Tuesday, January 07, 2014

We all matter

By now, most Indians, especially women, have seen Anurag Kashyap's 'That Day After Everyday'-a short film that explores the deep seated notions of a highly misogynistic India where subordination and exploitation of women in various shapes and forms is a norm. It also propagates an 'empowering' notion of dealing with miscreants- physical empowerment of women- a notion that, as seen in the movie, works like a charm and women are no longer harassed. The world of Facebook has liked and shared this video over a million times and I am certain the egalitarian conscience of the film maker and many such 'intellectuals' around the country has been well fed. To be honest, I too initially had liked the video and am sure if I go back a few months on my Facebook page, one will see that I too had shared this 'awesome' clip. So, why this sudden change of heart?

It seems that the dichotomy between progress and degeneration, by falling back on age old customs and adhering strongly to them, in my dear home country of India is increasing by leaps and bounds and there is a highly disturbing ongoing race for the bottom. On one hand the Indian streets have been taken over by fancy cars like the Audi, BMW but the irony is that they continue to run on the same gravely and pot holed roads. The existing infrastructure is crumbling all around but at the same time there is no dearth of new shiny glass buildings. And while the world is focusing on eradicating all forms of gender inequality, it seems we, the 'protectors' and 'torch bearers' of 'culture and tradition' are somehow doing the opposite in the name of progress. The irony is no longer funny.

Incidents of harassment ranging from verbal to rape are rampant in our country, be it in remote areas where honor killings are still prevalent or be it in the fast paced glittery metropolis. Some get attention in the media due to the severity of barbaric acts while most are forgotten after a 'suitable' period of time. In a country of corrupt politicians, money laundering industrialists and greedy upper middle class the poor and middle class have no where to run or hide. They are exposed to indiscrimination, assault, ridicule on a daily basis and in a society where it is generally the victim's fault for her/his condition, the vulnerability of girls and women cannot even be described.

Coming back to that short film I had started with. It failed at so many levels. While physical power does give girls and women some edge when confronted with incidents like the ones depicted in the film, it most certainly does not provide any solution to their problems and most certainly will not lead to 'that day after everyday'. What about the 12 year old girl who by her sheer age and height will not be able to punch or kick her attackers? What about those women for whom it is not possible to engage in a physical confrontation for a hundred reasons? Does the film then not exclude such women? The issues that the film maker portray are those of safety, security and the general vulnerability of women but is that where these unspeakable acts that freeze our blood, arise from? The naivety of the solution proposed by the film maker and many similar people, who from their cushion-y seats seem to have solutions for all that affects the lesser mortals and of which they have absolutely zero understanding, is sad.

[ This piece of writing has summed up the problem quite nicely:  LINK ]

Many of my feminist friends will speak out against this view of mine and I could care less about that! I am not saying women don't need to be physically empowered (though I strongly object to the use of the term 'empowered' in such a loose manner). Women certainly do need to have some physical training for reasons more than just protecting themselves against possible future miscreants. The society needs to realize that as long as the men and the boys acting in the lewd manner that they do, do not stop and think, this endemic will never end. NEVER. Empower boys and the men. Empower the force that is their to protect people-the police. Empower the law that can be twisted in so many ways by the unscrupulous lawyer and the billionaire mill owner. Empower and enlighten everyone. In a country teeming with more than a billion people where day to day living is an issue for millions, where indifference has reached dangerous proportions, these ideas of empowerment are probably a lot easier to think about than actual implementation. Where to start, how to start and who to start with are the basic questions that will perplex the mind that will aim to set things in motion. And I agree a thousand percent. And the question 'kuch hoga kya' (will there be any effect?) will be lurking in everyones mind.

But I say, let's not doubt. Let's try to shed our inhibitions and make an honest effort. It is true and tragic that we will not see the positive results that our efforts might one day have and may be the day when India will be safe and not safer for women and girls is way too far in the future. But since we will not be able to experience that ourselves does it mean that we should not try to take steps towards leaving a better society for the future generations to come? Are we that apathetic? I would like to believe not.

Let physical training be a part of the solution and let those that have the power and scope to engage the mass through what they write, direct, say, do think a little deeply about what they are indulging in. I am all for women's empowerment but in my opinion, that cannot come without involving the boys and men. In a lawless country like India, where you can buy your way out of everything, it will be a behemoth task to make the society safe for women. And the onus cannot be only on the politicians and the law makers. We all know the choices that we have in those areas. The hope and wish is that every individual realizes it is his/her duty to do something. And may be fifty years from now, the streets and pubs of India will be safe for women- where moral police will not beat a girl because she was sitting on a park bench with her boyfriend, where being poor will not expose her to being an easy victim and where the society will act as if it is 'our' problem and not 'her or theirs'.

What should be done and how should it be done is not for me to say. And as I have said earlier I understand the enormity of the task and unfortunately I have no solution for that. But I at the same time I refuse to believe that the average Indian citizen does not have any role to play or cannot play any role. What that role might be is entirely up to that concerned individual. The time to pause and think has long gone as has the time to act. So, since we are already running behind by decades, let's not waste one more day by thinking shall we do something. It might take a fifty or a hundred years and skeptical will also argue if there ever will be a safe India. I would like to believe there will be and work toward that in whatever way I can. I believe we all can. I do not want to not try. As Helen Keller said- “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”