Saturday, 6 February 2016

I'M A MAN (?)

I’M A MAN (?)

She was travelling in a car with friends. A mob stopped the car. She and her friends were dragged out and beaten. Her top was torn off and she was paraded topless. She sobbed and pleaded. Bystanders stood watching, doing nothing to stop the men. She tried to board a local bus. Passengers of the bus pushed her off. Finally, someone with a bit of humanity still left inside him took off his shirt and covered the girl up.

No – this did not happen in badlands of UP. No – the men who ripped off the girl’s top were not part of gangs of Wasseypur. And no – it wasn’t my daughter ... or yours. Thank God.

It happened in a city that boasts of its “cosmopolitan” culture and “obvious influence” of ex-pat community of highly educated IT professionals. This happened in a city which is far luckier than scores of other cities of India – a city on international travel lists. A progressive, modern city of India. A city where a woman should feel safe in public space.

I hope it makes us all reflect and shudder at what awaits a woman in those countless cities and towns and villages tucked away in the heart of darkness.

(Not a photo of the episode referred in this blog but equally disturbing image)

A mob is a violent, mindless creature. I understand that. It is born of conjugation of individual angry minds and that collective progeny is a monster that would be unrecognisable by the very individuals whose minds created it. I understand that. The girl’s shirt was ripped off in anger. I understand that.

Or do I?

When I feel angry at an incident, I may want to throw a stone at a passing bus which knocked down a local boy. But I won’t do that because I am alone. However, if there are 50 other men standing with me, feeling the same anger, I might be the first to pick up and throw the stone.

But if I knew that my father or mother or anyone dear to me was travelling in that bus, I would never throw that stone – no matter how angry I felt about the bus knocking down a pedestrian. I would also try to stop others from doing so.

So what happened in the incident we all read about?

Some man would have reached out for the girl. I am trying to think what I would have felt in her place as another man grabbed my waist, or hand or other body parts. Yet another inserted his fingers inside my top. His hands would have touched my skin, clawed my flesh. And then he would have pulled hard enough for the fabric to tear. I would be whimpering, trying to fight back but would have been overpowered. I would have called out for help – and seen inscrutable faces looking back at my humiliation.

And when my top tore open did it make the men smile? Did I see the gleam of voyeuristic possibilities in their eyes? And then when the torn fabric was thrown away, and my breasts exposed to public view, I would have felt shame, rage, helplessness. I would have rued being a woman. I would have uncontrollable tears streaming down my cheeks. Maybe I would have heard a grunt...a snigger from the men. Maybe a paw would have scraped against my exposed skin. I would have tried to cover my breasts with my hands. Maybe someone kept pulling them away. I would have heard the deathly silence of the bystanders. I would have run to a passing bus hoping to find refuge there. I would’ve seen some women in the bus too.

But when I was pushed away and thrown out of the bus – what hopelessness would I have felt? In that moment, would I have felt pride in being a woman?

Which man does not understand that ripping away a woman’s top is not the same thing as ripping away a man’s shirt? That pushing around a topless woman in public view is not the same as doing that to a man? Which man would stand and watch his mother, sister, daughter, wife or female friend being subjected to that? And yet, the men in that mob did it to a woman.

As a man I feel ashamed. Has thousands of years of civilisation, “sanskriti” and “sanskara” left me with this?

What tortured minds of fathers and mothers would have raised those men who could strip a woman in public because they were angry at someone else? What relatives, neighbours and friends would have socialised with those men who could slap around and parade a half naked woman in public view? What teachers and mentors would have taught those men and women in the bus who looked at a hapless, denuded woman crying for help and brutally threw her off the bus – refusing to grant her shelter? What God of those men stood by and let them do what they did?

What did our National Poet mean when he wrote:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high 

Where knowledge is free 

Where the world has not been broken up into fragments 

By narrow domestic walls 

Where words come out from the depth of truth 

Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection 

Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way 

Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit 

Where the mind is led forward by thee 

Into ever-widening thought and action 

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake 

When will my niece...your daughter, sister or niece feel safe in our country?

Even the much maligned Manusmriti says at one place:

यत्र नार्यस् तु पूज्यन्ते रमन्ते तत्र देवताः।
यत्र एतास् तु पूज्यन्ते सर्वास् तत्र अफलाः क्रियाः

Which when translated means:

"Wherever women are given their due respect, even the deities like to reside, and where they are not respected, all action remains unfruitful."

When will we be able to teach our sons that? When will men become men?

That’s a thorn in my side.

1 comment:

  1. Well we have seen this happening right through the ages of Ramayana, Mahabharat. Women have forcefully submitted to men in one form or the other. Irony being we never learnt to mend our ways. We talk about gospels, vedas and theories from Bhagvad Gita but have we succeeded in persuading people around us with what we have learnt? I clearly see a void in the society of not demonstrating wisdom of rights and women hood. In fact look where we all are heading, today we men pay restaurant owners and night clubs to ogle at women wearing tight T-shirts or seeing them dance naked. Majority of us spend hours over the internet to find and enjoy so called sexism and pornography. The modesty of women is not only challenged across streets of UP or in the backyards of Delhi but more often on social platforms over the internet. Look at what people write about women and their photographs over facebook and youtube. No matter where we MEN exploit and oppress WOMEN , according to me the only way we can see a change is through improving morale policing within us and across the society to inject the manusmriti amongst the generations to come.


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