Wednesday, July 23, 2014

That child in Gaza...

You can see smoke rising from the world around you. From buildings. From roads. From schools. Your playground. From the bodies of your best friends. Best friends who held your hand two weeks ago. Best friends who sang along with you, who laughed along with you.

Your dolls have been left behind in your house as your parents bundled your whole life into a few blankets and forced you to leave your home behind. You don't understand why your strong father seems to look so small and broken these days. Your mother hasn't stopped crying in 10 days. You haven't seen your sister in a while. She is nowhere to be found. Is she playing hide and seek with you? Every time you ask your mother where you sister is, your mother starts weeping all over again.

Nothing seems to make sense anymore. Who are those funny men in funny hats who walk around with plastic guns? They point and shoot at someone and they die. What do they want? Why do they point at people and kill them? What are these noises? These bangs and explosions that follow you through the night? The noises that make your parents huddle together in fear?

You saw the TV the other day. A pretty woman with golden hair was talking to an old man. You didn't understand what they were saying but you pick up one word - war. You turn to your father.

"What is war papa?"

"This is not war. This is murder. They are driving us out of our homes. They are killing us. They are destroying us and they call it war. This is not war."

"But who started it? Did I? Did I do something wrong?"

"You didn't start any war. Long before any of us even lived, old men decided they would fight over land and dust. They decided that people's lives was worth nothing to them. They decided to make weapons to extinguish humanity. Long before you were even born, these men decided that they would kill you."

Your father starts to cry. You hug him. You don't understand what he's trying to tell you.

He suddenly sits up pushing you accidentally to the floor. He tells you to grab your mother. It's time to go, he says. They're coming.

He scoops you up and runs over to your mother. It's time to go, he says. They're here.

The explosions begin again. You see the funny men in funny hats. They are pointing at people.

It's time to go, your father says. They're here.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

I won't blame the government...we rape women

A six year old child gets raped by her teacher in Bangalore. It shouldn't surprise me anymore and it doesn't. I am just heartbroken trying to make sense of humanity. In the meantime, social media gets set on fire. Everyone is calling for justice. Everyone wants the culprits imprisoned. Everyone is blaming the government for letting such crimes go rampant in the country.

I don't. I want to blame the cold, inhuman entity called the government. The entity that doesn't have a human face. It's the government's fault that so many girls are attacked and raped. So simple. I wish I could do that. But I know the government is no more than a bad handler of an animal that has already gone rabid. I can't blame the government for what keeps happening because I genuinely think the government can't do much at this point, except have their representatives spout some nonsense about justice and bringing safety and slink away once the controversy dies (of course it does not help that our political parties are filled with men who believe eating chicken and fish leads to rape).

I however blame myself. I blame my society. I blame the world I live in. I remember during my first semester in college in Chennai, these boys from this particularly disgusting college would board the bus I would travel in (a lot of MOP girls travelled in that bus). Every time a girl would enter, they would sing lewd songs. Every time a girl would move, they would sing lewd songs. They would catcall. They would "eve tease". I complained to the bus conductor, who shrugged and told me to get off the bus if it bothered me so much. Of course being the person that I am, I created a ruckus, fought and called the police too. But the general consensus in that bus was that I was the problem. These were "boys being boys" and I was being difficult.

Since a very young age, I realised how important it was to protect myself. In Calcutta, I was told to hold my mom's hand at all times because during Durga Pooja, men were abducting little girls (of course I was very tiny, so my parents had to hold onto me even tighter). I would see beautiful prostitutes lined outside Kalighat temple and men leering at them. In Chennai, it's considered a "fun game" for men riding bikes to shout at poor girls walking down the street. You squeal  in fear and they would get a kick off it. Sometimes they would hit you as they passed you by. You are filled with absolute humiliation at that moment even though it really isn't your fault at all. Oh and in Chennai, if you ever travelled by bus, then at some point a man would have come from behind, pressed himself against you and pinched your waist really hard. In fact, I was left with a mark that lasted me a month. Painful. And yes. Humiliating.

In Bangalore, I have faced a different sort of problem - the kind female runners face. Of course there is the usual level of catcalling and grazing your thigh when you are sitting in the bus (at this point I have stopped travelling by buses. I earn money and I no longer want to subject myself to disgusting men who get the kick out of touching a strange girl's thighs). But as a runner, I face a whole different problem - men think it's an open invitation to harass anyone who is a woman who dared enough to run in public.

A friend of mine and I ran the Nandi Hills recently. On our way up, every 5th man either blew us a kiss as he went by, or made an inappropriate comment or even tried to take our picture (I went and fought with that man because the last thing I want is my picture to land up in a strange website). We learnt to keep to ourselves, avoid eye contact and keep chugging along. But it was frustrating. I was personally relieved when I reached downhill. It didn't matter that I was strong enough to run up and down a hill, I was a woman, thus I had to be objectified. I wish the incident at Nandi Hills was the only one of its kind but it's not. I have learnt to run in groups just to feel safe again. And if I run alone, then I have a tried and tested route (that I have briefed my parents on) and even then I have faced problems.

All this brings me to the question I posed at the beginning of this rant - do I blame the government? During the now infamous Delhi rape media circus, everyone blamed the Congress. I don't know if they will blame BJP now. But I don't. I blame us. The society. Tamil films nearly glorify that idea of stalking a woman till she finally relents. A film called 7G Rainbow Colony is about how one man molests and stalks and makes a girl uncomfortable until she falls in love with him. How is that normal? Why isn't that girl calling the police? Why do these films glorify the stalker?

And then there are the item numbers. Munni Badnam Hui, darling tere liye. The woman in those movies strictly exists to please the eyes of the men who bites their lips as she sways her hips. The woman is now "commodified".

But I refuse to blame just movies and songs and the media, the blame for what's happening should be shouldered by the entire society. Girls growing up are told to keep themselves safe. They can't wear certain clothes because that "might attract attention". You should be careful, you are told. Don't get too close with boys because boys will be boys, you are told. Be modest. Don't wear makeup. Don't wear short skirts. Don't smile too much in public. Keep yourself guarded. Carry a pepper spray. Make sure you know how to use your keys for protection. Carry a rape whistle. Don't go out alone at night. Don't run at night. Just don't leave the house. Build a fortress and die there. At least you will be safe.

But what are we telling our sons? Are we raising them to believe that men and women are equal? Are we telling them to be careful? To not touch or hoot or catcall a girl when she is out? Do we teach them not to treat women as inhuman pieces of meat that need to be devoured? Do we teach them that women are human beings too?

I don't think even the most sympathetic of men can understand what it's like to be inside a woman's body. The fear that comes from looking like a woman. The fear of moving shadows at night while walking alone down the street. The fear of getting raped not just by strangers but by anyone.

Can the government teach a man that women should not be raped? That women aren't a hunt? What can the government do? No. Unfortunately try as hard as I can, I don't blame the government. I blame us.