Reactions to #metoo in India and my response

Source: buzzfeed India

The Me Too movement has reached India a little over a year after it took Hollywood by storm. What has been an eye opener to me is to see the varied reactions it generated. They bring a gamut of emotions from frustration, to anger and disbelief. So I want to address some negative reactions I have been reading:

– Why did the women just react if it happened years ago?

It is extremely hard to talk about these topics, people make light of molestation or second guess whether you are over reading the situation. The victim goes through periods of shame, self doubt before finally revealing such issues. And in some cases, when you can finally speak about it, you are doing it because you don’t want any other woman to go through what you did. The point is the victim often carries scars of these incidents for years, so why shouldn’t she talk about it?

– She put herself in the position by <insert reason>

This just makes my blood boil because men are expected to be animals and women have the long list of don’ts so they don’t invite bad behaviour- don’t be outside alone in the evening, don’t wear short skirts or anything that invites attention, don’t smile, the list goes on and on. No matter what you wear, how you look, or where you are- you can never relax. There are predators everywhere you turn. And this something we just have to accept. If the consequences to harassment were severe and swift, this wouldn’t be true. But we all make excuses for the perpetrator and find a way to blame the victim.

– This happens to everyone, why make it a big deal?

That’s a travesty, that we accept harassment as a reality; starting from public transport or crowded areas to work place or in many cases with family/ friends or neighbours. The fact that we are finally acknowledging this is not ok is a first step.

– Only film industry has this issue

The me too movement originated with the entertainment industry but let’s not forget it is also because they have a wide platform. By bringing up this topic, they are raising this for women everywhere. We all can start fighting back in our own worlds.

– There are so many false claims so i don’t believe.

If someone told you there was a 95% chance a vaccine or medicine works, would you believe it works? Especially if it really affects you. It’s the same here- 95% of cases are true but we shouldn’t focus on the 5% false cases and assume everyone is lying. It is a far reaching issue- more than 50% of women have faced harassment of some form.

This is the first step in a long journey but I am so glad India is finally having the conversation. Don’t trivialise such a serious issue with jokes about witch hunt and men being the true victims.

The world I imagine for my daughter..

As I count the days to the arrival of my little princess, I have been thinking about the world I want her to come to.  The world for me was a lot better than me previous generation, but there is still sexism, women’s safety is a concern,  and women still have to battle for being treated equally.

5 dreams for my daughter are:

  • Safety for women is a right:

This needs to explanation: we live in a world where 20 schoolgirls were taken from Nigeria 2 years ago and there is no sign of them, university campuses in US have episodes of rape,and gang rape cases happen even today in India. We grow up with a sharp sense of fear, walking fast and being wary about strangers. It is a women’s job to constantly be alert and can never really relax. I hope the world is a nicer place where she doesn’t need to be on guard and enjoy the world for being what it is.

  • Sky is the limit for my girl:

“This job may not be right from a woman, it has long hours” or “it might be hard to do this job when you have a family”… how often have we heard things like this? If a man with a family can do it, there is no reason why a woman with a family cannot. We are breaking the glass ceiling, but it isn’t equal opportunity for everyone. It should be a given for all women to have any role they dream of, sky is the limit!

  • The term “like a girl” is a powerful statement, not an insult:

The Always “Like a Girl” commercial got me thinking, we use these statements all the time. But now when I hear someone say like a girl in a derogatory way, it will make me cringe. I want my daughter to never feel self conscious about being a girl, she can run like a girl and fight like a girl, but that is a because she is a girl, and there is nothing to be ashamed about!

  • No pressure on appearance:

A hot topic that has been written about a lot lately is the pressure on appearance. The airbrushed magazine covers set unrealistic standards for beauty and young readers get under pressure about their appearance, raising the ugly head of eating disorders, unnecessary plastic surgery, and self esteem issues. In a recent interview, Jennifer Lawrence (of all people!) mentioned she felt like the fattest one- something that baffles me. It is crucial to make all body shapes acceptable, as long as someone is happy and healthy!

