This piece is dedicated to all the strong women I know, who despite reading all of the information overload on rapes, eve-teasings, murders and molestations, and despite facing it on a daily basis, still bravely go out in the world and make a mark for themselves -- usually with a big bag in front of them and wishing they had a gun to whip out and shoot every fellow who undressed them with their eyes. We need to salute these women. These are the women who have decided that circumstances and miscreants will not hold them back from living their lives. These are the women who are heralding a change and deserve to be heard. I applaud you.
A certain celebrity wrote to some of the most powerful men in the country recently and asked to be rescued. I applaud her for sharing her ordeal because we first need to start acknowledging that there is problem. But then the letter turns into a desperate plea for help. And honestly, after being inundated with story, after story, after story of the helplessness of women, atrocities committed on them and the gory details of each encounter for the last two years -- the second half of the letter which pleads for a saviour -- was the last straw. I have had it up till here (imagine me holding my hand above my head till as far as I can stretch it) with these defeatist bechari, abla naari images of the Indian woman! Such letters only seek to reinforce this sad image -- if you start calling a person a fool 100 times a day, after a point he will start believing he is a fool! Imagine what we are doing to the mindsets of the women in our country by calling them weak and helpless. After being blasted by all ends on this same message they will start believing this great lie. I am in no way negating or trivialising this celebrity's ordeal. My heart goes out to her and I am filled with rage. But what am I doing with this rage? Using it to reach out to all the MEN to please make a change and feeling like a martyr about it...? Really? Seriously?
When I look at the letter again, it dawns on me that this reflects the mindset most women in our country have. We all view ourselves as an abla naari, weak and in need of rescuing. Why? What is stopping us from becoming our own superheroes. In my humble opinion the letter should have been addressed to all the powerful women of our country and the wives, daughters and mothers of these powerful men. Women play a huge role in a man's attitude towards other women. Did you ever wonder why all the lawmakers and powerful men have not bothered to respond to this letter, or the pleas and cries around them made by thousands of women in the country everyday who are raped? Because they don't see this as a problem. And the women around them have not made this a priority for them. We women have a huge ally in these women surrounding these powerful men. Why not wake up this sleeping giant?
I myself have been through the traumas that this celebrity has faced, but I am not unique. It is appalling, but true. I am not the only one. This in no way means that this is ok. This is the attitude that has been taken up by women all across our country over ages. They hide, feel guilty and advice the girls and women in their family to do the same. It needs to stop. Now! I don't recall any woman I have met in my life who has not gone through any such trauma in one form or the other. These are not proud battle scars that need to be displayed behind closed doors, these scars should fuel the fire for change.
It is good that we have finally brought the subject out in the open and have started talking about it and have begun to get angry about it. That's a start. However, in my opinion, we are still not angry enough. Not angry enough to make a real change for ourselves. It is up to us to direct this immense energy in the form of anger in the right direction to make a real change that matters to us in our everyday lives. Not the ones with laws. When I first heard about Nirbhaya, I remember being numb for days and spiralling into depression at the fact that this could happen in our country and despite the outrage they can still go free and I found myself crying out for vigilante justice... burn them! Cut off their balls! Leave them to rot in a deep well! etc etc.... But I realised quickly that it will not solve the deeper issue of how we view women in this country. It will only make these miscreants smarter in avoiding the law and more cruel. I don't believe brutal pubic punishment will stop all the abuses, but it will help to be a strong deterrent, which is a start. But it will not stop.
This was a turning point for me. And the wisdom came from an old, illiterate but wise woman from a Delhi slum on the news. She made the only sensible statement amongst all the cacophony that stuck with me. She said, "Women can be women's greatest strength and protectors. We women are to blame for the entire situation that is happening here. When your son committed the first crime did you slap him or did you berate the parents of the girl who was teased that she should not have been wearing what she did or hanging around where she was? When you taught your sons to be brave did you also teach your girls to be stronger and stand up for themselves?" The thought stuck with me and helped me make a change within myself. No, I cannot change the law. But I can do my part. And also inspire others to do the same. Imagine, if all the women in the country -- across demographics, caste, creed and religion -- got together and changed mindsets within our own homes and families, the change would be real and faster. We have the power within ourselves to make this happen for us. Once we awaken the huge numbers in the female population of our country, there is no way the lawmakers will be able to ignore us. And the powerful and caring men in our lives have to support us. But the change has to be led by us. By Women.
If you are the educated Saraswati and prosperous Lakshmi... you are also the ferocious Durga and unstoppable Kali! We constantly berate ourselves for being helpless and crib that no one is doing anything... why do we want someone else to make a change in our OWN lives? What are we doing to help ourselves... apart from waiting to be rescued?
What is stopping the schools and colleges from swapping the useless SUPW period with a self-defence class? Karate, judo, lathi, boxing... take your pick. But they might be a bit preoccupied trying to raise the fees and forcing parents to pay up more for the safety and protection in their own schools from their own rapists and molesters terrorising children in the hallways, bathrooms and classrooms, instead of addressing the core issue! What about the hundreds of NGOs who are only active for a month or two when a rape happens and then move back in the shadows of depression because nothing really ever happens with the law and justice system of this country. Why not start addressing the root of the problem instead of the symptoms. It is not going to be an easy task and neither is it going to be a quick one. There are a few brilliant NGOs that are already doing some amazing work towards sensitising the general public towards how we treat the women in our country that deserves to be recognised. We need more of them. What is stopping our NGO workforce to reach out to children, girls and boys, to create awareness and also run voluntary self-defence classes? Both the above might be busy fighting the war against rape on different ends but what is stopping the parents from encouraging and sending their child to a self defence class and one less tuition class?
But what is stopping women from making the most important change in their lives, the change in their own homes? From sensitising their children and family, especially women, to make a change and inspire more and more women in their lives to become stronger, braver, bolder and live their lives to the fullest and encourage them to change their perspective about a 'good woman' and equate it to a 'strong woman'? Only we women can change this definition. I have started doing it. So can you.
I am sure there are several women doing this already. And I know so many of them myself! And they deserve to be applauded. We need more such women. This is a request to all of them to start talking and sharing their positive experiences and helping other women make a change towards the positive. And to all the women celebrities out there -- from various walks of life -- use your stardom, however big or small, to inspire other women to make a positive, smarter and more powerful change in their lives. Let US be our own superheroes!
I thought a lot about this before I wrote this article. I usually don't write on such strong subjects as I wanted to retain my sanity and not get caught in the spate of gory stories that are taking place everyday around us -- a feeling I'm sure a lot of us would relate to. I have consciously kept myself away from it after convincing myself that it is important for my sanity. Even though I felt strongly about all the rescue letters, I kept coming up with reasons to not write this but I realised that if people like me don't talk then it gives way to more and more letters portraying and confirming the images of the Indian woman as a weak little thing waiting to be rescued. And by sharing my own experience and thoughts on how we can make a real change I can help inspire others too. I cannot ask others to share if I don't do it myself. The strong desire to make a change with and for all the women of the country and to get the message out overcame my fears and the words came pouring out.
I need to be the change I wish to see. The change has got to start with me. Today. Now.
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