This afternoon, finally, I want to cry. Not because of the gang rape-murder that caused such outrage. Not because such rape-murders are reported everyday. Not because I’m frightened about how I will live, with such violence all around. Today, I’m feeling defeated.
Some of us have been thinking about how to direct public outrage into constructive channels. Somebody organised ‘Take Back the Night’. I know of groups that held condolence meets where people talked about rape, harassment and the fear infecting women’s lives. Even this was new. Before, nobody wanted to talk about sexual violence. As if, it would go away if we ignored it.
What we need is a good hard look into the mirror. What is it about our culture, our morals, our public spaces, our infrastructure or lifestyles that enables rape? The rape not only of young, urban women but of babies? Why do we dismiss sexual harassment or even assault as ‘eve-teasing’?
I used to do my bit by campaigning against street sexual harassment or ‘molestation’ through a public participatory art project called Blank Noise. Mostly, it’s young people who get involved. But this time, we hoped all kinds of people would join us in looking inward, questioning our contribution to this climate of fear, taking responsibility for change.
Those of us who want to live in safe cities must think of how to help create them. So we decided to take pledges. A call was sent out — show up with a pledge. People gathered in a public space in many cities, and each one took responsibility for creating safer cities, one small step at a time. We tried asking other citizens if they’d do the same.
I stood on Carter Road with a piece of cardboard in my hand. An elderly woman walked past. She asked what this was about. I told her. She asked me not to mind, then proceeded to say that it was our own fault, “Aaj kal ki ladkiyaan”. The women of today. Our clothes. Our behaviour.
The girl who died had been a medical professional. I wanted to remind this elderly woman that if she visited a hospital for back pain, the girl helping her heal would have been an ‘aaj kal ki ladki’. But before I could, the woman began to say things like: “If your fist is closed, nothing is lost. If you open your fist, you cannot hold on to anything.”
I reached out for her hand. I said, this isn’t about our generation — that things were bad for my mother’s generation too; that I was covered head to foot when I was stalked, groped, threatened; that village women get raped in sarees and in broad daylight.
But this elderly woman was parroting the same thing: “You girls, not you personally, but… How do you expect men to react?”
I said, I expect men to react with respect. She stared at me for a moment and started laughing. She asked: “Can anyone control men?” I felt the bile rise. I snapped: if they cannot be controlled, they need to be locked up.
She laughed again. She apologised again. Again, she said that it was mainly our fault.
I’ve been talking to other friends. Almost all of us have had recent conversations with fellow Indians who believe that women are to blame for being assaulted and murdered. Despite this girl whose “sacrifice” has supposedly awakened us!
So, all I want to do today is cry. And I want to tell those who blame women for this rampant sexual violence — YOU are our biggest problem. YOU aid and abet rapists.
Annie Zaidi writes poetry, stories, essays, scripts (and in a dark, distant past, recipes she never actually tried)