to be a progressive nation and then you have incidents like this and the worst part is that no one even thinks much about it. Instead the girls are told to stay low-profile and wear ‘decent’ clothes.
    On a different note, I stay in a hostel, and the in-time for girls is 9 pm (which is very liberal considering other colleges) but for boys it is 11. Why this discrimination di? Why not focus on making the campus security stronger so that girls can stay out till 11 without the fear of getting molested or abused?
    And MM, it was very unfortunate that happened with you. Mumbai is generally very safe (I travelled alone in local trains since I was 15) but my heart goes out to you.

    • I know 😦 But I know a lot of women who have been molested in Bombay and similarly I’ve lived in Delhi on an off for 17 years and thankfully never experienced anything like that… so it’s just fate.

  6. About Oprah, the offence was not about not knowing India. It was the comment “do you STILL eat with your hands”…as if eating with hands is some kind of backwardness that we should overcome soon.

    • I know. I heard the quote over and over again. And of course it IS the ‘still’ people are reacting to. But I didn’t think it was worth the venom they spewed. Cultural ignorance is everywhere. It’s like going to Japan and asking if people still wear kimonos on a daily basis. You might just want to know if they’ve shifted to wearing pants and dresses. At worst it was ill bred, at best it was ignorance. I’d have been mad if I detected any malice in the tone.

      • Agreed and agreed, but I think what most people had a problem with is accepting that Oprah could be ignorant. I mean you can be ignorant if you’re aam american junta I guess, but Oprah, gawd no, surely she cant be this ignorant — is what I think most people felt.

        I personally dont think it was worth getting everybodys panties in a bunch. So many other goras have made similar comments, whether they meant offence or not. We have far bigger issues to worry about closer home, most of which have implications far larger than what Oprah thinks or doesnt think of us. Its time we stop being so touchy and move on.

        • Yes, I agree. It was all – Oprah couldn’t be THAT ignorant, so it must have been deliberate. The way I see it, Oprah makes a living out of working with people – albeit only American people, not other cultures – so its not in her interests to make herself unpopular, by being rude. She asks blunt questions on her show all the time. So yes, even if one believes it was deliberate, is that the best we have to worry about right now?

          • FUnnily, I once read a piece in the NYTimes or the NewYorker, I cant remember, but it was about how AMericans need to stop being touchy and go down the outrage path at every little thing people point out about their culture. And I remember reading it and thinkin ha, how apt for us Indians also.

  7. Thank you for puncturing the balloon of Bombay being a safe city, an illusion that many of us (including myself at one point) took pride in. It isn’t and never was; at best it is/was one of the safer cities in India, which isn’t say much really. One has to live in a safe city to know about safety. I was surprised at the outrage over what happened to the girl in Guwahati because I knew it is not isolated; the outrage made me hope that it had become so but apparently that’s not the case. I guess the outraged stemmed from having to relive it instead of just walk by and forget it.

    • There is a context. Read the link back. The NCW chief argues that you must take it as a compliment if a group of boys eve teases you and calls you sexy. I thought the idea was beyond ridiculous – as did a lot of others.

    • I don’t know if JP is a guy or a girl. In my case, I wouldn’t take sexy as a compliment, unless it’s coming from someone I am very comfortable hearing that from. If a colleague at work, for instance, called me sexy, I would take offense. I am sure there are other women who would mind it as much. It’s what they tell you at your office, when they are briefing you on sexual discrimination – as long as the word is open to misinterpretation, you are safest, not using it.

      • I did read the link and I think it’s ridiculous that the NCW chief would say that anything a group of boys yell at a girl with the obvious intent of making her uncomfortable should be taken as a compliment, whether it’s ‘sexy’ or ‘beautiful’ or ‘hey gorgeous’.
        R – I’m a girl.

  8. That happened to you?? :O It is so, so, so shameful. Being felt up by one person is horrible enough, I can imagine how terrorised you would have been to have been attacked by an entire mob at a time! And just because you are a woman?

