Lessons from a Harassment
I am angry.
I am angry at every unsolicited dick pic ever sent, every lascivious comment ever made, every inappropriate glance ever cast. And while this anger is largely a constant, today there is an immediacy to it that is only ever triggered when it hits a little too close to home.
The trigger is an incident that I am not going to narrate here. Because it is an incident like a score of others that regularly appear on my FB timeline. The kind that often involves a man you trust and who turns out to be a despicable creep, just because he thinks he can. I am tempted to say you know how it goes. And that perhaps is the most heartbreaking indication of the times we live in.
Back in law school, we wrote several research papers and thought pieces as a part of our curriculum, analyzing and critiquing our legal and social systems. The defining feature of most of these pieces was a concluding paragraph/chapter that listed out the probable solutions to a given problem. As you can guess, most of these ‘solutions’ were broad based, long term, idealistic suggestions that we knew were either impossible to implement or would take an incredibly long time to take effect. It didn’t stop us from making them the focal point of our papers. Because they sounded fancy, created an illusion that the whole 107 pages we had copy pasted from about seven different JSTOR articles had a point and most importantly, they fetched us grades.
Life unfortunately is not a law school term paper. And yet, everyone seems to be fixated on solutions that sound good but are largely untenable as an immediate goal. Sidin Vadukut, the man who makes more sense than the entire social media (and often half the intelligentsia) put together, had recently termed this tendency of ours as ‘solutionism’. We need solutions…and in this post Arnab India, think that screaming about them is the best way to go about it.
Solutions offered to ‘solve’ the menace of harassment, sexual and otherwise, are obvious. Change mindsets. Strengthen the legal system. You know the drill. Do it.
Except you can’t. Gender violence is a deeply rooted truth of our societies. Not just the Indian society. But the society in the general. Even in the most developed parts of the World, it took women hundreds of years to secure a right as basic as voting. I am not even going to mention the inequities that form the brick and mortar of our own Indian social structure except to urge you to turn your television on and watch the soap operas that the majority in our country loves to watch. And that is not even the tip of the iceberg.
As for the legal system, more specifically a police system that is dominated by men who obviously are a product of the aforementioned mindset and are liable to ‘advice’ women to dress appropriately if they want to be safe — if you really think it is going to be ‘strengthened’ overnight, you need to tell us what you have been smoking.
None of this means that a large scale gender sensitization is not essential. Or should be completely given up on. Gender sensitization, awareness, education and a better legal system with quick redressal mechanisms is obviously a must. But it is not an immediate solution. Not even a near future one. Things have changed for the better in the past couple of hundred years. And if we are fortunate and if the humanity continues to value its existence, they will continue to change for the next hundred years. But it is going to be slow, long and excruciating.
The individual who triggered this post was a supposed friend — a man who was given access to our personal spaces based on trust. He betrayed it. More than one woman’s collective instinct failed to identify his true nature. And I keep wondering, how did we miss the signs?
A single incident has eroded what was one of the best experiences of our life. Not just for me…but for everyone involved, gender notwithstanding. And all because one man couldn’t keep it in his pants. In this case, literally.
The damage here is multilayered. But the one that bothers me the most is in the sense of how it has rained a severe blow on our faith in people. Going forward, how are we going to trust anyone when it is so easy to be waylaid? Does this mean we spend our lives looking over our shoulder, weary of everyone we interact with?
The answer is yes. And no.
Yes, we do live in the awareness of the fact that it is this easy to be harassed, violated, betrayed, victimized.
Yes, we do fear for our safety; take precautions that we should not need to, but have to. And still know that they may not be enough.
But no, we do not let that fear take over our lives. No, we do not deal with it in the sense the society expects us to. We do not suffer in silence. We do not cower in shadows.
But much more importantly, we do not get bitter. We do not stop believing in the good that exists around us, however rare. We do not stop investing in people; in relationships.
We do not stop living.
We need to fight for our rights, stand up against the wrongs and reclaim what is rightfully ours. We also need to remember that the battle ahead is long and hard; victories few and far between; setbacks numerous and vicious. The only way to outlast the battle and its scars is by remembering who we are doing it for.
We need to remember that irrespective of the degree of adversity, we owe it to ourselves to be happy and fulfilled individuals, capable of standing up against and coping with the greatest of the odds. It is also perhaps one of the biggest victories that we can score over patriarchy and every agent of misogyny, which at its very core, seeks to deny us of this very right. The right to exist and not just survive.
Incidents such as the one that is the trigger of this piece attack the essence of all human existence, our existence — our connections; the encompassing idea of love, compassion and basic humanity. We cannot let the misogynistic forces take this away from us. Terrifying as our lived realities are, we cannot give up on people. And maybe, we will find the ones who will not give up on us. Rare, but still there. After all, in the aftermath of the aforementioned incident, there were people, men and women, who recognized the harassment as such, offering their unwavering support and never flinching from doing the right thing.
And before this gets misconstrued — no, we do not need men. For anything. But we are human beings — we need other human beings — connections, friendships, relationships — things that lend our existence meaning. And make us happy.
Finding a silver lining is infuriatingly difficult. And often unfair, given the prevalent state of affairs. But we must all strive for it. It might just be a sliver of hope. The only one we have. And we need it. Because if it is not there, what the hell are we fighting for?