I am torn. On one hand, we all need to raise awareness. Groping is not acceptable. Molestation is not acceptable. Rape is not acceptable. The more we talk about it - in the mainstream media, social media, in our workplaces, homes, schools and colleges, on the streets, everywhere - the more that will get understood. But I do not want India or any city or town or street to be branded as the “rape capital” or “molestation town” or “grope street” of the world.
Yet another molestation incident
Women are molested in public in Bengaluru, in mass. Bengaluru's posh Brigade Street earns the shameful moniker as the “Grope Street” for the largest numbers of groping per square foot. Supposed legislators of the country make more shameful statements that make you wonder if he lives in India or in Taliban country. But that’s not all. A glance at the comments below the YouTube videos covering this legislator’s statements or news articles covering the New Year’s Eve incidents, some people - both men and women - are stating similar things as that legislator. “If women go out at night, what else do they expect”, “Why do they wear western clothes and invite attention?” “If they drink and go out at night, aren’t they only asking for it!”
The same night in Bengaluru a woman returning from work walked the short distance from the where auto-rickshaw dropped her to her house. She was caught by two men on that short walk home and she was molested.
But New Year’s Eve is not the only time when women are molested. As I wrote on my blog in March 2015, women in India face varying degrees of molestation anywhere, anytime. Whatever possible, whenever possible, however possible, men want a piece of it...anything for a feel of a woman's flesh. Women do not need to be out at New Year’s Eve, drunk or not drunk, to be groped or molested or raped. They could just be going to school or college or work and it could happen. Or it could happen in their home.
Many people watched the movie “Pink” and raved about it as a movie that everyone should watch and show their daughters and sons. However, how many of the same people think differently when an incident like Bengaluru takes place - that if a woman is out in the night on New Year’s Eve, what she was wearing - jeans and T-shirt, or skirt or dress, or saree or salwar suit - determines if she deserved to be molested? How many think that what she drank - whether it had alcoholic content or whether it was just fruit juice or tea or coffee- determines if she deserved it or not? How many think the time she is out - day or night, before 12 AM or after 12 AM - determines if she asked for it.
What is shocking about the statement of ministers who say that “this happens routinely” (“aisa hota hai”) is that it may just be echoing the minds of many who think women “ask for it”. Minds that think the primary responsibility of women staying safe should lie with women - so basically, they should stay at home, or if they do step outside, they should be accompanied by a male member - NOT a boyfriend (as by that too, she is “asking for it” as boyfriends are a western concept?), but husband or another male family member. And they should dress “appropriately”. But guess what, when individuals molest women or when mobs strike, that male person accompanying the woman cannot do anything. For that matter, even 1500 police can’t do anything when it is happening. After the incident, police cannot catch the molesters, even though some of them may have their faces shown in the CCTV coverage. And what about the women who get groped and molested just going about their daily work or studies - nothing wrong with their clothes, but surely they must have given some kind of a “look” that invited groping and molestation?
I titled my blogpost in 2015 as the Great Indian disease. Knowing well that this does not happen only in India, I wrote about what I and many women face(d) in India. The intent is to ensure that people’s mind sets start changing among men and women. The intent is that people take molestation and rape seriously. The intent is that women start talking about the difficulties and insecurities they face with their body - because by talking about it, they will raise awareness. And hopefully people will not judge them as having “invited” a molestation, or “asked for it”.
This Singapore newspaper clip is of two Malaysian ladies who were molested at a party on New Year’s Eve at Sentosa. But in Singapore, men and women and girls and boys are safely traveling by public transport on a daily basis, or flocking the streets in huge numbers for festive celebrations without groping incidents. The same newspaper in Singapore posts news of men who are sentenced to years of jail and caning for groping a woman’s breast, or a yoga instructor touching a woman’s upper thigh, or any kind molestation. Interestingly, in every news report, the picture displayed in the news is of the molester and not of the victim. Each time the news is posted on the crime and on the criminal getting caught and sentenced, I believe it deters other criminals.
Women all over the world face the brunt of the show of power among men - through kidnap and rape, molestation and violence. And it’s not okay anywhere in the world.
I feel sad when in so many forums outside India (not just by mainstream international media), incidents that take place against women in India get mileage. In addition to Indian mainstream media covering the Bengaluru molestation incident, the New York Times, The Guardian, Straits Times are among many who have covered this incident. As they cover other such incidents that occur in India. And each time, those living outside India and in India believe every woman in India has been or will be raped, or every woman who steps into any part of the country is a target of molestation. One just needs to take a look at the comments in the local news, or discussions among locals to understand the extent to which India gets branded as the worst place for any woman. Which is not the case. India is a wonderful country with ample opportunity for women who shine and rise. Albeit just as in many places around the world, the women in public spaces here too need to keep one eye (often both eyes and a sharp object at hand) on their whereabouts to ensure there is no untoward advance made toward them.
So dear Indian and international media, if you could please do away with the monikers and labels you are so enthusiastically doling out. Covering these incidents through sensational headlines and labels do catch eyeballs and are great click-baits for you. But please figure out how to balance out your news. There is a lot to be done to ensure women can rightfully claim public spaces. That is why I support movements like #WhyLoiter where women are encouraged to step into and “loiter” in public spaces in large numbers to make it safer for them to be in them. We don't need to be at home to stay safe, rather more of us need to be out to ensure we are making it safer for ourselves and for other women in public spaces.
It is movements like these and many others, and conversations at home and in workplaces, in schools and in colleges, on a regular basis that will help change the mind set and establish a common understanding that women have a natural right to be safe in public spaces.