  • Women for women:

This is something I often wonder about: when I got married, I decided to move to New York  to join my husband, I quit my job and I had not figured out my options. I had to face judgment from friends/family- strong career women who felt it was weak to follow a man around the world. When I speak to working moms, they mention how hard it is to juggle work and home and the often unreasonable work pressures. I used to believe women in senior positions would mean a more inclusive culture. But I have observed that often women in management roles have a uni-dimensional view of how to manage work life balance: the perspective is driven entirely on how they handled it. If they had full time nannies, they don’t get the pressure of leaving at 5pm to pick up from day care or take over from the day nanny. Don’t you think it is time we stand on each other’s corner? We should support any career choice or child care choices-we have so many battles everyday,  we don’t need to defend ourselves with other woman…


The world is your oyster and I hope nothing holds you back! ❤

Why to watch India’s Daughter

india's daughter

Last week one of the big issues that hit headlines was the BBC documentary by Leslee Udwin “India’s Daughter”- covering the rape case of Nirbhaya (means fearless- the name used during the case to protect the victim’s name) in December 2012. A 23 year old medical student was mercilessly gang raped and later died due to her injuries. Her story caught national headlines and led to widespread protests. The documentary “India’s Daughter” covering the rape created headlines, with Indian government banning it. There were some questions on whether legal channels were used to interview the rapists in jail.

I watched the documentary, and I wanted to share my views. Firstly, I have to admit it was hard to watch, and leaves you shaken and upset.

A lot of the furore was directed at the fact that the documentary was taken by BBC, a British media house, and the intention was to paint India in bad light. In my view, there is nothing anti-India in the documentary. There are multiple documentaries on social issues in every country to raise awareness, and this shouldn’t mean the intention was to paint India as a land of rapists. It is important for us as a country to take a look at our problems, and discuss how to solve them. I have seen articles quoting rape statistics around the world. The point though is the root cause in each case is different. We need to see the problems and watching it through someone else’s lens is still a necessary reality check.The documentary isn’t offering us a solution (that might be perceived as condescending) but just showing everyone’s story during that fateful night. By ignoring documentaries like this, we are trying to convince ourselves that these aren’t serious social issues that need to be solved.

Hearing the rapist was chilling at best- there was no shame or repentance- only indignation- he felt he was teaching the girl a lesson for being out late at night. His other points included saying his brother has done it many times, and usually the girls never tell anyone so they can get away with it. On the discussion for death penalty for rapists, he felt it would make it more dangerous for women, since next time guys would just kill the girl- that comment drove me positively mad. It begs the question-the interview suggests nothing will change after their time in prison so can we really have lax legal framework for such grave offenses? The jail psychologist blamed their upbringing, but I don’t buy it- that isn’t the only reason and we really need to dig deep to understand more about such offenses.

The views of the lawyers sound appalling (“Our culture is the best. In our culture there is no place for a woman”- that being the mildest of the views shared, the rest I really don’t want to write here). These views are a random view of one individual- time and again, during the protests, we heard everyone from politicians to religious pundits blame women for going out at night, wearing clothes that attract attention, and suggest women just take it. We need to hear this in a broader forum- it will trigger a wider discussion on how women are brought up- in the documentary, Sheila Dikshit pointed out that often boys see their sister get less milk, or are raised under different rules. Boys that grow up seeing their father not respect their mother will never grow to respecting women later in life- exposure to violence and abuse at home is lethal in shaping the young boy’s minds. If you don’t start with respecting women at home, it is a hard trait to pick up later.

I don’t think the documentary was pushing one view or another- there are questions on why the rapists’ views were broadcasted- but it was important to show that there are some savages that show no remorse so believing in their humanity and being lenient is a mistake. I think the documentary told everyone’s story without taking sides- they showed more about the victim including a clearer picture on her hopes and aspirations. The parent’s story tugged my heart strings- they went against their patriarchal family, and chose to invest in their daughter- their strength is a remarkable size.

Some things I didn’t like was the documentary was a tad dramatic in footage at times for viewership. Another problem is the perception that rape is a result of poor uneducated men- it is a simplistic generalization that I am not sure is accurate.

