In Focus 22nd August, 2016

Seeking consent.

As children, very often we are told to go hug someone or give someone a kiss. Very often, you have people pulling your cheeks. A lot of this happens even if you don’t want it to happen to you. There is a certain harmlessness which is attached to certain acts. The concept of personal space and consent are alien or rather considered to be a joy kill. Also, how can a child decide for himself/ herself? A child is considered to have no voice of his/her own. Yes, legally a child is dependent on a parent or a guardian but does than mean a child has no right to assert himself/herself?

It is essential to go back to childhood and trace these instances because these eventually shape our ideas of consent. Remember the time when someone smacked your head because it was a ‘fun’ thing to do? Remember the time when you were forced to take a particular subject in school by your parents? Remember the time when you pulled someone’s hair because you thought you were just playing around? Remember the time you spread rumors about a girl/boy you were dating who wanted to take it slow sexually?

All of us overstep sometimes. Even the ones who swear by the idea of consent. A lot of it has to do with the ideas and notions we grew up around. A childhood of learning which is not so easy to unlearn. Forcing someone to eat more even if the person doesn’t want to. Making someone drink even if the person doesn’t want to. We have all been there. And, we have all done that. You may call it being a ‘good’ host or whatever but if we think a little more about it, all of it stems from a sense of entitlement over the other person.

Nobody is advocating a world where everyone shares a detached equation. But a world, where notions of a person’s space, boundaries, consent are the ‘norm’, could be nice and warm and fun too. Afterall, fun is subjective. My fun may not be your fun. Your fun may not be mine. All so complicated and morbid? Well, it’s quite simple actually. What complicates is when we assume, take something/someone for granted or think we know it all.

We are no strangers to all those movies and tv shows where pestering/stalking/harassing a woman who does not reciprocate your attention was ‘love’. ‘Woh mujhse pyaar karti hai, par dikhati nahi’ (She loves me but just doesn’t show it), ‘Mujhe pata hai ki uski na mein hi haan hai’ (I know that she means yes when she says no), ‘She is just acting hard to get.’ All these notions propagated through songs, films, tv shows, advertisements etc. have normalised this form of violence and are the culprits behind several misplaced notions of consent.

A young child is seen as incapable of giving consent. A woman’s consent is seen as something that doesn’t matter. Marriage is viewed as a lifelong promise for sex (amongst a lot of other things) whenever wherever. Afterall, a woman is considered a man’s property within the institution of marriage.While the lack of consent is often not identified as a problem, there are several consensual relationships which are stigmatized. It’s a maze of hypocrisy that we seem to be lost in.

The idea of consent is radical. It gives a person autonomy. When a woman says she does not want to have sex with her partner, she is taking control of her body and sexuality. It acknowledges that a person has a voice. It marks equations as egalitarian relationships. A lot of us don’t know how to say no. It can be liberating to know that you have the power over you and nobody else.

Ask if the other person is comfortable with something. Don’t just ask once. Keep checking in with the person. Let the person know that his/her say matters and that they have the space to take a call. To assume, to take for granted, to be ignorant are mistakes we can’t afford to make. My freedom to live my life in a certain way depends on you to let me do so. We are all the guardians of all our freedoms. We chose a to exist like this. Together. In a society. Then why not just do it the right way? We agree that there is no one right way and that it can be contested, but one thing that we are certain of is that; the right way is definitely not non-consensual.


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