India Uncut

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Of many violations

This post is my contribution to the Blank Noise Project, which I support and applaud.

It feels strange to write this post, part of the Blank Noise Project Blogathon to protest eve-teasing and harrassment, for one simple reason: I'm a man. Till recently, I didn't quite understand the extent to which women are violated every day in India, in so many different ways, and that there are no exceptions to this -- you step outside the house, you're a body. I'm not sure I can understand what it must be to be treated like meat. Never happened to me.

When I walk with female companions in crowded places in Mumbai, like railway stations, I often walk directly in front of them, to clear the way, or behind them, to make sure they don't get felt up. So many of my female friends, when I ask, tell me stuff they've gone through that seems shocking to me, but is everyday to them. A touch here, a grope there, push, squeeze, hold, pinch, being reduced to tits and ass. Bloody hell, I'm lucky to be a man; and a part of me says I should be ashamed to feel that way.

When a woman is violated, of course, it is not just in a physical sense: looking does it too. You live in an Indian city? Notice the men when a pretty woman walks by in a public place sometime, see where their eyes are. Nice breasts, no? Such an ass. See how she walks, thumak thumak ke. Ah, how you'd like to...

I suppose women are used to the male gaze, and I can't imagine how. But everytime a man talks disparagingly about letches, he's being hypocritical, to some extent or the other. After all, we all 'check out' women fairly often. If we're male, we have the gaze. Maybe we've just learnt to make it less obvious. One man's checking out is another man's letching. Where do you cross the line?

Well, where you certainly do cross the line is when the look becomes the touch. Why are Indian men in Indian cities so free with their hands? Well, because by a lack of adequate condemnation and punishment, there is a sort of social sanction for it. Now, while men probably can't imagine what women go through in crowded buses and trains, they can put a stop to it. Instead of turning a blind eye to what is happening around us -- minding our own business, avoiding trouble -- we can raise our voice, and even our hands, if we spot someone violating a woman's space. Every time one of us does this, shames a molester in a public space, we change that public space just a little bit, and make it harder for the next guy to go overboard. And even if we don't know the woman we're helping out, we're making things a little bit easier for the women we do know and care about.

So that's my own resolution, and my plea to the men out there. What can I say to the women that so many other women haven't blogged about eloquently already? There's nothing new to say, but I'll just say this: it's not your fault and you shouldn't have to put up with it, so don't. Be like Hemangini famously was in the train to Chennai. Be strong.

Not like us male schmucks.
amit varma, 12:13 AM| write to me | permalink | homepage

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