So, you want me to write on the rape culture in India? Well, where do I begin?
• I was 10 years old sitting in a rickshaw when a cyclist groped me from behind. I have never sat in a rickshaw without feeling scared.
• I was 14 when I woke up in the train at a station with a man’s hands crushing my breasts through the window. I have never slept in a train with an open window ever again.
• I was 19 when a stranger took out his penis and stroked it right in front of my house.
• I was 24 and in my first job when a senior colleague would talk to me while staring at my breast. He did it for all of two years I was there.
• I was 30 when I stood alone at an Indian railway station waiting for a lost pickup and the lustful looks by men frightened me so much that I took a gun shooting course when I returned to the US, and swore to myself I would shoot them the next time, regardless of the consequences.
Growing up in a North Indian city, I’ve been groped, rubbed against, flashed in public transport, on streets and in colleges by strange men, young men and uncles. I don’t run on streets even though I love running as a sport.
I am constantly on guard while using public transport. I stand with my elbows jutting out so men cannot lean against me. I can’t pass a group of staring young men without an illogical shudder of apprehension. And then there are those instances I’ve buried so deep in my mind that I can’t even bring myself to remember. I can fill an entire notebook with them. So can every other woman in India.
One day I even realised I was terrified of bringing a child in this world because I couldn’t protect her from predators. Like my parents couldn’t protect me. It was only in the US that I found freedom from the constant stress that plagued me on Indian streets.
Yet, I count myself lucky.
Show me a woman in India from 7-70 who has not been harassed, stalked, whistled, groped, or raped and I’ll show you a liar.
Even as Indians outrage against the rape of Telangana or Hyderabad’s Nirbhaya, another woman is picked up and raped in a police vehicle. I personally know of a 75 year old, who an 18 year old boy attempted to rape.
If I were unlucky, I could’ve been a Nirbhaya, Aasifa or Priyanka.
Catching a bus at night and raped and murdered. Returning home from work alone, raped and burnt. Going to play outside, kidnapped, raped and murdered.
This is the scenario Indian women and their parents play mentally every time they step out of the door alone, every night they return home late. We know speaking up is useless. We will be the sluts, or the temptresses, the victims or the predators, the dishonoured because the honour of our families rests in our vagina. Worse if we accuse a powerful person, we might be the ones arrested. So, we internalise these traumas, and pass them as fears to our daughters.
Have you ever thought why only some rapes spark outrage among the middle classes and elite? But some rapes specially disgust us because they are brutal crimes against educated, urban young women who are People Like Us.
Then our educated men and women (men mostly) are up in arms demanding the most vicious punishments for the rapists. ‘Hang the rapists’, ‘castrate them chemically’, ‘behead them publicly like Islamic countries’.
I have no qualms in saying that the reason the middle classes pretend outrage is so that they can shrug off their own responsibility towards India’s rape culture. So, they can assuage their conscience and forget that they are the rape enablers in India.
Harsh? Yes! But true. For sexual assault is just the final point of the process of dehumanisation of women in India, which happens every single day, every step of the way. By the educated and the uneducated; by liberals and by conservatives.
Now you are probably thinking. “You crazy B****!” How am I a rape enabler?
You are a rape enabler when you don’t chastise your buddies for cracking lewd jokes on women’s bodies and clothes. You laugh along because you don’t want to be thought of as a prude. When you talk about respecting women as a daughter/sister/mother belonging to a man, instead of as an equal human being. When you mentally strip women with your eyes. When you casually use sexist slurs like MC, BC or refer insultingly to men as chhakka, bhadwa etc.
When you loudly opine on women’s sex life and label them as ice queen or a slut. When you casually refer to women with different opinion from you, as Femi-Nazis or say that they can’t take a joke. When you make excuses for a rape accused because he is your friend, relative, co-religionist or fellow ideologue.
When you use your authority and power as a politician, policeman, or any authority figure to seduce a woman who depends on you for her job or future or keep silent when they do. When you are an intellectual, who pressurises women to sleep with them because otherwise they are not really liberated.
Any Indian woman can add a thousand more things here.
All these may not have actually led to rape; but you did become another link in the chain which leads to the overwhelming sense of entitlement Indian men have over women. The final link to this chain is sexual assault.
So please shut up about hanging rapists and torturous punishments.
The entire structure of Indian society’s attitude towards women is rotten to the core. If you really want to make India safe for women, then watch your own behaviour every single minute of every single day and change it. And for God’s sake, start gender sensitisation from age six onwards for every man and woman in kindergarten, primary school, high school, college, office ...till death.