VIJAYAWADA, India (WOMENSENEWS)– In a first of sorts, on March 19 Pradnya Mandhare, a 20-year-old student in Mumbai, India‘s financial capital, dragged her molester by the hair all the way to the police station. She did it in broad daylight, in a crowded train station.
"I was waiting at the platform for another train; this visibly drunk person came to me and touched me inappropriately," Mandhare told NDTV, the Indian news organization. "When I tried to avoid him, he grabbed me. I was shocked for a couple of seconds, but then I started hitting him with my bag."
Fortunately, when she reached the police station, the officers cooperated and a case against the assaulter was registered promptly.
Last year, Megha Vishwanath took the metro home in Delhi, made world-infamous by the deadly gang rape of Jyoti Singh in December 2012, an event that wound up rocking India with demonstrations and promising a new era of women’s safety.
As Vishwanath left her seat and stood waiting at the gate, ready to get down from the train as soon as the doors open, she felt someone touch her inappropriately. In less than half a minute she realized she was being molested. The man behind her had his trousers unzipped. She screamed at the man while every other passenger in the metro car looked on.
It took a good chase and a lot more screaming to catch the man and bring him to book. The man told the police his hand accidently touched Vishwanath because the train was crowded. After rounds of argument, the police officer says "Why would this girl lie? After all she is taking the shame on herself."
"He committed the crime, I raised my voice, and yet somehow the shame was on me!" Vishwanath told me in an online conversation. Finally, the man was booked for abuse.
These incidents, I think, are a sign of times changing, and young women feeling that they must speak out in the name of Singh and so many others who have lost their lives to sexual aggressors.
Leslee Udwin‘s documentary, "India‘s daughter," which pivots on the gang rape of Singh, has been banned in India, but that doesn’t mean it has been kept out of the reach of Indians. It has spread like wildfire. It’s everywhere and everyone who wanted to view it has by now. And many say it’s worth watching for the depiction of how rapists think.
Does this film shock us? Sadly, no. When a convicted rapist with barely any education and his defending lawyers all go on record to tell Udwin that women should focus on housekeeping and stay at home as evening sets in, we know where that comes from. We hear it everywhere.
Not Accepting It
Which is not to say we accept it. The wretchedness that produces such words causes a strange reptilian wriggle on our skins and symptoms of nausea. No matter how hard we fight it, despise it, argue it and attempt to trample over it, this mindset is too engrained to change in front of our eyes.
While younger people find warriors in Meghna and Pradnya, many in our older generation don’t approve of us pushing back, talking back and seeking legal recourse.
"God made women different; it is not good for girls to be so spirited," they’ll say and shove you.
All through our growing years, we have been told to restrict ourselves; confine our movements, restrict our passion, even filter what we want to wear or eat.
The essence was two-fold: to be safe from the bad world out there and to create and maintain the impression of a nice, quiet girl whom parents of any good boy would want to make their daughter-in-law. Although parents wanted their daughters to be educated and independent in some ways, they also want us to stay within limits.
"You should come home before the clock strikes 8," my father sternly instructed when I was younger.
But in college he understood I had lectures and seminars to attend. When I joined the workforce, I had to work late shifts. Partying or hanging out with friends, however, was not an acceptable reason to come home late. Whenever I was delayed at work, my parents worried about what could happen to me.
Singh’s parents too were worried on the night of Dec. 16, 2012. She always informed them when she was delayed and that evening her phone was out of reach. She studied at a day college and worked at a call center during night hours. On Dec. 16, she went to watch "Life of Pi" with a friend.
My parents were a typical example of their tribe; proud and loving, their sole intention to protect their daughters from ill-speaking acquaintances and evil-intentioned social creatures.
Still today, I cannot help but notice, if you are staying out till late, returning home at odd hours (for whatever reason), neighbors, relatives, parents of friends and anyone who doesn’t have anything to do with you may happily assume that you have a compromised character and can be easily tainted.
You become a soft target. If you hang around with male friends and colleagues, there is something brewing for sure. Great gossip material and all for people who consider themselves educated, cultured and enlightened.
Indian society has been patriarchal for centuries. It’s not easy to shed its customs and the culture around it. But people are trying.
On Feb. 5, Sunitha Krishnan, a social activist and founder of an anti-trafficking organization, Prajwala, launched a "Shame the Rapist" campaign after receiving two videos of two separate rapes. Five men perpetrated one of the attacks, one man perpetrated the other.
In each case, someone stood back and captured the videos while the six men proudly performed their acts. An aghast Krishnan edited the videos, blurred the images of the victim and highlighted the faces of the rapists. She posted these videos on YouTube and launched her campaign to identify the miscreants. She also reported to the police for further investigation.
So far, none of the assailants have been caught.
In support of her campaign, Krishnan got hundreds of letters and messages. She received more such videos with more requests to catch the attackers.
As we push back, scream, chase down, name and accuse our attackers, we are doing what we can and must for ourselves and our sisters, now, and our daughters tomorrow.
After what happened to Singh in Delhi we saw the country rise in unison to protest a rape. It was something we’d never seen before and its echoes seem like a collective protest against all kinds of abuse and violence over the centuries.
Day in and out, common people poured out at the city centers, at the meeting grounds in peaceful rallies, meetings, expressing solidarity, pain, furor, anguish. They had no leader, no political color. Enough is enough! Zero tolerance for abuse. This has to stop, they chanted.
Mihika Sharma, a college student in New Delhi, joined one of the protests after Singh was killed. "I screamed and shouted at the top of my voice," she told me over phone. "I felt the pain, it seemed someone had de-intestined me. I demanded action, only to realize later that this was a traumatic, tragic situation, and however we fight, nothing concrete may come out of it, unless each one of us does something about it."
Today, Sharma carries pepper spray and a small knife in her bag at all times; she has made it a point to never keep quiet, for herself or for others.
"My college friends, both girls and boys, support me. They have stood by me whenever I protested an eve teasing or harassment. If anything untowardly happens, I’ll injure the person before I fall. If needed, I’ll kill before I be killed," she said.
Other things may be staying the same and justice coming too slowly. But that’s the change that is here. We have learned rape victims needn’t be ashamed; that a woman can fight back and lead the world to protest. We hope, sometime in future, the change will be manifested in full bloom.
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