At the end of the day, this documentary is a harsh look at the story of Nirbhaya that brought the country together- we shouldn’t let Nirbhaya’s bravery go in vain- it is our moment to ensure that we build a safer India for women.

Women Safety in India- My Story

I wanted to change tones today and talk about an issue that is close to my heart- women’s rights. There have been a slew of rape cases in India, and the reaction to blame the victim has my blood boiling. Women are always held to blame for being in the wrong neighborhood, having a drink, or going out without a male escort. In a country where women are routinely molested in trains and buses, have to face catcalls while walking down the street, and have to constantly face leering men in every corner, somehow we are still held responsible.

It isn’t even the outside world that is dangerous, there is an alarming number of assaults that women have to face in their homes- in the hands of uncles, cousins, and family friends. And these cases go unreported, the only trace is the impact it has on the victims. The reason this issue is so dear to my heart is I myself am a victim. I want to put my story outside to get some awareness on the issue, and share the lessons I have learnt through my experience.

I was a happy go lucky child- we had tons of cousins who were a part of our childhood. I was warm with everyone, and treated everyone as my own family. We all kids would sleep in a room, and there were some mornings where I would wake up and I felt my clothes were tampered. I didn’t realize it until I was 12 years old, I woke up and noticed that there was someone touching me. I tried pushing him away, but no matter what I did, I couldn’t get away. The next morning I was confused- this cousin was a genius, talented musician, favorite of everyone because he was polite and helpful. I was convinced this was all a mistake, a family favorite cannot make such mistakes. But the next weekend, when we all got together, he tried it again. After trying hard to fight, I ran to the bathroom and stayed there all night. I was humiliated, I cried all night- did I do anything to deserve this behavior? Am I sending some sort of signal? After a lot of soul searching, I told my cousin sister. She spoke to my parents, who were in shock. But we never spoke about it. I felt that maybe somewhere I was responsible- maybe my friendly nature was misconstrued. It left me with scars- I couldn’t sleep well at night for years, I always second guessed my behavior, it shook my confidence. After 8 years, I finally spoke to my parents- they helped me accept that I didn’t cause this, that I should stop blaming myself.

I am bringing this up because I feel as a society, we should take up these issue seriously. Every friend I have spoken to has faced similar issues and has never been able to talk about it. Some of them had long term impacts in their relationships because of the trauma. They have also gone through feelings of self blame and loss of confidence.

From my experience there are a few things address:

  • Every child should be aware of the improper touch, and should feel safe in sharing about this with family, teachers
  • Touching a child is the lowest crime- no family should tolerate such people, they need to be punished
  • There is a systemic issue in which men perceive the opposite sex- why is OK to take advantage of girls and women?
  • Men should be raised with respect for women, if they interact with classmates and sisters as equals they will stop viewing women as objects
  • There needs to be strict punishments for rapists and assaulters
  • In no way can a woman be held responsible- so what if she goes out late or has a drink? It is a society’s responsibility that every woman feel safe

It makes me sad to see the number of cases that come in the paper each day, and the hundreds of cases that go unreported. It is a travesty that the land where we worship Durga as the destroyer of evil does not protect its women. Let us all remove the shame, and have a honest discussion about this, so we can all build a safer India for women!

Nirbhaya- catalyst for change?

Towards the end of 2012, one of the most disturbing stories that came out of India and became the biggest global story is the news of the gang rape of an Indian girl (she was coined the name Nirbhaya or fearless for her strength and courage) on a bus. The details of the rape were so brutal that it gave me nightmares for days. What followed was an uproar- women, men all over India were on the streets protesting justice. Anyone and everyone said their piece, and now that the dust has settled I wanted pen my thoughts.

