“Let’s cut it at the root”.
As I sit here watching the news everyday .. I feel like there are a thousand worms crawling on my skin. I want to hide. I want to run away. I’ve been away from the country for a decade now. And honestly, I must admit that I spent the last decade scrubbing away that very feeling. I’d gotten accustomed to walking freely without feeling harassed. It’s all over now. I feel defeated some times, with that all-familiar yucky feeling all over me again. And then there are moments when I read the stories in this forum I tell myself maybe everyone can help. There have been some wonderful suggestions on this forum. But I seem to have more questions. Awareness I guess is the first step to any solution. Like many parents out there I guess I could become completely attached to this issue and protect my child, all hawk eyed. I could start talking about this to my friends and family, encourage them to get on here .. and I will. But other than being hawk eyed about it, teaching my child about their body and the protective defense stand, what else can I do?!
I’d written about sexual harassment, domestic violence and other seemingly harmless issues like staring at women just a few days ago. A friend responded to that post by email with a cry. I could hear her cry from all the way on the opposite side of the globe. She told me that the post triggered memories of how she was abused several times growing up. Once at a temple, at 9, several times on buses commuting to school and practically every week at work by her managers. I cried reading her email. My friend told me she wished these movements and organizations had existed when she was 9 to prevent what happened to her. She wishes she could have spoken about it to her parents back then. She never could. I never could. I know of several friends that could never get themselves to talk about it with their parents. It was taboo. You didn’t talk about these things with parents. And if there’s one thing I’m so glad to see these days, it’s how the parent child conversation on this topic seems to be the #1 emphasis of this movement. It brought memories of my own incident when I was 9. Mom had left me in my apartment for exactly 10 mins to run down to a store to get some medication. It was our family’s plumber. I was silly enough at that age, not to realize what was going on until 5 mins after he’d slipped his hands in. Then I ran to my neighbors and stayed there till my mom returned. Of course, the plumber never came back.
There’s something specific I’d like to point out here though. It’s interesting, how this incident didn’t scar me as much as the incidents that involved guys staring at my indecently day in and day out, growing up. And that’s true even now. I hate how I am made to feel crappy, feel weak, feel conscious amongst other things, even at 31, simply walking down the road. As though it’s my fault for walking, for dressing up, for dressing down, for dressing, for having a face and body parts!! I’ve been reading the news everyday, since I moved back to India 3 months ago. It’s interesting that the focus of the media, not surprisingly I guess, is on the victim and the criminals that have committed the crimes making the headlines everyday. What about the root cause of all of this? What about the fact that our boys and girls are brought up a certain way in the Indian society? By us parents? Our boys are taught by 5 to protect their vulnerable sisters, out of need. By 10, between Bollywood, no basic values or conversations in the family about respecting women as humans and what their peers tell them, they’ve learnt wonderfully well how vulnerable women are. By 13, they’re cat calling and groping. By 18 sending indecent MMS around on campuses. And by 20 have committed most of the ‘non-headlining’ sexual crimes against several women. Even an indecent stare is abuse. Even an indecent comment is abuse. I can’t image how we’re going to stop child abuse, rape, murder by sexual harassment and other heinous crimes that fill our newspapers everyday until we address the ones that don’t. Change rarely happens top down. We can’t just police our way into changing sexual harassment issues and men in our country. Clearly we’re far from having such a legal and political system guiding us. So maybe there’s something each one of us can do. Other than the wonderful list of recommendations we see here in this forum everyday. Maybe we can take an oath to raise our boys to be the men we want. Maybe we can take an oath to raise our girls to be brave and a force against the men that commit these everyday crimes against us. Let’s take an oath to fight the invisible and seemingly casual and harmless … as much as we fight the headline worthy crimes. For after all, like everyone here points out, most of these sexual abuses start with a touch, a slip of the hand, an unnoticed grope, all of which eventually give the perpetrator the courage and the balls to further infringe much more with force that could create scars for a lifetime. Let’s cut it at the root.