In the spirit of the ban fest that our country seems to be on, we have banned a documentary about the shocking gang rape that held the nation’s attention for months together. Why? Because it shows a completely unrepentant rapist discuss the crime casually? Because it shows the lawyers behave like insipid morons? Because it reinforces the fact that we still live in a highly sexist society? These become the very reasons for someone to be watching the documentary.
As a single woman, living alone, it does not shock me. And that in itself is a sad statement.
I wish it had shocked me, I wish this was new information because that would mean we are not aware of the mindsets that are around us. But I am certain that it will not shock most people. Because we are expected to understand that this is the mentality of a large part of the population. And we, women are expected to make sure that we ‘conduct ourselves in a manner that will appease these mindsets’. We are taught from a very young age to not ‘tempt’ the men around us.
And the result? The festering gender inequalities are only increasing every day.
When I see Hindi movies from the 70’s and 80’s I’m amazed at the comfortable relationships between men and women that are portrayed on screen. Girls back then had male friends who were just that, male friends. These days people from the opposite sex cannot have a relationship that is outside of the boundaries of the definitions of sexual, fraternal or paternal. Everything has become so very convoluted in today’s age.
I think it would be hard to find even one female in the country who hasn’t been the target of some unwanted sexual attention or the other. From the straight-faced men who casually feel you up in buses to the flasher down the road and catcalling loafers, there are several specimens of the sexually repressed Indian male. And with ample support from the system and the establishment, this specimen is growing every day, penetrating into all levels of society.
Let me narrate an incident that happened with me. It takes a lot for me to actually write this, but, something tells me I should. So I shall.
I was working with a very high profile organisation in the country for some time. Every person I met there was more than well educated, spoke with finesse and were generally the sort of crowd that one associates with the higher echelons of society. I was being mentored by a gentleman who had spent half his life at this organisation and was considered the epitome of quiet sophistication. But ‘gentleman’, he certainly was not.
One week into work, the ‘gentleman’ began his subtle but powerful delivery of the power equation at work. Light unwanted touches, questions laced with oily sexism, and blatant references to what could happen to unmarried women in India. That’s how it started. Then things started escalating. The touches were light no more. The questions were direct. And the references took a decidedly threatening tone.
So what did I do, I resisted, I complained, I fought. But despite the office having a staggeringly high number of women as opposed to men, I was alone. No one wanted to mess with the big shots. My only source of comfort in those days was the office cabbie, who would tell me gently to take care and not be alone with the ‘sahib’.
Things were uncomfortable for me. I was not enjoying this feeling of being toyed. And when I realised that I would get no support, I did the cowardly thing. I quit. Found another job. Moved cities.
And not a day goes by when I don’t loathe myself for making that decision. Not a day goes by when I don’t question my resolve.
But after seeing that documentary yesterday I have realised how the situation would have played out had I stayed on and fought. I would be labelled the office slut. It would somehow become my fault that I was a woman with breasts, and hands, and feet and a face. My parents and their methods of parenting would be questioned. Maybe a few people may have supported me. But the larger crowd would find it easier to say;
“Woh to London se aayi hain na, tho expected hi hain.”(She has come from London, so all this should be expected.)
This is the reality of the world we live in. And as much as I hate myself for not fighting harder, I can’t help but think it would have been a losing battle. Even if by some miracle I did triumph, it would be a long messy process that would have scarred me for life. But, what happened to me does not make me special. I am simply one more daughter of India.