As women flooded Twitter with their heartbreaking stories of sexual violence with the hashtag
#MeToo, it opened a chasm within me filled with memories I thought I had buried. It opened the floodgates of memories of being scared, often among my 'own' people.
Like several other women, I have lost count of the number of times I have been scared.
– While playing a 'game' called 'dark room' with my sisters and other children of varied ages, including a teenage son of the hosts at a Diwali party. My parents refused to understand why I didn't want to play 'dark room' and preferred watching them play cards. My father asked me to join the other children and stop being a 'black sheep'. I was seven years old. These get-togethers continued and so did the discomfort, pain, shame and anger.
– On a train journey with my family as a child of 11, a Malayali uncle offering to share his food at dinner and after we retired for bed and I fell asleep, putting his hand down from the berth above, opening my jeans and shoving his hands in. Bewildering. Painful.
– Every time I took a train journey alone to home from engineering college and back every semester. Could never sleep a wink watching and waiting, sometimes for 36 hours. Was never 'disappointed'. Some man or the other always tried some stunt.
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– On my way to write the SPA entrance exam in Delhi in a public bus. When I objected, the man screaming back at me, "take a private car, if you don't like this", in Hindi of course. People around sneered and laughed.
Strange that we bury such incidents. Because I spent all of yesterday seeing the
#MeToo hashtag and telling myself: "sexual abuse at work is what they are talking about. THAT hasn't happened to me. At least not in some very hideous way. (We learn to grade such incidents and be grateful you see)."
I wake up everyday thinking how differently a woman artiste is treated at home and overseas. Just when I start to feel happy that it's been a year of great concerts -- one better than the other -- playing in world class venues, great cities, working on my stagecraft, musicianship, sound, costumes and band, I am reminded of the treatment meted out to several women artistes at home in India. Be it big college campuses and premiere institutes or renowned music festivals and corporate-funded bus tours, it will be men who will take the centre-stage, headline the marquee and I will have to be okay knowing that I, the woman, worshipped as goddess in this land of ours, will not be worthy of much more.
The 'bulls' will occupy every big arena while, I, along with the other 'cows', supposedly revered by this land, will have to be okay playing second fiddle. The one odd amongst us will get to be a token presence at best to help make the men's club look 'politically correct' and 'fair'.
For us you need to have a special 'festivals' — 'women in music' and special 'women-only' panels -- where we get celebrated like an exotic species and are supposed to discuss our period pains and how it affects our performance abilities on stage etc.
How do I even begin to compete without been given the same platform and opportunities? (The average number of Bollywood songs in a solo female voice amongst 100 recorded? 16, if not lesser in some years ) Misogyny runs deep in our country and this cannot be said enough. Be it in the music and entertainment industry or any other.
If all the good people of the country are watching and not doing anything about this, please know that you are complicit – just like the crowd which sniggered when a man on the bus decided to slip his hand inside my clothes. I was 17. Let's start by having a conversation. Here's the most important thing I want to share as the Festival of Lights approaches us, I am on the right side of history.
I will keep knocking on it everyday, every time and make the wall fall. I'm not getting tired anytime soon. Happy Deepawali.
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