26/02/2015 8:16 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Same Coin, Another Side

PRAKASH SINGH via Getty Images
Indian school children make a human chain as they pay tribute to Pakistan children and staff killed in a Taliban attack on a school in Peshawar, in New Delhi on December 18, 2014. Pakistan began three days of mourning on December 17 for the 132 schoolchildren and nine staff killed by the Taliban in the country's deadliest ever terror attack as the world united in a chorus of revulsion. AFP PHOTO / PRAKASH SINGH (Photo credit should read PRAKASH SINGH/AFP/Getty Images)

'I can't not do anything, anymore.' A choked up elder one blurted out over the phone.

'What? What happened?' The first thing he does once he gets back from school is call me.

'She hit me again, the bully I told you about. And this time I hit her back.'

All alarms went off together in my head as I heard him relate the entire story to me. She had been bullying him for sometime now, and he had been ignoring it. She is a girl: A member of the gender that needs protection, respect and a seat in the bus. So he had never hit back. Everything in his life has so far taught him to respect girls no matter what, and hitting them was totally out of question. A big chunk of credit for teaching him that lies on my shoulders. But I had never foreseen this. And even if I did, question is, would others have done something about it? His teachers gave him an earful of words mostly focussing on his role in the whole thing. Yes, violence is unacceptable but so is bullying! They failed to see that. Most of us fail to see that.

Yesterday, on our metro ride back home two things irked me. First was the repeated announcement urging the passengers to vacate the seat for old, differently abled and women. Is that what we mean when we say women need equal rights? Are we not equally capable as our male counterparts to weather a journey without resting our backsides? Second, when we finally got the seats, my eleven year old was sitting besides me, and a fully able, young woman signalled him to get up. He was about to, but I stopped him. 'He is a child, carrying truckloads of books. You seem to be fine. Why can you not stand?' She mumbled something about vacating seats for women and walked on. That got my goat, the entire herd. Is this the feminism I support? Is this the equality I try and fight for each day?

From being an oppressive society where majority of women still suffer, we are slowly progressing to a world where some men, no matter how small a proportion, will be at the receiving end for no fault of theirs. The girl in my son's class blatantly threatens the boys with a complaint to the coordinator. And they keep quiet because they know a complaint to the coordinator by a girl against a boy spells doom. She is confident that she will be heard, and she uses that power. We all know of people being threatened and ultimately dragged to court under the Dowry Prohibition Act for no fault of theirs. I have seen young girls unflinchingly accusing men of being abusive on no grounds whatsoever.

Today, I stand on unsure grounds. When my son couldn't understand why he was scolded at school for standing up to the bully, all I could do is hug him and express my helplessness. My exact words were, 'I hear you, but getting into a fight with a girl can get you in trouble way beyond your imagination. I will always stand with you, but promise me you'll refrain from getting into a fight with her.' The words were so untrue to whatever I have stood for in the past. They didn't seem mine. But they did belong to a mother scared out of her wits. She reads newspapers. She knows what happens to men accused of being abusive to women. With a flick of a button the pictures go viral on the internet accusing the man in question of crimes no one is sure he committed, but everyone is quick to judge him on. The moment we see a man and a woman in an argument, we pounce at the conclusion and decide on the guilty party - the man. Always.

I teach my boys to be responsible, but is someone teaching their daughters to be sensitive, as well? Are they being taught to take their rights seriously and never misuse them? Or for that matter, is anyone explaining the true meaning of equal rights to them? Equal rights - the term seems to be grossly misunderstood and used far beyond its actual scope. For me, equal rights would be achieved when we, the womenfolk, stop expecting men to vacate the seat for us, when that announcement in the metro limits itself to aged and the differently abled people, and when, in case of a fight, my son and the girl he has a tiff with, are both dealt with on common grounds.

Today, I am not thinking of statistics. The fact that the percentage of male victims is abysmally low does not allay the fears I have for my boys. Today, I am turning a deaf ear to the argument that millions of women suffer each day at the hands of men. Yes, abhorrent crimes against women fill the newspaper everyday, but does that justify the fear written all over the college boy's face who accidentally bumped into me, and apologised a million times? I feel sad for him, for he is not a part of the statistics, yet he lives in fear.

Today, I took my words back. I hugged my son and apologised to him for having said what I did. Today, I also promised him that I will stand with him in his fight if he needs me to, for he is right. Bullies are bullies. Period. His gender doesn't have to be his disadvantage, and her's should not be her shield. Today, I see the other side of the coin that hides from the limelight and never gets noticed. Today, I see another victim.

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