    I agree — all cities are the same. No use branding any one city as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’. The problem lies with the mentality of the attackers.

    True, that – there are much more serious issues in our country to be het up about.

    • Just because I was a woman who was new to the station and was hunting for the ladies coach. Just because I was a woman who happened to be near the general coach when it pulled in.

  9. I sometimes feel that this has something to do with more and more women aspiring and achieving success. Women not sticking to their cooking & washing routine, living their life their own way. Many men are simply not able to accept that. That Amarjyoti Kalita defended his act by saying that the girl was drunk –> the girl did something not expected of women. Many men almost defended the perpetrators by asking why the girl was at a pub or why she consumed alcohol or why she was out of her home at that time of the night or why was she not dressed conservatively… meddling with ‘sanatan Bharatiya Sanskriti’ (expected only of women)? Mamata Sharma merely reiterated what most men believe: Commonplace chher-chhar is OK, the boys were only having some fun!

    • You are right. There are certain pockets of men who are not able to accept it because women are invading the workplace. What has for the last couple of thousand of years been the male domain. Earlier providing for the family meant heavy physical work. Hunting, tilling the earth… Now that desk jobs have taken away that one advantage they had over women, the rage is setting in. They’re trying harder to hold on to their jobs and push women back into the house. And once more they’re using the only advantage they have – physical strength – to oppress women.
      For the chief of the NCW to reiterate what a bunch of regressive morons feel, is disgraceful.

  10. Hello,

    A very nice write up MM.

    I might live in a cave in the middle of an ocean or a house like 27 storey in the middle of the poshest & most expensive cities in the world, it still doesn’t take away from the fact that there are vermin even in one’s family. I, like many other young women, was victim to my uncle’s lecherous stares and touches for many years before I could do something about it. If you ask me I’d say one is not safe even in one’s (extended) family anymore.

    I have also experienced eve teasing/verbal abuse by strangers/touching pvt parts etc in every place in India I have been to regardless of its metro/small town status (Maybe Coimbatore was an exception). If you ask me, I wouldn’t call my family dirty just because of one man’s perverted mind. Molesting is molesting. Does it matter if it happened in Bombay/Blore/Delhi/Bhopal/Cochin/Tuticorin? I’d rather tell my niece to be careful of the men in local trains than the local trains themselves- you know what I mean?

  11. On an unrelated note, have you read Lisa See’s Snow Flower and the Secret Fan? It is a lovely historical fiction book, and I am sure you will love it too. I found it fascinating when I read it recently. Just remembered your love for historical fiction, and thought I would tell you.

  12. You do write from the heart, which is why I love your posts. I have to admit I was one of those ‘outraged’ at Oprah but you put things in perspective. It’s the stereotyping that irks one more than anything else.
    You are so right – Mumbai’s safety is overrated. I started working there way back in the 90s. I went from a small city in UP expecting it to be some kind of heaven. But the trains are scary.. even though there are separate compartments, ther’d be catcalls and the worst kind of comments one can imagine. We’re safe because we’re segregated.

    • It irks, yes. I don’t say I’m not annoyed by the statement. But I just found it more sighworthy than rantworthy. Yes, that is entirely my choice – I can choose what to be outraged over. As can others. And similarly we also choose whether to comment over all that outrage or not.

  13. What a dil se n dabang post…. Welcome back MM.
    I am quite shocked n disturbed to read your experience in mumbai. I always felt n believed that Mumbai is comparatively safer place for women. May be till the time it doesn’t happen to us or to someone in our circle we like to believe that the problem doesn’t exist. When we are young or rather when we don’t have responsibility for the security of any one, these are just news items. We read, discuss n forget. But now as a mother, when I read such news, I get shaken up. I worry sick thinking how far I can protect my child.
    Indeed there are more serious issues to divert our anger at.

  14. “Jao pehle us aadmi ka sign le ke aao jisne………
    Uske BAAD, us ke baad, mere bhai…..”
    MM, obviously Madam O’ was playing it for her audience.. but if somebody took offence and wants to tweet/blog/facebook etc. about it, then what is wrong? Or even organize a bandh at some Moholla.. thank God that MNS did not went after the bihari people for that statement.

