It’s been weeks of anger and outrage and shock over little Pradyuman’s murder. And now it seems a 16-year-old student of the same school murdered him, just to avoid taking an exam. I hear the anger rise, the hysteria around this 16-year-old who is so desensitized. Questions about his upbringing.
I might have been part of that if it weren’t for a conversation I had with Kavita Krishnan after Jyoti Singh’s rape, when everyone was demanding that the juvenile be tried with the adults for what was certainly a very adult crime. I paraphrase her response to me – ‘When our children are brutal, it is time to turn the eye inwards and ask ourselves what we’re doing, as a society, to brutalise our kids.’ So this isn’t something we can shrug off as that boy’s parents’ problem. This is our problem. I am not exaggerating when I admit that I changed my mind on the entire issue in that one minute.
Years ago when the Brat was a baby I’d spend hours teaching him not to hit. This was in the face of much derision. So many friends who we thought knew better, telling us that raising a male child in the NCR and teaching him not to hit, was idiotic. And perhaps to a large extent it wasn’t just nurture, but also nature, because he got bullied regularly and once in frustration I told him to hit back and he said – ‘Mama, whether you hit first or second, violence is violence.’
It starts with, bachcha hai, moves on to – boys will be boys, and one morning you find you’re seeing a counselor for anger management and rage issues because the school complained.
The problem is, each time we teach a child to hit back (because you need to know how to defend yourself – against whom?) we’re only adding to the violence problem. Every day it is a choice – are you raising your child to be part of the solution or part of the problem?
I was 22 and he was about 35 when we were introduced. Actually, I had no idea how old he was and only knew he was fairly high up the food chain. He was intelligent, charming, witty, interesting, fun. And then he hit on me.
And I went scuttling back into a corner. I was too young to know how to deal with his advances, I was in a relationship, I was intimidated by his seniority and in an awkward position, and I was not interested in him at all. Period.
And then I felt very guilty about it. About how uncool I was being. About misunderstanding what might have been jokes. But they weren’t. He was hoping I’d respond in kind. I cut off all contact. He got in touch with me again, about 2 years ago and I ignored his message. I was older and now very sure that he crossed a line he shouldn’t have.
He passed away a while back and while everyone was singing paeans, all I felt was resentment for how uncomfortable he made a young girl feel. How he ruined our mentor-mentee relationship, and denied me his friendship and experience, and turned it into something grubby and grimy.
A few days ago, I was working on a project, again, with a man who has been in media for more than 30 years. He was, once again, mentoring us. And there it was again – the inappropriate comment, the whatsapp messages at odd hours, the off colour jokes that I smiled painfully through because hey, I’m an adult woman and it’s okay, right? Because this is media. We’re cool like that. Until I decided it wasn’t cool. The best part is that I was shocked. I’m married, almost bloody 40, and have a soon to be teenage son. Am I still to be fending off advances at this age?! WTF!
I called my partner on the project and told her he was making me uncomfortable, that I was going to ignore his one-on-one whatsapp messages and would henceforth only interact with him when she was around, and in a strictly professional capacity. No jokes, no fun. Naturally, she supported me all the way, even if it meant losing his help on the project.
This is the problem with men in positions of power. They’re men, they’re in positions of power, they misuse them.
And we liberals, we people in media, we’re so forgiving of all their sins. Especially the men in media, who immediately band together in a fraternity. I feel particularly betrayed by them because I expect them, more than others, to understand concepts of consent, patriarchy, abuse of power, and yes, nuance. I don’t expect bullshit from them about not knowing when a feeble no means yes. If you and I are doing BDSM, honey, trust me, we’ll both know. Until then, let’s not be dishonest here.
//Women are unable to call out their harassers in real time for a variety of reasons — key among them the fear of being judged and disbelieved and the fear of losing one’s professional edge. And consent, like choice, is a loaded word in the gender debate, especially when it comes to a man who wields extreme power and a professional woman who is dependent on his approval to survive. Could Monica Lewinsky as a young intern have really said “no” to Bill Clinton? If a twenty something reporter’s much older boss maintains that she has a conflicted crush on him, is the onus on him or her to establish equality? In some cases, the violations are obviously coarse and need no debate. But when liberals become complicit in the conspiracy of silence that shrouds such cases, we only come out looking like weak and hypocritical frauds.//
I’ve always been the irreverent, cheeky parent. My kids and I horse around, wrestle, tickle, have pillow fights. Naturally, for years, I’ve held back and not used my strength.
This evening, however, the Brat and I got into a tickle fight and just like that he caught my wrist, and I knew I couldn’t release it without giving it my all. I realised that I’m no longer holding back, because I’m actually his equal. Actually, strike that – I’m not his equal, I’m weaker. If anything, I could sense him holding back, and gently releasing my wrist so that I didn’t get hurt.
This is how early the male realises that he is physically stronger than the female. This is how much stronger the average male is, compared to the average female. A grown woman like me, who doesn’t exercise, can’t beat a 12 year old boy who does nothing but regular play in school. He’s not a sportsperson, he’s not big built.
