Saturday, January 31, 2009

This is to say, I haven't forgotten

I have been silent on this, as on many other things for a while. And gnawing at me, always, the guilt of not doing more. I was the one who said, we've got to stop taking it. I was someone who believed that to suffer oppression in silence is like tantamount to being part of the oppression. And yet, for days and weeks and then months, I did nothing at all about Blank Noise.

What does it mean to say you are involved with something when you fail to put in time and effort into pushing this cause? I don't think I can ever stop being involved - or thinking of myself as involved - as far as street sexual harassment is concerned. And yet, it gets harder and harder to find the fight within, and take it to the streets.Yet, every few days, I remind myself. That it is out there, the fight. Every few days, the fight comes back to me.

Even though I take buses very, very rarely and only as a last resort, and even though this is much against my own will. This is to say that I haven't stopped stepping out on the streets, however, and I have not stopped confronting harassment. This is to say, I haven't stopped feeling angry.This is also to say that sometimes I get really, really tired. Sometimes, I cannot bring myself to step out of an auto-rickshaw and cross the road, and instead, I make the driver take a series of very inconvenient turns on very jammed/dug-up inner lanes, just so he can drop me at the very doorstep. Sometimes, in the inner lanes of a posh neighbourhood, some stranger says something that is humiliating and is intended to humiliate, and very often, I am too tired to find something to say in response.

And this is to say that sometimes, I cannot find my tongue. I want to retaliate but find myself looking at the time instead, and up and down the road and counting the number of people there are about, and wondering what sort of people they are and whether they will think I had it coming, because just look at the time.This is to say that I have begun to understand how people who join movements feel. Not professional activists. Just ordinary people with jobs and deadlines and daily commutes, who decide to fight back, and then begin to think that it doesn't matter how long they fight and how hard. They are outnumbered, out-powered and for their particular cause, always too poor. And bad news just keeps coming in, year on year, each time wearing a new head, so that the problem just looks bigger and bigger. Like some sort of hydra-headed monster. Cut one head down and another appears, malevolent, reaching for you.This is to say that I have begun to feel a sneaking, shaky streak of violence crowd my heads on the streets, sometimes, and I have to stop and shake my head and let go of it. That I have a diminishing sense of proportion about what sort of reaction is justified, and when.This is to say that I have begun to spend more and more time wondering what to wear. It is stupefying and stultifying and I thought it was over, this reconnaisance of a wardrobe like I was going out to battle instead of hanging out with friends in some cafe or pub, but it isn't over.What happened in Mangalore was harassment. Not moral policing. Harassment. Violent, and deeply sexist harassment. It was a form of terror, actually. Using violence in the name of nation/religion/ideology. The attack was political and deserves to be treated as premeditated political violence.

My first, immediate reaction was that those so-and-sos deserve to be repaid in their own coin. One fine evening when they are chilling with their cronies, a gang of armed women should descend upon them and beat the living daylights out of them, abuse and humiliate them in public, with a dozen television crews looking on. But then, we are a democracy and, at least in theory, governed by criminal procedure codes. So my next thought was that these people should be picked up by the cops and have the living daylights thrashed out of them. That wouldn't be very lawful either. And Gandhiji wouldn't have approved, I guess. Though I have my doubts. If Gandhiji ever caught his sons attacking peaceful women sitting around nursing a drink, I have a strong feeling that he would use his danda after all.
Sometimes, I begin to wonder if I am wrong about this staycalmretortbutdonotgetviolent attitude to violent, abusive strangers. Sometimes, I begin to wonder if the world would not be a better place if governed by hard-drinking mothers who consistently use hairbrushes on their sons' backsides.

Because, this is to say that it won't go away. This constant fear of what might be done to you because you are a woman and somebody might accuse you of being something they think you shouldn't be and then proceed to insult you or hurt you physically, and then you might be stuck in law courts for the next fifteen years trying to have them tossed in jail for a few months. This terror that it might be your turn next time, Mumbai instead of Mangalore, is not going to go away. But this is also to say that hiding inside homes, or cars, or sticking to very elite venues won't make it go away either. So even if it isn't going away, its got to. Somehow.
I don't know how. I don't know if slow, steady conversation, sharing, documenting, information disseminating is the way forward. Or petitions and legal interventions should be the focus. Or whether street art and exhibitions will help. Or whether we should all turn into counter-terror volunteers. Or what. But somehow.


Charakan said...

Great Post.Dont loose heart.Dont be silent.Collective effort and facing the bully openly is sure to help.Everything you mentioned in the last para will help.More and more liberal Women in corridors of Power will surely help.

GarrethD said...

All of it, I think, is the way forward, including violence. If five of those bastards had bottles broken on their heads, they wouldn't be so cocky right now, I'm pretty certain of that. They'd be posing as victims, but they'd think twice before doing it again.

zap said...

You know what, its hard to isolate the demons that drive this behavior.
Politics mixed with sexual harassment mixed with a rage caused by economic distance and/or self opinion..

I'm sad, but i'm also more and more nihilistic..

pawan said...

@ Charkan- Liberal women? When someone like sheela dikshit says that going out at three at night deserves a death penalty (ok, not in so many words) what recourse do we have, except maybe a firebrand feminist, which then would give rise to its own share of problems.

Charakan said...

Pawan,anyway she is better than a V.K.Malhothra or Ashok Gehlot.More women in politics will definitely help in improving the situation

SS said...

Forget about fussing over your wardrobe Annie. More often than not, it has nothing to do with what you wear: this is personal experience speaking. It is about a misconceived notion of power and control.
Can't agree more. Keeping quiet never helped. Speaking or writing or discussing about it on a public space like the Internet is a great start! (I can imagine it must be hard to be active at Blank Noise and have a full-time career as an objective journalist).
I have ranted about this here. Adding your post to the list of bloggers unwilling to take this nonsense.

dipali said...

The harassers and the harassees often seem to live in totally different worlds, where the harassers do not even conceive of their victims as having any human rights at all. Yes, it is demoralising. No, we cannot afford to lose heart and stop our efforts at raising awareness.

the mad momma said...

I'll agree with Gary. there is no one way to deal with them. it has to be in every way possible. lightheartedly, seriously, united in our efforts.

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