On 31 January 2016, the Indian city of Bangalore recorded an incident, now known as ‘mass molestation’. The incident was covered with vigor in the local press, national press, and international media also. Newspapers were plastered with headlines which will send chills down the spine. Feature this – Bengaluru’s night of shame or even this, Bangalore molestation incident is a grim reminder of India’s fragile masculinity. Of course, there are more but the idea is not to share the headlines of leading dailies. We have read so much about it on newspapers, social media – Facebook and Twitter and the news channels that refused to stop reporting it.
So what did we achieve from it? Did rapes elsewhere in India stop? Did marital rapes which perhaps at this particular moment are happening in someone’s neighborhood stop? Did eve-teasing (a term coined by the Indians for the Indians) stop? Did hitting of women either physically or verbally stops? The answer is inherited in the question itself. Looking from a broader perspective, do rapes happen only in India? Is marital rape an Indian problem? Are women labeled ‘colorfully’ only in India? Is India the birthplace of atrocities against women? Again, the answer is in the question itself. So what did we achieve by dynamically covering the ‘mass molestation’ case? We achieved to label Indian men as marauders across the globe. I feel bad for Indian men who have become the new Muslims of socially (media) empowered India.
Feminism is a great concept. The fact it is misunderstood also makes it a mysterious concept. There are men who like to label outspoken women (like me) as ‘feminazi’. Then there are men who like to label silent women (perhaps like you) as ‘resilient’. Each one has a perspective of their own. But what exactly is feminism? For me, feminism is another word for equality. A feminist society is not the one where women call the shots. Then what is the difference in patriarchy and feminism? Like every school of thought, this too has radicals, liberals, and these days a third wave. Yet, the basic building block of feminism is equality. And none of its derivative will change this. But why suddenly I am writing about feminism? Because from here will start a discussion of a true feminist (as I would like to ‘label’ myself). Some would like to classify me as pseudo-feminist, some would call me as the liberal feminist, and I may find a mention as third wave feminist. Howbeit, I see myself as pure, unadulterated feminist. You can leave the article if you are interested in reading another story of abuse. You can leave the article if your thoughts are not intersecting with mine.
On the evening of 26 December 2016, I was going back home after meeting a dear friend of mine. I left during peak hours. Peak hours are defined as those hours when people leave office to reach home. These are rush hours. Since I was in Mumbai and traveling via local train from Thane, one can imagine the rush during evening peak hours. To give you an idea of how crowded a local train can get during peak hours (morning or evening) – it is common to have 14-16 people per square meter during this time. Now imagine the number of people on the platform. It was like a sea of human beings – smelly ones. Since I was trying to reach the platform I was almost like a drop in the sea surrounded by hundreds of other drops. And these drops belonged to the masculine gender. If you are a drop in the ocean (of water) you are lucky. You’ll be surrounded by other drops who are made of similar composition like you – hydrogen plus oxygen. But if you are a female surrounded by males suddenly you become protective about yourself. You fear being groped. You fear indecent behavior. You fear those double-meaning smiles. You fear every inch of your body. I reacted in a similar way. I tried to protect my breasts by clutching my bag close to them. I was trying to protect my back from being brushed accidentally by unknown hands. In this process I realized, I am not walking at all. In fact, I am standing at the same place for the past 5 minutes. What a waste of time! This is when I realized I can’t be a cat in the house. I have to walk. And if someone touches me accidentally or deliberately then so be it. There are millions of incidents happening daily, this too will be one of them. At least I’ll reach home. At this rate, it will take me more than 2 hours to reach back.
Assuming I am surrounded by predators and prepared for any fate, I walked freely in the sea of men. They were all kinds of men – rich, poor, poorer than poor. Some looked creepy (as if I cared), some looked disinterested, and some were sophisticated. Yet the experience in itself was eye-opening. I was not touched. I was not groped. Nobody accidentally or deliberately brushed their hands against my chest or my butt. In that sea of men, I thought I was unsafe – I was proven wrong. By the time I reached my platform which is a good 7-minute walk, I reached untouched. Believe it or not, there was a distance maintained by those men (and I thank those unknown gentlemen) who surrounded me while walking. I have heard many stories of being groped while trying to catch a local (train). Mine is different because nobody dared to touch me. I am not a scary female with canines shooting out from my mouth. I am just like any other female but my experience certainly was not. The remainder of my journey was as smooth as silk. All through my journey, I was thinking – why do we label Indian men as letch? Why do we generalize them as chauvinists? My own experience with men has been a wonderful mixture of good and bad. I have had worst experiences with those I would trust my life with. And then there came good Samaritans who ensured I don’t lose faith and become a man-hater.
Why did I mention this incident? I mentioned it because it is essential to let the world know not every Indian man is a predator. Yes there are exceptions to the case. Since we are a democratic nation, we speak liberally about these exceptions. At times, we even overdo, in this process generalizing all Indian men as chauvinists or rapists or molesters. We have big Indian cinema stars speaking, tweeting, making videos about how shameful the incident has been. It indeed was a shameful incident. There has to be police inquiry about it. But what’s with writing articles like the one which appeared in BuzzFeed – Indian Parents aren’t raising their sons right, and it’s endangering Indian’s women. I take supreme objection on this statement. No parent teaches their kids (male or female) to harm others. Are you saying Indian parents train their sons to rape the females? And what’s with us circulating such articles? Why didn’t we find anything wrong with it? This clearly makes our brothers, fathers, friends, husbands, boyfriends as rapists. I agree some will be but not all. Stop generalizing. For the sake of common sense, stop passing encapsulated comments on 623 million males of this country.