We were both laughing hysterically, with the Bean jumping in periodically and getting a poke in on any side, just to keep up the tempo. And I gasped through my laughter, ok, you win, I give up, stop.
This is how early he has learnt that even when you’re playing, even if you gasp it out, a no is a no. Even if I initiated the fight by whacking him on the head with a cushion, stop means stop. Even if he’s stronger and can get away with it, he *must* respect my desire to stop . I don’t know why so many adult males find it so hard to appreciate this simple rule. So Mr Farooqui might be a great artist, but if he can’t understand that even a ‘feeble’ no, is a no, I have no time for him.
For now I’m going to go sob in the corner over this milestone. My baby boy is stronger than me.
Title courtesy my friend Thinking Cramps.
I didn’t share the video of the little girl being beaten, not only because I thought it violated her privacy, but because it upset me so. Years ago I whacked the Brat once and I’ve never been able to forget it, or forgive myself. It was an unacceptable loss of control.
But I’m following the conversation on every FB wall and almost everywhere I see people saying – but we all got whacked and turned out okay. Yes, we did. Because our parents didn’t know better. And maybe this mother didn’t know better either. And maybe we’d have turned out more than okay if we’d not been whacked (btw, I didn’t really get whacked, and the jury is out on whether I turned out okay or not!)
Our parents also let us go off with this driver bhaiyya to buy samosas, sleepover at that cousin’s place, and curl into bed with this uncle and listen to a story, never realising that we were being sexually abused by people we trusted. I have often written about being abused by the errand boy at our place, from the age of 4. He was a young boy himself and probably didn’t realise how much harm he was doing me. It’s why I don’t keep male househelp and won’t allow my kids to go anywhere alone with a driver. We know now that there are sexual predators everywhere, so shouldn’t we try harder? Only yesterday I got into a debate on a whatsapp group where one of the parents was planning a sleepover and had invited the Bean. I am not comfortable with her staying over in homes I don’t know well, with people I don’t know well. It wasn’t right to debate it on the group that the invitation went out on, but the conversation just flowed that way and before I knew it, I was knee deep in that one too. And yes, someone trotted out the good old – but our parents allowed it too.
The fact that we did it, or our parents allowed it, isn’t a good enough reason to do ANYTHING. Even animals can give birth. It takes a lot more conscious thought to be a halfway decent parent, and even then, life mein jitna bhi karo, saala kam pad jaata hai. Every day, ask yourself, can I do this better? Maybe it will contradict the way I parented yesterday, and I might even feel a little stupid – but can I reassess my stand? Should I always fall back on the old – My parents did it, so it much be okay, line? Our children are growing, evolving, and so are we.
So no, it’s not okay to justify such a tiny kid getting beaten up over a few numbers. We know now that corporal punishment does more harm than good. And the fact that it happened to us, sexual as well as physical abuse, is exactly why we need to protect our kids better. Even if from ourselves.
Yes, I’ll get off my soap box now.
Within a week I’ve felt the loss of two people I loved and admired in very different ways. Vinod Khanna. And Justice Leila Seth. I found it hard to post immediately after each loss because it hit really hard.
I interviewed Justice Seth shortly after Jyoti Singh died, while she was on the Justice Verma committee. After we spoke about the rape and the law for the story, we also chatted about much else that didn’t make it to my piece.
One of the things she said about parenting, is something that ever after, guided me. She spoke about how her son Vikram spent 7 years typing away in a little room above the garage, writing his first book. (Reminder of what goes into a great book for those who think anyone can write one!) And how neighbours and well-wishers wondered rudely and aloud, how they could ‘allow’ their son to fritter his life away so. And would he ever make a decent living as a writer? Tsk tsk. What a waste of a child, coming from two such successful parents.
Her point? That we need to stop projecting our fears on to our kids, along with our aspirations. Even the most evolved parents say very proudly – I told my child, be a sweeper if you want, but be the best bloody sweeper. Err – why? Why best? What is the best?
The one that earns the most? Why not the happiest? (This was in context to her son’s sexuality.)
She went on to say that we also worry needlessly about our children needing to be successful in conventional terms, to maintain the lifestyle we’ve raised them in. We assume that it is a guarantor of happiness to earn more than your parents, and marry traditionally, into the safety of your own community. That it is our own fears that we need to let go of, and trust them if they choose to be unsuccessful but happy sweepers.
As long as you ensure that you equip them to accept the consequences of their choices, whatever those might be. They might never own a four wheeler or a flat in the suburbs (conventional markers of success), but if they’re happy on a cycle meant for two with a partner of their choice, then it’s your own fear and ego that you need to deal with. Not theirs.
I also got her to sign a copy of her book We, the Children of India, for the kids (you can check out the review on our ever dependable Saffron Tree). If you don’t already own one for your babies, this is a good reminder to pick it up. RIP Justice Leila Seth. A few hours with you shaped me in so many ways. I don’t know if they will make more like you.