When keeping quiet is no longer an option

It has been a decade since I left India. While USA is home now there is still an unbreakable bond to the homeland. I still like to read the online edition of The Hitavada (the longest running local newspaper of my small town) every morning. I still read Indian news on NDTV and still stay up nights praying for a win for the Indian cricket team. It still annoys me when I come across clueless people for whom India is a land of cows and snake charmers and poverty. But the last month has gradually made me realize that I rather have them believe this distorted reality than what the headlines are in my homeland. With horror and incredulity I read about what seems like an epidemic of depravity in my country. Where assault and rape seems to have become as common as songs in a Hindi movie.

The protests while good intentioned are short lived. People gather, raise slogans and then go back to their day jobs. Who can blame them? Everyone has to work for a living. This shortlived indignation is what the police and politicians count on. And when I say politicians I do not mean that one party is any better than the other or if one party had been in power incidences such as these would stop.

I do not think the solution lies in punishing the culprits, it lies in the crime not happening at all. We come from a very sexually repressed culture. Everyone tries to pretend sex does not exist. Parents fast forward adult content so they do not have to watch with the kids or worse still people watch the content to such an extent they get desensitized to it. They think its ok to ogle at an actress onscreen while she dances to highly suggestive song lyrics.

Bollywood actors tweet how aghast they are about all this but then Kareena dresses in the skimpiest of dresses and proclaims “main hoon tandoori gatkale alcohol se” loosely translated as I am piece of grilled meat to be enjoyed with alcohol. Was any of this relevant to the movie or even the situation? Absolutely not? It was only in the movie to tillitate the viewers. People are quick to respond that movies are not that big an influence nor do movie stars have that much impression and that public is educated enough. The issue is that they are not, the first five rows of the theater is not educated enough to differentiate between reality and cinema. They still throw money at the screen when the hero kills twenty people with his six bullet pistol or when the heroine dances provocatively. And are the educated people really immune? Why else would Coke and Pepsi pay crores to get top actors for their ads and then pay additional crores to get those ads telecast.Why would there be a “this actress” sari or a “that actor” cap or sunglass? People of influence should make it their job to not to be a part of a culture which promotes women as sexual objects instead of human beings.

After the celebrities come another breed of idiots. People in position of influence through religion or politics. They are so busy grabbing their 15 minutes of fame that they say the wierdest of things. I shudder to think that this is what they actually believe. That women are themselves responsible for assaults and rapes and by being subservient this can be prevented. If that were true the uneducated girls in villages or the six year old girl should have been spared.

We as females are expected to know all the rules for not getting raped. Where to walk, who to walk with, what to wear, how to speak, how much to drink, when to leave or better where not to go. We are to not go out with males we are not related to by birth or marriage, behave dormantly, avoid parties, never let our drink out of our sight. We walk to our cars or take public transport with a friend, lock our doors as soon as we get in. We carry pepper spray, cell phones, keys. We take self-defense classes and stay vigilant. Always alert. Is this the legacy we are passing on to the next generation of females, vigilance in the face of a constant threat of body harm being a fact of life as a woman?

Instead why not pass the legacy of respect to males? The legacy of respect to others, of attention to feelings and of decency at all times even if someone is not watching. Why should we as mothers not instill in our sons empathy towards others and ask them to put themselves in that person’s place and and consider how they would feel if their feelings were hurt by the actions of others and why they shouldn’t do hurtful things.

Lets teach them from birth to listen to others and not to push a question when the answer is no. Tell them to stop touching someone the second they say stop. We teach them not to touch fire lest they get burnt in the same vein if I tell all this to my sons today it becomes part of their understanding of the world. If they already know that no means no and stop means stop right now, they will take that knowledge into their interactions with every girl they will meet in the future.

It does not have to be preachy, my four year old has a “hands off” rule at school which basically means you do not touch another kid. I know a lot of adults who would benefit from the rule. Lets open lines of conversations with each other. Instead of protests lets be communicative. Is it wise to drink so much you can’t take care of yourself? Should you attend a party without a friend to look out for you? Is it ok to manipulate someone who doesn’t know better? Are you allowed to touch someone who can’t say yes or no? Should you stand by and do nothing if someone else is doing these things? Or is there action you can take to make it stop? I want my children to know that they have power. They can protect themselves from threats within and without. Moreover, they can protect others. Helping people in distress is a simple action which should come from the heart.

I would rather have the nations headline be that the cricket team lost dismally or that another bandh is coming than go to sleep with the image of a girl brutalized for hours and dying. Something needs to give, something has to change or our coming generations will blame us for not passing the right lessons to them. We owe atleast that much to them.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 8th, 2013 at 4:15 am and is filed under Discovery. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.