  • Firstly, a lot of articles claimed India has an epidemic of attacks against women- that there is something fundamentally wrong with the country. But I believe rape isn’t just an India problem- it happens everywhere. This post here explains that view better than I ever could. Link: Rape is not just India’s problem. I do recognize that statistics cannot be taken at face value because something like 65% of all rapes and assaults are not reported. But as an Indian, accusations of a mindset issue with Indian men riles me up- there is more to the story than a simple statement like “Indian society is messed up”.
  • But I do admit that you do feel more unsafe and unsettled walking in India than anywhere else. In one talk show I watched right after the incident, the host asked the crowd how many women were assaulted or molested in a public bus and almost everyone in the audience had their hand up. Everywhere women go, they are inundated with cat calls, vulgar songs from Bollywood movies, and obscene gestures. In crowded public places, women have to have their guards up against mean groping and pushing up against you. Most Indian women have a defense mechanisms- from walking fast, to avoiding eye contact, to using handbags and umbrellas as weapons. But the question then is ” can’t a society protect a woman in a public place?”. Isn’t the first step of a civilized society is safety of a woman in public?
  • I guess the next question is to say why do the Indian men act so reprehensibly in public? I can only hypothesize but my theory is women and men are raised very differently in some parts of India. Boys will eventually take care of the parents while girls are married away to another family, so there is preferential treatment to their eventual protector. They get more of a share with everything from the food, to the clothes they get, everything is different. I have seen it in educated families in urban cities. The boys have been raised looking at themselves as better than their sisters. But in the current age, when women are also working and supporting the family, shouldn’t their role in the family be equal to that of their brother in the family?
  • Boys and girls are also raised without much interaction- they don’t play together, don’t go to the same schools, and by the time they are in college, they lose the social skills to interact. The only version of women that the boys imagine is probably inspired out of movies. It is my theory that by just having friends of the opposite sex, you don’t view every woman  as someone you want to fantasize about- they can be your friends, people you can play sports with or study with. The interaction is more relaxed and there isn’t all this tension.
  • A big part of the problem is also the role Bollywood movies and TV serials play in brainwashing the youth. There are dozens of movies in Bollywood where the girl says no, and the boy harasses her continuously until she says yes. That becomes every boy’s fantasy! Women are pigeonholed into the traditional girl with values or the modern girl that needs to be taught a lesson by a boy to become traditional. The modern girl has no value or morals, and is therefore typecasted as easy. Any doubts- watch movies like Cocktail. Such movies and shows rile me up so much! And there are so many movies that show rape as a punishment to take revenge or for some other ridiculous reason, but emphasize the fact that the woman is left helpless and is often forced to marry her rapist. Again, are you kidding me? It is 2013, can we please get real? Can the media take responsibility for the world it is depicting? There has to be some sort of moral compass that even media should follow because for India, it is their aspirational life in the big screen.
  • The idiotic politicians and self-proclaimed gurus tend to blame women, for being out late, or for being out with anyone apart from their father or husband, to wearing western clothes. I would love to ignore these nonsensical comments and say no one is going to buy their crap, but a big part of the problem is such troublemakers do have a following that believe every word coming out of their ridiculous mouths. Any woman, whether she is wearing a burkha or a bikini has felt harassment. So clothes cannot be the issue. And if you are telling us that we live in a society where women cannot even walk out in the evening, then we are not a free country.
  • To me, another part of the issue is that no one is will to help a woman in danger. The victim and her friend were lying by the side of the road for half an hour but no one stopped to help. There have been instances when someone acted fresh with me on a bus, and most people stand back- rarely few women support you and help you fight back. But for the most part, you are on your own. People are afraid to help because they will dragged into court cases and want to avoid any such inconvenience. But isn’t that a big problem? Any man has a wife/sister/mother who deals with this everyday so wouldn’t they want someone to help them?
  • I agree that we need to strengthen the judiciary and police protection in the country. A woman should feel safe to go to a police station and report her case without feeling pressured or judged and there should be an expedited process to address these issues. But I believe that just demanding death penalty to rapists dilutes the issues. It is too simplistic a solution- for every rapist to be hanged, every rape case must go through the judiciary process without delays so the rapists cannot intimidate the victim, the victims need to feel safe reporting such crimes, and there should not be any grounds for pardons. There are too many dependencies on systems that already seem broken. Besides, we should be focusing on making sure this doesn’t happen again.

Let us talk about rape in it’s entirety- solving it isn’t going to be a bandaid solution. It needs a systematic change. Let us channel this awakening for it to lead to something more meaningful, so we don’t need another Nirbhaya to wake us all up.