Let me assure you, Indian women aren’t endangered species. When the western world was still sleeping over women’s rights, Indian women were voting. Indian women have celebrated equality even before the concept was known to the western civilization (pun intended). We have had the strongest of leaders as women. Rani Lakshmi Bai wasn’t the first to fight, each woman of this country has always been a fighter since time immemorial. For those who feel Indian men are chauvinists or not being raised right, please go back to history. Historically it was the effort of great Indian stalwarts like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Mahatma Phule, Pandit Vidyasagar , Keshub Chandra Sen, Baba Amte, Vinoba Bhave, Athavale, Acharya and more to mention to bring about a social renaissance in India. Mahatma Phule was one of those social reformers who even educated his wife Savitri Bai Phule to become a reformer. All of these had their own unique intellectual and creative output. All of these helped in the transition from ‘medieval’ to ‘modern’. All of these were men. India is not new to oppression. In India still, we have oppression done in the name of caste, religion, culture and even gender. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t raising our kids right. That doesn’t mean every Indian man you encounter is an oppressor. He too can be a victim of the society which changes at snail’s pace. At the same time, he can be the person who refuses to change with time. Like any other nation, men in India too are a mix.
India is that country which perhaps has the best laws to save the fairer sex. These laws were drafted to protect the rights of the women. Though we are still to bring in law criminalizing marital rape, yet there are other laws which compensate for this. This has given Indian women an added and undue advantage over men. However, even with the law sometimes in wrong hands, men have never complained. In fact, they have only helped in strengthening laws for protecting the rights of women. I never see this discussed on any news channel on this. I never see the atrocities committed by women on men reported in any newspapers. I never see mention on the misuse of these laws. There are both sides of the coin. Why always generalize Indian men? The incident was wrong. But it was one incident. It wasn’t as if 51% of Indian population is molesting 49% of Indian population. I agree it was wrong. But then it is a crime in itself to paint the entire nation’s male population with the same color.
And what is with Indian men? Why are you apologizing? What makes you apologize for the mistake you haven’t done? It is similar to upper castes apologizing for the atrocities committed by their ancestors on the lower castes. Why should I apologize for a crime I don’t even know was done by my forefathers? Have you ever seen the sun apologizing for being the sun? It never apologizes when the temperature reaches 50-degree centigrade and people die of heat stroke. Come on, Sun! People are dying, either decrease your temperature or apologize. It doesn’t care a dime. Have you seen the rain apologizing for either not coming on time or for coming too much? It may lead to a famine or a flood-like situation; however, it will never apologize. Have you ever seen mother earth for apologizing for an earthquake in any part of the world? Mother Earth doesn’t care either. My point is, why Indian men are making videos and circulating and saying I apologize. Why are you asking for sorry? Did you commit the crime? Did you support the crime? Did you teach your son to rape a woman? No. You can’t take responsibility of how other people behave. You should not. My father never apologized for my mistakes. But he did make me realize those. He ensured I felt sorry and didn’t repeat. This is how it should be. You can’t be responsible for a murder which was committed by another man or woman. You can’t take the responsibility for the actions of 51% population. You get angry and that is fair. But that doesn’t mean you start apologizing and advising women to chop off ‘that’ part of men who misbehave. Having been a victim of groping in the past let me tell you it is a super quick activity which doesn’t even give the women a chance to react. Rather than apologizing can Indian men do a deep analysis on why these incidents happen? Can they understand what happens in the mind of men who indulge in crime against women?
Months ago, a leading daily of India had conducted a similar study on this. It was an interesting study which spoke about how rapid urbanization is impacting the minds of men and women. How in the times of globalization we are pushing ourselves not forward but backward. We need more such studies to understand what happens in the minds of people who indulge in crime. Punishing criminals is one part of the story. The story, however, will be incomplete without proper root cause analysis. Until and unless we deep dive in all sections of the society we won’t be able to eradicate such crimes. Sometimes the same men who apologize also indulge in closed door prostitution. Sometimes the same men who advise women to chop off, are the ones who rape their wives. Don’t apologize for the sake of it. Don’t apologize to make a video of it. Don’t apologize to say how sorry you feel to be a man. Be a man and be proud of your gender. Rather than apologizing it would be great if the men can come together with women and start the process of reform. India is on the brink of another change, the change which is triggered by social media, exposure to the world in entirety because of the internet. In these changing times, we also need reformation. We need another social renaissance which has to be triggered now. Perhaps it is already triggered. Who knows there is a bunch of silent but resilient men working in close collaboration with women and slowly bringing in the change?
I do agree the incident was shameful. But generalizing Indian men and apologizing won’t change the situation. In fact, it dilutes this dreaded incident. Stop apologizing and start working on the change. At the same time, as a proud Indian woman let me say this – not all Indian men are predators. Stop generalizing Indian men.