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Are we ready to take back the night?

4 Jan

I was quick to get back to the daily walk, as soon as I got home from the 10 day break in Bangalore. Into my track pants, socks and shoes and out the door. But I stopped in front of the mirror and looked at myself. Turning around, and craning my neck awkwardly, to look at my bum one last time before I stepped out. Are my pants too tight? I wondered. Will people stare? I asked myself.

Once outdoors, thoughts about why I stopped to check myself out bothered me. I have always gloated about feeling so bloody safe in Panjim, its ridiculous. Never having to think twice about what I am wearing, never having to dress deliberately modestly, depending on where I am going or whether I had able-bodied male friends with me. Why then, did I suddenly care?

Twenty minutes in, as the back of my sweaty tee shirt clung to me, I began to get increasingly conscious. I felt like all eyes were on me. I looked at every man passing me by suspiciously. I didn’t care who walked by me, just the previous week. Why then was I suddenly giving every one a once-over? Glaring through narrowed eyes, trying to read every small move they made?

Panjim has always made me feel safe. Venturing out for a drink with myself, driving around on my own even on nights the husband is travelling, going out for my run past 7.30 pm — all things I have done with great discomfort and trepidation in Bangalore (this is not to blatantly say Bangalore is unsafe and Panjim is, I am drawing a parallel only because it the only other city I have lived in). Panjim is still safe. Nothing has changed overnight, but because I returned from my trip home, in the wake of this heinous event, I found myself wanting to set out sooner, so I can get back before it is too dark, worried if people were looking at me, and believe it or not, turning my iPod off so I could be more aware and alert in case something untoward were to happen.

Not cool.

A lot has happened, been said, and done about the Delhi gang rape case. The issue and the aftermath, the furore, the inaction on the part of the government has all weighed down on me in ways I didn’t imagine news could. I suppose its because with their palpable increase in frequency, things like this have stopped being just news about some arbit victim somewhere, but more about someone like you and me, right in our vicinity.

It really was the last straw for me, in a year of hopelessness, as far as the direction in which we are headed as a country goes. Maybe I am a cynic, and I should look on the bright side — that people are finally waking up and will not take no for an answer — but what bright side, I ask you? The growing outrage with which twitter and blogdom erupted in the days after the horrific incident left me numb, not knowing what is right or wrong anymore.

Yes, we’re angry. Yes, we’re singing online petitions. Yes, we’re spewing out views out on twitter, lighting candles, feeling such immense fury at how a bunch of idiots can just sit back in apathy and discuss the course of action. But really, I’m not sure anymore if that’s a good beginning or just another shot in the dark, which will only die down in time. Because I don’t know if an amended law is going to stop rape overnight. I don’t know how I can wish for a stronger, better 2013, unless I feel safer. If the law and punishment hasn’t stopped men from doing it so far, I don’t know why it will now.

I have refrained from discussing this issue here because the more I read about it, the sadder I get. I don’t think rape is curable overnight. And certainly not by signing an online petition that demands for laws to be amended. Certainly not by outraging on twitter and fb, threatening to lynch mob Tihar Jail (yes, I read this on my twitter TL — sometimes I think our citizens are as crazy as our criminals). Rape will only go away when we speak up the right way, when we teach our girls to stand up for themselves, not to be ashamed, not to feel like victims, and definitely not to accept, tolerate and move on because of fear of being blamed. When we learn to wipe away the fine line between freedom of expression and a filthy attitude; and call a spade a spade. Things will change when we stop favouring our sons over our daughters. When we bring up our daughters as we would our sons — independent, able, free to stand on their feet. So despite shutting off the media and all the hype I have read, I couldn’t help but share this piece I chanced upon on Annie Zaidi’s blog this morning. Because she articulates pretty much what I have silently mulled over all week.

In the midst of all of this, I was most astounded by the reaction of the government. I am just aghast that those who chose to stay silent, did. That those who spoke up, made utter fools of themselves. And the people that matter most, who we as a nation look up to for action and justice, stood around for over ten days just watching like inexperienced parents dealing with boorish, bratty children — not knowing what the appropriate reaction to something like this is. How does this continue to happen to us?

In another precise and incisive open letter to the UPA ladies, Annie asks many of the questions I’m sure most of you have turned over in your heads already. All of us have questions. All of us have opinions. If only we could be heard.

I’m going to quote Annie’s closing line in the letter, because to me it is the crux of the issue.

“Show us that you’re in charge. Talk to urban planners. Talk to psychologists. Talk to women’s groups. Fix this.”

We have to move past the outrage and the vexation, and really just start to fix this.

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14 Responses to “Are we ready to take back the night?”

  1. mincat January 4, 2013 at 10:42 am #

    you know sometimes when i tink aobut how i feel delhi is so much safer than when i was in college, i wonder if it has more to do with the fact that i live in south delhi now and i generally am far more self assured and don’t give a fuck, than with delhi itself having changed. and then i wonder if it really is at leasy aprtially in your own head, not allowing the scaremongeres to get you. i mean isnt the threat of harassment a very effective way to keep women in their houses? i have adult delhi-ite friends who say dont go out after 9 if there’s no male escort. to which i say wtf??? no i wont be stupid, but im not going to let random people who can’t keep it in their pants dictate my life.
    so i guess what im trying to say is, be safe, but wear those goddamn pants.

    • hAAthi January 4, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Oh yes, I did. And I continue to. The point of relating that incident was just to say how all that I have been reading about this has finally started affecting me in a very REAL way. And I was telling the husband about this, and how yes, I wont be stupid and land myself in trouble, but maybe I just need to stop taking this peace and quiet here for granted and be a little more confident, self-assured as you put it, and just be prepared, I guess.