    • Arun, nothing wrong at all. Except that after a point it’s so done to death and so venomous that you wonder how it got them so riled. If she’d gone all out and said something like the letter to a Delhi boy, I’d get it. This was an ignorant remark. Didn’t call for the quantity of rudeness it was responded with. You might argue its fine, and I agree, but its equally fine, in my opinion, to comment right back on that anger and ask for some amount of perspective.

  15. Our expectations of safety are so low…no wonder places like Mumbai get labelled as “safe”. I cant even imagine how horrifying the Mumbai episode must have been for you…
    After living in the US for a few years now every trip back home (no matter which city/town) make me shudder. (Of course US is also not as safe as many other developed countries, but you dont have to be on the alert all the time just because you are a woman.) Last year when I was in Hyderabad, I was so shocked when I, a grown up working woman got whistled and ogled at by a mere 13-14 year old boy…What has happened to our people?Sadly, the instant I’m in India my instinct of looking over my shoulders, the slouch in my posture, the unknown fear of the crowds (or lonely bylanes), all come back.

  16. Thanks for bringing up “the guwahati incident”. yes my city has been maligned, its reputation tarnished, but there are countless other women related incidents that happen regularly in that same city that go unnoticed. guwahati is as unsafe as any other city, perhaps even more. i have two beautiful teenage nieces who cannot venture out anymore without being escorted. they have to worry about whether they are “properly dressed” not to elicit catcalls or lascivious looks or followed when they step out of the house. and this is the same neighborhood where I ran and played abundantly with my friends until the fireflies came out with no worry whatsoever. I have had my share of run in’s with some moronic, repressed males in delhi and mumbai, incidents that will never get erased from my memory and everytime I read news and stories like the ones you have linked up to, I am saddened by how regressive we are becoming as a society. and I totally agree with Tina and her comment. women emancipation is making our menfolks very insecure. insecure and threatened.

    • Truly, we’re regressing. I keep hearing people crowing on forums and boards about how we’re the first to have had a female PM and how we worship Goddesses. So much lipservice.

  17. Hi MM,
    Commenting here after a really long time. I have been busy these past few days.

    On your experience in Mumbai local…just reading it gave me shivers, I wonder how you faced it.
    How can some men be so pathetic? Hugs to you dear !

    Hope the Brat and Bean are doing well. Please do a post with their updates.

  18. *Hugs MM* I can’t imagine how traumatising that would have been.
    I read in the news somewhere, that Saudi Arabia is planning to build a seperate city for women. See the link here : http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/12/saudi-arabia-city-women-workers.
    Its like maintaining seperate compartments for women, without understanding that the mindset of men needs to change. These are interim safety measures, at best. No one really understands what the problem is, or if they do, they don’t seem to want to do anything about it.

  19. Oh my God, no girl is safe.. in no city of India.. This happened to YOU???!!…the persons whose blogs i have been reading for the longest time now??!! I live in Mumbai..And many a time i have felt someone’s dick trying to feel me from behind in crowded buses..But ur right.. its not about the city.. its about the sick demon living within that lecher’s mind..
    If educated women like us are also so helpless.. i don’t even want to think what those mute, submissive, uneducated types would be putting up with everyday.. and the worse part is.. they might not even take offense.. just take it in their stride thinking.. such shit is normal.

  20. Oprah’s comment and the venom being spewed because of it, all fine. But yes, as you said, there are more important and pressing issues we need to adress before we start taking offence of what others talk/know about us. All these incidents have deeply hurt me and scared me no end. I’m afraid of how I’ll answer my daughter if I have one. I’m scared for her. I am sick and tired of these mobs claiming to moral police anyone and everyone they want. What the hell happened to basic human rights? Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore all have become so unsafe. I’m scared of crowds and deserted streets in equal measure. What is the world coming to?

