Last week, Varnika Kundu, a remarkable woman from Chandigarh did something that united the country's women in protest and anger, mostly because almost all of us have experienced some variation of her horrific stalking incident.
The training in gendered demands on our lives starts early, and never ends. It could happen as early as in school, when grown men derive some kind of sick pleasure by whipping out their penises in front of girls young enough to be their daughters; as young adults, when our parents testily tell us to keep our heads low to avoid trouble, even as they train us in the use of pepper sprays every time we step out of the house; as tired, jaded adults who are raging on the inside at the unfairness of constantly looking over our shoulders, knowing that we're always just one misstep, one distracted moment, one unfortunate turn of events away from becoming a headline and a rape/ murder statistic.
While in the privacy of our imaginations, we might be frying the testicles of men who won't let us feel safe in boiling vats of oil, in reality, most of us will do little more than grit our teeth and outrage online and among friends before moving on with life. Most of us wouldn't dream of taking on a powerful politician's son, which is probably why they think they can, and often do, get away with rape, murder, and everything in between.
And so, when a woman like Kundu comes along, who digs in her heels, refuses to back down with the politically mighty, it ignites something in us. We're compelled to add our insignificant two bits, if only in the form of furiously scribbled opinion pieces and hastily cobbled together tweets and Facebook statuses.
It's a form of catharsis; as if the conviction of one seemingly untouchable, entitled, drunk-on-power brat can somehow make up for all the times we let things slide.
It gives us hope, and unites us, if only in rage, because you don't feel quite as unsure when other equally hesitant women start speaking up and demanding different, better, more. There's great comfort to be had in numbers, especially when you're sticking your neck out for someone you don't even know.
While we're always prepared for the vultures who scour social media for women they can insult, belittle and shout down, every once in a while, we assume that this has to be the line in the sand. Even the most zealously sexist among us must have the moral fibre to recognise that some things simply can't be trolled away or justified.
There is something devastatingly distressing about being proved wrong. Every. Single. Time.
Yesterday, Babul Supriyo, a union minister, decided to stick up for the accused under the garb of "rationality".
He is appalled at the trial by media, at the father being dragged into the son's mess, at the merest suggestion of an additional charge—that the victim insisted on her statement in the first place—being slapped on to the accused who, according to the medical report, were intoxicated. And, of course, there is the odious whataboutery, the first refuge of those who seek to bury an issue under the rubble of nonsense arguments like why make an issue of this and not that? Alsmost as if we should feel guilty for taking Supriyo's colleague's son to task for endangering the life of a woman because someone somewhere is committing a graver crime!
But Supriyo's 'rationality' and superior powers of questioning don't extend to the victim of the alleged crime. While his personal life and familial connections must be off-limits in the interest of all things fair and just, hers is fair game for all kinds of conjecture and finger-pointing.
No one must question if it is possible that his very powerful father might use his clout to free him, but it's perfectly acceptable for the very same family and his own colleagues to indulge in disgusting attempts at victim-blaming by randomly sharing her photos on social media, falsely claiming she was acquainted with the accused, slyly insinuating that she is the kind of girl who drinks, which, we all know, is shorthand for 'morally corrupt women who deserve everything that happens to them.
Kundu was literally just existing — in her own car, minding her business, going back home — and they still managed to vilify her.
Because, ladies, if you know the person who suddenly decides to run you off the road or get into your car forcefully, it's kinda your fault anyway for mingling with the wrong crowd. It's only worthy of contempt if the person is a stranger. And if you've ever had the temerity to publicly drink alcohol, you better not complain. Story is finished, khatam. The die has been cast and you're officially a woman of loose character.
Kundu was literally just existing — in her own car, minding her business, going back home — and they still managed to vilify her. Not a whimper from Supriyo on the violation of her privacy, on this wholly unjustified attempt at slandering her, sometimes by his own colleagues, like Shaina NC, who backpedalled furiously after being ridiculed, claiming that her account had been hacked.
Is there any line that is too low to be crossed? Any cut-off for baseline human decency?
Social media has a way of lulling your senses into believing that people are changing, their thoughts are evolving, there might just be hope for change in your lifetime. But just as you start to believe that, people like Supriyo and his cronies come along to dispel that notion. The reason they can so comfortably and confidently defend the rights of the accused while not batting an eyelid at the disgusting violations of the victim's is because they know that no matter what atrociously obnoxious thing they say in defence of the accused, as long as he's a man, there will be legions of followers who will join them in their pursuit of defending the criminal and justifying the crime.
If there exists a threshold for human capacity for awfulness, apparently, we've still not crossed it. Wonder how much more we'll have to look before we find it.