      • mincat January 7, 2013 at 10:36 am #

        yus enver underestimate the power of be prepared. heh. i guess with time vie reached a point where i trust my instinctas, and if someone is making me nervous i will be careful, i will immediately get on phone with someone give them my location and say if i dont call you in twenty minutes, panic. but trusting my instincts is the biggie here.

  2. Sig January 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm #

    I know what you mean and I deliberately kept myself away for a while because the more I read the angrier and more frustrated I got. I’ve only just started to respond to some blog articles etc because I feel like the helplessness is just bubbling inside me and I need o let it out.

    I can’t even begin to imagine how you feel there, having grown up in a country where the only rebukes and remarks I got were from my own parents – but I have experienced it on some level and just that was exhausting. My family is from Delhi and every time we go back the experience has been worse. AND what got me is my relatives reaction – “Don’t wear such tight t-shirts” or “you shouldn’t go for a walk in the neighbourhood”. Um, wtf?

    I sincerely hope that something is done to FIX this. It has gone on way too long. I also hope you never change the way you feel – you have every right to be there, to wear what you wear, to live life. Don’t let them take that from you.

    • hAAthi January 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

      Yeah, exactly. Unfortunately though, as a lot of people online are screaming themselves shrill about, it is NOT only a Delhi-issue. Eve-teasing, rape, all sorts of crime against women is endemic across India. Ive faced horrid horrid eve teasing in Bangalore, not so much in Bombay and touch wood — close to nothing in Goa. So long as we tell ourselves to dress modestly instead of fighting back, I dont see how this is going to change.

  3. kismitoffeebar January 6, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    And amidst all this, we have the “she asked for it”/”they ask for it”. I am too disgusted to even type further. Totally agree with the last line. There is some glimmer of hope though, I’d like to think.
    Wear those pants. It doesn’t really matter what we wear.

    Very well-written this Haathi! :)

    • hAAthi January 6, 2013 at 9:33 pm #

      Oh yeah thts what i mean. I never worry abt my clothes. But i began to wonder because invariably thats the first thing to blame.

      And thanks :)

  4. agrajag January 20, 2013 at 3:09 pm #

    I know it often doesn’t feel like it, but I really do genuinely think that much of this is a sign of progress.

    I don’t think there’s any reason to think that the streets of India are more dangerous for women now than they where 10, 20 or 30 years ago. But I think two other things have changed.

    First, the women of India have become more independent. More educated. More likely to want to participate in all parts of life. Less likely to think that to be a wife and mother is their only goal in life. Women used to take for granted that their only role was to stay hidden at home. Today they desire, even demand, to participate, and this creates tensions, increase noise, and is seen as a threat to “traditional values” by old-fashioned males.

    Second, increased awareness of rights means that today you’ll get a huge deal of noise about things that’d just be silently accepted a few decades ago. “Rapist marries victim, avoids punishment” and “husband thinks he’s got the right to sex whenever it suits him, is unwilling to accept wife saying no” surely happened in India 50 years ago too, it’s just that there was no -noise- about it at that time.

    In the words of Gandhi, “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. Then they fight you. And then you win.” — I think what goes on can be atleast partially explained by the fight being a lot more “noisy” than the ignoring.

    • hAAthi January 20, 2013 at 4:45 pm #

      I really like your optimism in the last para. Iv forgotten that quote and it does seem very relevant. But id really have to disagree with you on all other accounts.

      Sure things have changed and are not what they were 50 yrs ago. Yes more women are participating and consciously coming out to be more than just wives and mothers but that change is only apparent to people like you and me. And we are a tiny sliver of Indian society.

      So yes it is a change but NO it is by no means the new norm. More than 50% of india lives below the poverty line. And that unfortunately also means they live without basic education, safety and security and health rights. Which itself should tell you where we stand as far as rapes and justice is concerned.

      • agrajag January 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

        That’s true, the changes come first, and more noticeable among the middle and upper-classes, it’s not as if the daughters of Indias poor are storming the universities. So yes, you’re right, this is a trend that is only just starting. The young, educated, urban, middle-to-upper-class women today more and more expect to have all the same freedoms in life that men enjoy. But the same isn’t true for the uneducated poor women living on a farm somewhere in the rural parts of India.

        I’m actually not a sliver of Indian society at all – I guess I should introduce myself, I’ll do that elsewhere though, as who I am is irrelevant to this post.

        • hAAthi January 21, 2013 at 8:40 am #

          Actually, I only highlighted the point about more than half of India living below the poverty line to illustrate just *how* disadvantaged most of this country is. Even from the most basic needs for survival. Education, as we have more than abundantly seen in the local media/news, has little to do with justice and rationality, when it comes to dealing with issues like rape. The victim of the recent horrific delhi rape case was an educated woman, a student of medicine in fact. She was a physiotherapist. So its not like the middle/upper middle class is somewhat safer now than before. Also the aftermath has been horrific. Apathy on the part of the police force, lax judiciary (we still dont have a verdict, as of yet) and a somewhat sluggish government who refuses to just effing take a stand on the issue!

          I see now that you are not from India :) My bad in assuming that you are.

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  1. Grey matter | hAAthi - November 28, 2013

    […] what about the unseen, unheard defense mechanisms so many of us just imbibe unknowingly? Remember the time I had second thoughts about those pants I wanted to wear? There was also the time before I got all cozy and comfortable […]

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