  21. Your train incident brought up so many horrors. I’m a Bombay-girl and love the city and but never considered it a “safe” place. On a relative basis, compared to other cities in India, maybe it was. I’ve lost count the number of times that I was molested in public buses in Bombay while I was in college. I had to learn how to protect myself and over a period of time I learn’t how to stand at an angle so as to not get my butt pinched in a crowded bus. As much as I loved wearing dresses and skirts, they were a strict no-no for public transport too. Not that it helped much, I remember being clad in a salwar-kameez once and being felt up. Eventually, I just earned enough to avoid taking public transport altogether and wore what I liked!
    I realised how traumatised I was because after coming to Singapore too, I’d do the same, stand at a particular angle and be on my guard. I think it took me close to 6 months to ease up and realise that there are no perverts here. I mentioned this once to my husband and told him that it’s a relief to travel here and told him some of the horrors and he just hugged me.

  22. You know Maddy, Vermin is absolutely right.

    Recently there were two things that really drepressed me.

    1. I was asking a friend of mine why she doesn’t wear skirts to work as she can definitely carry them very well. To which she nonchalantly replied that she doesn’t as she doesn’t want her male colleagues to think of her in a certain manner.

    2.I was discussing with other friend that I was surprised about the fact that some women don’t like to wear skirts to work since they feel that them wearing skirts will make their male collegues think about them in a certain, to which she cooly remarked that she can’t even wear jeans to work as that makes her colleagues *uncomfortable*.

    So these vermin, they not only on the streets, they are not waiting for finding us in dark alleys, they are not waiting for an oppurtunity where they are in numbers, they are also assaulting us in our offices, they are educated, well travelled, they have sisters/wives/mothers at home whom they want to restrict from going out, because they know it more than anyone else, that what is out there is just more of themselves.

    What made me mad was that these friends of mine, they think it’s but natural to adjust and stop wearing skirts/jeans to work to make their male colleagues feel comfortable, to make them think of them as professionals, to make sure they are taken seriously and that somehow we are at the wrong here if we want to dress in skirts. Both of them didn’t think it was unfair. Both of them told me *I* needed to understand that these men did their engineering/some degree from remote places, where women were not supposed to be forthcoming, so they can’t help it, It’s one thing to have to give into these stupid mindsets, it’s totally other to have empathy for men like that and think of it as OUR responsibility to kindly adjust maadi.

  23. It makes me furious with rage every time I read about something like this. It just doesn’t go away, does it? I’ve lived in Mumbai for most of my life and have had to fight with bus-conductors with roaming fingers, crowds walking up the railway platforms (where I’ve hit random people with umbrellas for being too close), people leaning out of cars to grope women standing at bus-stops. Ugh. Never ends. Never ends. There’s something very wrong with a country that not only doesn’t work to educate/prevent this outrage from happening but actively encourages it with voyeuristic enthusiasm.

  24. Let’s just face it, men are a**holes. Seriously. There are some good guys out there, but there are a huge number of total a**holes, who make the world impossible for women. Look at the mass-rapes in Africa, look at all the violence and rape everywhere against women. America, Australia, India, you name a country and I will show you the same trends. It’s a seriously twisted world, and women are at the receiving end of it. We have to accept this. It is difficult to actually internalise how harmful men are to women, how much men are womens’ enemies, because these are the very people we live with. They are the sons and brothers and fathers and uncles and neighbours around us. That is what makes this so difficult to accept and fight.

  25. So much that is sickening and frightening. And yet we need to go on, with courage and unity. My generation fought for so much that is taken for granted today- this reactionary backlash is absolutely unacceptable. I see it as a product of profound jealousy of the educational, economic and social upliftment of women.
    Stay strong, stay safe. Cheers to pepper spray and nappy pins.

  26. Hugs MM..must be a scary, traumatizing experience. started driving my moped to college as soon as I got my license. but have had bad experiences from co drivers too..one of my friends was hurt badly as she lost balance..

  27. I’m Miss Frangipani’s husband, and yes, this (‘eve-teasing’, molestation) is a problem, something that I’ve given a lot of thought to, but am at a loss to think of a solution, at least not one that will work on a mass level. What is very clear is that the status quo cannot continue.

