On 16th December 2012, the busy roads of National Capital witnessed an atrocious case of sexual assault, verging on international attention and publicity around the issues of stalking, sexual harassment, sexual assault, voyeurism, and rape in our society. We as a society actually got together and initiated a dialogue about the incidents that happen every day to each woman. But, each patriarchy supporter (consciously or sub-consciously) had tried his/her best to put the blame on absurd situations, things, or even the victim herself for the occurrence of such devastating event.
The stigma is not with the harassment that happened. It is with the terminology that we use. It is with being accused of harassing someone. It is about raising the issue at the public platform. Perhaps we think that reporting has made it all worse. Why couldn’t we just not talk about it and let it go? It was just a mere touch, just a little uncomfortable gesture, just a forced penetration. We should have let it go. After all, what are you here for if you can’t even satisfy other person’s needs?
In my entire life till date, I have failed to meet one woman who says she has not faced sexual harassment ever! The incident can be as short as a nasty stare, a bad touch, to the one that happened with Nirbhaya (as generally addressed), we fail to realize the long-term impact associated with such acts. We have subtly accepted as a society that this will continue to happen. We know it from a long time, we know how to stop it, but we want to stay with our cowardice and not even speak about it. There is an unsaid stigma attached to talking about sexual offences and our patriarchal society promotes it even further by diverting the issue around victim blaming.
I must be around 7 or 8 years old, when our group of friends used to play together, and one day we decided to go to the backside of a temple which had swings for children to enjoy. I and one of my female friends were enjoying on a see-saw when suddenly she started laughing aloud and asked me to swap seats claiming it to be amusing the other side. Me being clueless that time shifted the seats with her out of curiosity and guess what I saw? A portion of the temple building was being renovated and one of the laborers was standing at a decent visible distance with his pants unzipped. I was horrified to the core. I got off, held my friend’s hand and ran away from the place, without letting any person know about the incident. It has been around 16 years that I witnessed this incident and I still cannot forget that wicked gross smile on the face of that man who was delighted to enjoy his power of age and gender over us for that moment. He knew we would not take any action against him. He might have repeated the same with other kids as well. Who knows? I was pretty sure the discussion about this incident would only end up restricting both of us not to go outside our homes and enjoy those swings, so we rather decided to stay quiet.
Rape culture perpetuates stigma by trivializing sexual harassment and believing that “men will be men”. We are constantly teaching women to avoid getting harassed or raped, protect themselves, and avoid if it happens. “Yeh to hota rehta hai” Why would anyone speak about it if they know this is going to be the answer. The spinelessness of people around us, the institutions, and the women themselves are constantly encouraging the culture of silence in our society.
We just do not want to accept the stinking persistence of rape culture. The problem of rape culture is not alcohol or clothes or chowmein or mobile phones, the problem of rape culture is rape!
I remember one of my friends, who was 10 years old back then, coming to me in a devastated condition complaining how her cousin brother offered her to experiment sexual activities when no one was at home, but she refused out-rightly and thankfully nothing happened after then. But, did she have any trusted agency to go to except her friend who was as naïve as her own self? She could not inform any of her family members, believing that nothing would happen, except that she would be scolded for being too close a friend with him, or not being in appropriate clothes in front of her joint family members.
We hear incidents of harassment at every place possible- the public trains, buses, busiest streets, secluded places and what not! We hear women wearing burkas getting raped as well. We hear girls as young as 6 days old getting harassed as well, a filthy rich woman getting abused at her own home or a woman getting harassed at her workplace. So, at what premises are we trying to feel comfortable on?
Suggesting that women “invite” sexual offenders with their clothes and conduct, encourages stigma attached in talking about sexual harassment incidents even more. We are a part of a patriarchal society which drives itself on the wheels of misogyny and addressing such issues is a task in itself. The stigma attached in talking about harassments, molestations, assaults, and rapes has made it troublesome for women to come forward and talk about it. Even if some hold nerve to report the case, they are in turn ridiculed for being at fault themselves or are invited with irrelevant questions which in turn harassing them to another level. Women are not even able to open to their trusted agencies, because they are conditioned to believe that they would be at fault anyhow in the occurrence of the incident. Otherwise, why would it happen to them? Thus, instead of reporting such cases assuredly, women tend to turn submissive and passive about such issues- especially when they are not headstrong like my friend who was just a 10 year old kid with no awareness and support around the issue. Sadly, we tend to accept the defeat and hold the stigma for as long as we can (it can be FOREVER)
Think about males who are harassed. They literally have no place to go. Because we as a society believe that harassments, assaults, and rapes happen only to women and such incidents happening to men is a taboo in its own. The male survivor has another embarrassing baggage to carry, because he is a MAN, how could he just not get out of the situation with his default gender power?
We have sub-consciously laid down rules and regulations which specify who would harass whom? Who should not break the silence? Who can easily wash off hands out of the situation? And who would be blamed if any such incident occurs?
How about a society where we opt out putting disgrace over the survivor of sexual harassment rather than insisting him/her to stay silent? How about de-stigmatizing survivors and stigmatizing the offenders/perpetrators instead? We could build up an environment for survivors to come forward and talk about their incidents without fear of judgment, shame or embarrassment and this world would be such a better place to live!