A student recounts an incident in her college and how the perpetrator went scot free while the survivor kept mum for fear of backlash.
I recently came to know that my friend, who is in her first year of college was harassed by a man in full public view of the campus. He complimented her, held her hand and asked her to come with him in front of an entire crowd. When the girl opposed, the guy reminded her that everyone was watching them and if she didn’t comply, he would do something that would embarrass her. With no choice left, the girl had to agree and was taken to an empty classroom just for a “little chat”. There, the guy tried to kiss her, which left the girl completely shocked. He threatened to cut himself right there if she didn’t listen to him. As if this was not enough, he later tried to explain himself by saying that he had seen the girl talk to other guys all the time, so he thought she would be open to his overtures also! The girl did not speak to anyone about this incident for a long time, thinking “log kya kahenge” but the guy without the slightest remorse forgot about the incident as if he had done nothing wrong.
The question that arises here is that why do men feel it is okay to disrespect women and feel entitled to their bodies and consent? The answer lies in what is shown and celebrated by different forms of media. A man is openly allowed to flaunt his misdeeds of mistreating or using women in public, but whenever a woman tries to voice her opinions, she is either suppressed or judged by the society for what she said. Recently, in Sanjay Dutt’s biopic ‘Sanju’, it was said that he slept with more than 300 women in his life and the public watching this film hooted and hailed the man as a “hero”. No one ever thought that he was conning women to sleep with him.
Even in the real world, rapists or molesters are able to walk away scot-free after the incident has died down, but the women who fell prey to such men have to suffer for the rest of their lives. A few weeks back, the Bombay High Court set an acid attack culprit free since he agreed to help the victim for the surgery and marry her later. What they forgot was that he attacked her when the college romance went awry. The girl did not wish to marry the man back then but had to comply eight years later as she didn’t think she had another choice.
It is sad that most men don’t think that their advances toward women were unwanted or inappropriate, but what is worse is that women are expected to listen to such men in order to avoid being judged by the society. This is exactly why a recent global survey concluded that India is the most unsafe country in the world for women.
Since childhood, knowingly or unknowingly girls are taught to comply, be submissive in front of men and always remember that the elders(men) in the family are always right. Even in most of the modern households, it is still a sin for a girl to not listen to her father and argue with him. The patriarch of the house always has the final say and nobody is allowed to counter it no matter what.
Sadly, this is just the beginning. As the girl grows up, the family starts looking for a suitable boy for the girl to get married to. As soon as the parents think it is the right time, the girl is married off to a stranger and is expected to adjust to his house for the rest of her life. If she is lucky enough, her new family allows her to work, but not at the cost of the well being of her family. She has to take care of her husband’s needs, look after the family, serve her in-laws well and even bear children while struggling to balance work. If she fails in any of this, she is labelled as an incompetent wife or daughter in law and humiliated for the same. If the girl tries to retaliate, she is made to think about “log kya kahenge” and she is forced to comply again.
Some men even go to the extent of publicly shaming women for non-compliance using techniques like acid attacks, sexual crimes or even triple talaq.
No matter what, a girl at some point in her life is forced to comply and listen to men under the pretext of societal pressure and by the fear of being labelled. This will only end when we stand up for each other and more importantly stand up for what is right instead of merely shielding our faces from the heat and saying that it happens with everyone. Women need not be apologetic for what they have not done, must learn to say NO, and we as a society must accept and respect their decisions instead of challenging them.
The author is an undergraduate student of Psychology at Modern College of Arts, Science and Commerce. (Savitribai Phule Pune University.)