A country of silent Goddesses

Updated: Dec 21, 2019, 09:26 IST | Lindsay Pereira | Mumbai

It's astonishing how hollow India's claims of respecting women are when confronted by the relentless horror on our streets

Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) members stage a protest against the rape and murder of the Hyderabad veterinarian. File pic
Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party (Lohia) members stage a protest against the rape and murder of the Hyderabad veterinarian. File pic

Lindsay PereiraIndian men have a problem. This isn't something that hasn't been said before, but things somehow feel as if they are starting to get out of hand. As an Indian man myself, I first noticed this decades ago when I had the temerity to grow a ponytail. Long hair introduced me to what life on the streets of Bombay was like for women, and catcalls were the least of my worries for all those years until I decided to get a haircut.

Earlier this month, a 24-year-old woman chased a molester on a train and handed him over to the police. When she spoke to the media about the incident, she pointed out that not a single commuter had come forward to help her. Unsurprisingly, the cops were reluctant to file an FIR too. She was a victim, but they reacted by issuing warnings about potential legal hurdles instead.

I can't imagine that report eliciting any surprise from the women I know. We scream about respect from the rooftops, worship thousands of Goddesses, talk to anyone who will listen about how ours is a culture where female power is a life-giving force, and then betray women by our behaviour on a daily basis.

A few years ago, when the world recoiled in horror at the incident of a gang-rape in Delhi, there were protests that lasted days. 'Never Again,' the placards screamed; never will we allow an atrocity like this to occur again. The anger lasted mere weeks before the next shocking incident took place. What happened to the young woman in Hyderabad a few weeks ago triggered an outpouring of responses from women across India, but nothing has changed, and we know it.

We spend too much time on the aftermath of incidents like these and almost no time evaluating why so many men find it so easy to treat women like commodities. We do not examine the texts that guide and shape our behaviour, the roles played by families across rural and urban India in shaping how young men are taught to treat women. We ignore the blatant misogyny that passes for mass entertainment in the world's biggest film industry, dance when item numbers are played at clubs and vote alleged rapists into power. We ignore the systems and processes that have been put in place to make sure women are stifled at every turn then wonder why a young woman calls her sister instead of the police.

Every one of us has the option of calling out misogyny on a daily basis: The casual use of cuss words that demean women; the slut-shaming that older relatives regularly subject younger women to; the obsessive need to control what women can wear, who they can hold hands with, who they must sleep with, and whom they should marry; the lechery that accompanies any public festival, where men are given a license to behave badly because that is now a tradition; the group chats on WhatsApp that encourage lewd and insulting posts to go viral; the threats of rape towards women on social media platforms that are made boldly and regularly without fear of consequence — our reluctance or inability to call out any of these things makes us complicit.

One of the things we should all do, every once in a while, is take a look at statistics on crimes against Indian women. These are just reported figures, which makes the unreported acts so much more outrageous. We need to take these statistics seriously because they are a slap in all our faces, and because we have mothers, sisters, daughters and friends among us who must bear the brunt of our silence.

When the young woman who caught her molester on the train held him by the collar, she said a passenger requested her to take it easy because the accused could be in pain. We live in a country where empathy has been replaced by callousness of the sort that makes comments like these normal. When a report was eventually filed, it was only because the woman happened to be a lawyer. Another woman in her place would have to simply let the man go and live with the trauma that comes when one is made to feel like a non-entity. No one helped that young woman because none of the men in that compartment or on the platform cared. Indian men have a problem, and it's not going to go away until we first start acknowledging that it exists.

When he isn't ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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