Using Public transport in a regular way after a gap of some twenty years has been an eye opener in some ways, and too familiar in others. The last time I regularly commuted by bus was in my first year of graduation, in Mumbai, Ages and Ages and Ages ago. In fact the only times I have regularly used public transport, especially buses has been in Mumbai, to get to and from college, and before that in school… 6th to 11th standard… to get to and from school.
Since then, buses have gotten better, Volvos are a lot more comfortable than the PTC or BEST buses I remember, and the routes seem to be longer and more varied, but the one thing that hasn’t changed for the better, and in fact has gotten much worse, is the daily molestation every single woman faces. In the aftermath of the news from Delhi, and all the other incidents one sees staring out of the papers on a daily basis, this all pervasive Indian syndrome of “eve teasing” takes on much more significance. It bears thinking about, to examine what it is about the society, the mentality, the values that we teach or fail to teach our children, that has led to this.
As I was telling my non-Indian friend recently, I don’t know of a single woman in 3 or 4 generations who has not been routinely groped, touched, pinched, rubbed up against, and otherwise sexually assaulted on an almost regular basis. Not a single woman out of the thousands and thousands I have spoken to, personal acquaintances or NGO outreach, or whatever, has been able to say honestly that she has NEVER faced such a thing. Each of them has been through at least one, often many, many more than one case of being accosted, assaulted, molested, and discomfited. This might shock a lot of men, who think such incidents are isolated, but I am sure it will not shock a single woman who has grown up, lived, and travelled in India. It is so common, in fact, that we just shrug it off as part of the experience of commuting. We take our own little precautions – the strategically hung backpack to discourage people wanting to get too close to the back, the rolled umbrella under the arm to “accidentally” prod the fellow getting too close, the large nappy pin in the purse to stick in the wandering hand – but we no longer pay much attention or waste much mind space on it.
That in itself should be enough to show how completely all pervasive it is. Even though it is just as much of an assault as a full-fledged rape, although it is just as much as a violation, a trampling of my rights and freedoms, an outraging of my self respect, it is so common that neither I, nor any other Indian woman, can afford to take it seriously or dwell on it. If we did, we would never step out of the home, where we are not safe either. What is it about our culture, our society, the way we treat our women and teach our men, that makes this atmosphere possible? What makes it so easy, common and OK to touch, molest, grope, pinch any and every woman in any and every space, which in turn makes rape just the logical next step. And what about the men who do this? How bad is their value system, how faulty the teaching they receive at home, that at the very instant they are saying they respect women because their mothers and sisters are women, they are also pinching, groping or rubbing themselves against some totally unknown woman? It is certainly not about attraction or sex, because everyone from 6 to 60 and from supermodel to the ugly duckling faces this. The only requirement to qualify for this treatment is that you are female.
So how is it that we bring up our sons to see any and all women as simply objects? Something that can be touched, caressed, massaged, insulted, and assaulted without the least hesitation? They don’t even need to see a face! More than one incident faced by any woman would involve someone pressing their erection into her back in a crowded bus or train, or a disembodied hand travelling between bus or train seats to fondle a breast. Are they really getting their jollies from it? What kind of repressed, devalued society are we living in where not only do people have no healthy outlet for sexual urges, but think it fine and dandy to get cheap thrills through non consensual acts? Do they really get any pleasure at all? Or is it just a case of going home and telling their buddies “I touched A boob today” and whose boob, whether they wanted you to touch or not are complete non issues? Is it at all surprising that such bravado, such mob mentality, such mutually pushing MASCULINE behavior so often leads to the next step… actual rape?
What kind of mentally ill, totally repressed, desperate men are we rearing, with what kind of nasty attitudes to sex and sexuality, that this kind of behavior becomes routine, normal, even expected? And why does the public not hear about it more often? My own male friends have been shocked, again and again, to hear how common it is. Why? Because women JUST WILL NOT talk about it. They will generally not protest or make a noise when it is going on, will not report it at home, or to authorities, and they will not discuss it with most friends, especially not male friends. Numerous reasons behind all that of course. First of all, we are Indians, we do not talk about sex – even sexual violence or assault. In fact the concept of sexual violence does not exist, and molestation and rape are seen as just incidents of sex. Hence comments by high ranking cops like “they are having many male friends, they are sleeping with so many, but if they are forced, immediately they are shouting RAPE”. The morons obviously don’t get the fact that it is the FORCE that DEFINES rape. If there was no force…it would be sex….if there is force…there is no sex…there is rape.
Women are brought up from the cradle to be modest, self effacing, not putting themselves forward, not demanding, doormats. No matter what happens to you, you don’t complain, you tolerate. This applies even more to anything with any kind of remote connection to sex in any way at all. Hence 80% of the rapes are not reported, and almost 100% of molestation is silently tolerated by women who feel ashamed to make a noise. If they do make a noise, as a certain woman recently did in a metro train in Delhi, they are abused, assaulted, and made to feel like the villains by everyone around. This only encourages the pervert who knows he is sure to get away with it. After all, in a country where reportage of rape is one of the lowest in the world, and punishment of rapists is so abysmally low, what are the chances of ANY action being taken merely for touching a breast without permission? Even when they go as far as rape, or gang-rape, the entire country is too busy dissecting what the victim was wearing, what she was doing out at that time, what time of day or night it was, was she drinking, was she pubbing, does she have a lot of male friends, is she sexually active, to pay any attention to actually catching or punishing the culprits. Most of the country does not even see anything wrong with what the men did. If she talks, dresses, acts like that, what do you expect? She was asking for it… is the general conclusion.
Not surprising at all then that we Indian women find ourselves on the edge all the time, looking out for trouble all the time, suspicious of ALL men ALL the time, never comfortable in any situation which has any sizeable number of men involved because we know how quickly that can turn into a mob, a gang, a wolfpack. The sad part of this all is the few Indian men who are ethical, conscientious, and would never even dream of violating anyone’s space get tarred by the same brush. They become the object of suspicion for all Indian women because of the nature and actions of the perverted 80% of their gender. Until a woman is seen as a person by society, instead of as just a daughter, mother, sister, daughter-in-law, until the “ghar ki izzat” or family honour stops being her duty to keep, and hers alone, until every woman has a right to decide what she will wear, what she will study, whether she will own a mobile phone, who she will marry, whether she will live with in laws, whether she will have the right to live her life the way SHE wants, until we stop expecting her to mold herself according to anyone and everyone else’s wishes and convenience, this is not going to stop. The only way to curb this alarmingly escalating wave of sexual violence against women is to start thinking of them as HUMAN BEINGS with rights rather than that half of the race born only to serve men.