    I didn’t realise this when I was growing up, as I have no sisters. But I think it’s no exaggeration to say that EVERY girl or woman I know (from the age of puberty upwards) that I’ve asked, in India, has some story (or more) to relate where they’ve been verbally or physically sexually harassed. It makes NO difference if you’re rich or poor, an executive or a housemaid, if you’re young or old, what you look like, what you dress (not that any of this should even matter). If you’re a woman, you’re fair game.

    It is a known fact that in Scandinavian countries where attitudes towards sex and sexuality are much more liberal, sex-related crime is very low. There has to be a lesson here.

    The question is: how does one go about liberalising our attitudes regarding sex/sexuality/gender roles without offending all our self-appointed custodians of our “parampara”/morality, such as religious figures, censor boards, elders etc.

    How can we get our law-and order system (police, the courts) to really come down heavily on every incident? How can we ensure that they themselves are not the culprits?

    How can we empower girls and women so that for instance if a bus conductor brushes past her or touches her in a lewd way, she can report him?

    Our films have a lot to answer for. I’m not the greatest Bollywood fan, but I’ve watched a fair share of films, and a few in other Indian languages too. And so many of them encourage the notion that incidents like these actually help you to get the girl. That girls actually want some “bold” guy to do this to them. It’s the wrong message, but it’s a powerful one.

    Simply put: how does one get roughly half-a-billion guys (or thereabouts) to start treating the other half of the country’s population, our girls and women, with some respect, decency, and basic human dignity and courtesy?

    I don’t have an easy answer, but there has to be one. Because clearly it’s just not on that our girls and women continue to live like this.

  28. Oprah may have put to words how the ‘westerners’ perceive Indians. Yesterday a contestant on Masterchef Australia while peeling boiled potatoes with hand, said that now she understands what Indians would have to go through as they do not have access to fancy machines and gadgets in the kitchen!! I found it rather amusing that how ill informed that lady is, that India is no more a land of snake charmers , neither we travel by elephants any more.
    I feel terrible about what happened to you on the train. My husband wanted to travel by bus once for fun, I couldn’t do it coz I always associated bus travel with humiliation. Even one incident can scar you for life. My daughter is still in school, but I worry as to what will happen when she has to commute on her own.

    • Haha! I caught that episode and thought the exact same thing. And at some level she is right. The average middle class Indian woman has far less gadgets than the average American woman. But there is no point taking it as criticism, we have to accept facts.

        • Egjhaktly.. what next? a peeler for bananas? I can understand the point If it were a professional cooking place.. it saves time and you don’t have to put up with tons of hot potatoes ( which when you hold first are OK, but within 20 seconds your fingers start burning )

  29. Your horror story reminds me of an incident from my college days. I and my friend (girl) went to watch a movie in a hall close to our univ. We usually went there but as a big gang and that place being close to campus was considered “safe”. Some how, that day the theatre was full of local men, who kept harassing us and when we tried to go away, they just shot out their hands in darkness and felt our privates. Unforgettable! I still feel rage and disbelief surging through me, when I remember it. Every day, I feel the need for me to move away from this country for my daughter growing bigger. I don’t want her subjected to this and I don’t want to overprotect. It is also amazing that most of the men from upper Indian middle class are not aware of the extent of street sexual harrassment. A few days ago I was surprised to know that my husband thought that street sexual harrassment was confined to cat calls! It was his turn to get shocked when I told him that I was my self “felt up” SO MANY TIMES!

  30. I was discussing with my mom about this entire fiasco in Assam, and also about oprah when she mentioned the exact same thing – like Oprah’s comments are the biggest problems for India right now. That apart, I guess in all the media glare, we stopped thinking about how insensitive it would be to repeatedly telecast a video/view a video. Guess in many ways just plain old Doordarshan was better than the current infinite news channels. Have not heard a word about that molestation on the internet media since a week after that. I guess it has become more of entertainment/less of trying to bring justice!

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