Friday, October 26, 2018

#MeToo


The founder of Theatre for Change, Sujatha Balakrishnan, writes a thoughtful share.

Baadhagam seybavarai kandaal naam bayam kollalaagaadhu paappa,
Moadhi midhithhuvidu paappa,
Avar mugathhil umizhndhuvidu paappa! which translates: fear not of anyone who troubles you child, attack and trample them child and on their faces you will spit!

Mahakavi Bharathiyar, the most progressive thinker penned his thoughts on women empowerment more than a century back which is as relevant today. Some of the questions that repeatedly surface within me are: Why is the female sorority a victim of constant brutal attack? Why have we as a society failed in equipping them with the skills needed to safeguard their rights? Is it nature( genes) or nurture(societal conditioning)? My story resonates with these questions.

It was a horrific incident that I experienced twenty years ago while travelling in a night bus to Manipal, where my daughter was pursuing her undergrad in architectute. Until today, guilt haunts me that I let a pervert go scot free. I boarded the bus and was allotted a three seater. To the window seat was a senior lady and a student in the aisle seat. The senior lady dosed off and me the social animal that I am engaged in a conversation with young gir!. During the course of the conversation the girl told me she had very progressive parents and had the liberty to do whatever she wanted. I told her that she was fortunate.

The bus started and we spoke for a while and went to sleep. It must have been around 1.30 pm, when someone violently shook me and I woke up startled. She said” Ma’am, the person behind has been groping my breasts for the past one hour”. I could not react as I was in the sleep mode, but soon understood the gravity of the situation. Here I would say, was it my rational thinking or the mind of a psychologist that came handy. I had the presence of mind not to create a ruckus as it would not help as there wes no WITNESS! He would simply say NO and get away with it. I told the girl” You must be crazy child, I think you’re either imagining or dreaming. Saying this, I signalled to her that I will take care and that she goes to sleep.I was wide awake like an owl with all my eyes focussed on the person behind. In about an hour or so, I saw a hand stretching forward and groping the girl’s breasts again. I was infuriated and stood up, pulled his hand and held it so tightly that he could not take his hand off my clutches. Then I screamed on top of my voice requesting the driver to switch on the lights and stop the vehicle. The vehicle stopped and I saw that the passengers were fast asleep and this aggravated my anger. I shouted again telling the people that a pervert is misbehaving with a girl and they need to resolve this. I was shocked to hear the bystander response! Madam, yaake galaati maadthiri, eno saaysothara kirichtha iddhira? Ayyo, hogi malkolri madam. I went up to the driver’s cabin and told the driver the bus will not move without the creep getting off the bus. The driver was a kind hearted person who told me that he could not throw the person as it was in the middle of the ghat section and more importantly he had purchased a ticket. I thought he was right and composed myself. I told him I wanted to lodge a complaint in the police station for which he agreed. Until then, he said he would have him seated in the driver’s cabin. I was convinced and we went to sleep.

At the next town, he told me that we were nearing the police station and he would stop there. I was feeling relieved and I told the girl she needs to go along with me. The girl who thanked me for helping her out now held my hand and whispered in my ears” Ma’am, let’s leave it at this, I don’t want to lodge a complaint as this may have negative outcomes. But I tried convincing her saying this is why perpetrators get away scot free. But she was insistant and I realised she was not my daughter and that I could not cross my boundary. Nevertheless, it was very disappointing! These thoughts crossed my mind again. Was this the same girl who told me that her parents were liberal and progressive? My definition of progression is to raise your daughters to stand up for their rights and question when this is violated. Unfortunately, most of us think progressiveness is in permitting our daughters to visit a pub, wear modern clothes and attend late night parties. Stereotype gender roles have a considerable influence on our responses. Like charity begins at home, having conversations on stigmatized topics like any other topic, providing girls the freedom to make their life choices along with a systemic institutional change will certainly help in moving forward. Of course, it’s easier said than done.

I would like to rephrase the saying by the brilliant Nigerian writer Achibe. “ Until women have their own historians, the history of VAW will always glorify patriarchy” The stories of those in power is the only narrative heard! Counter stories are so important to be told, heard and counted. “The one story becomes the only story”! Adichie