Sunday 29th October was a special day for me. I attended a feminist event for the first time ever – “Feminist Rani”, in Door No.1 Restaurant in Bandra Reclamation; at 6 30 PM. To introduce you, Feminist Rani was an event centered on the #Metoo campaign; which explored how widespread sexual harassment is, and how consent plays a big role in it. It was conducted by SheThePeople.TV, India’s biggest digital storytelling for women; dedicated to passionately championing and promoting their journeys http://www.shethepeople.tv/ . Feminist Rani was hosted by author Meghna Pant, who was joined by three amazing women – actress and comedian Mallika Dua, Supreet K Singh – Director and COO of Safecity (a platform that crowdsources personal stories of sexual harassment and abuse in public spaces. This data which may be anonymous, gets aggregated as hot spots on a map indicating trends at a local level; and is useful for identifying factors that causes behaviour that leads to violence and work on strategies for solutions.) http://safecity.in/about/ ; and young poetess Harnidh Kaur.
Firstly, we had Harnidh Kaur speaking about sexism in the academia. According to her, academia is incredibly sexist; and the due process for action on sexual harassment (which has been in the news for all the wrong reasons) has been created for men – very few women have access to it. She had completed a Master’s Degree in Policy from Sophia College for Women 3 months back; a field historically dominated by men. Then we had Supreet Singh speaking about her experience as the first woman boss (and the only Indian at that time) in United Breweries, where she was sexually harassed in 2005; just when she had started a fast-track career. She had a strong support system in the form of parents and her seniors, but action was not taken against the culprit.
Supreet was given a choice to stay in the organization and accept the status quo; or leave. She chose to leave, rightfully; and the harasser continued to stay in the organization! Also, Supreet’s fast-track career ended. So, Supreet had been sexually harassed and paid the price for it herself by losing a fast-track career! This is the way the system works against women! The worst part is that the investigation by HR Head (which has been on for 12 years) has still not been closed – they don’t even know there the harasser is now! Truly pathetic state of affairs especially in an MNC – proves how much sexism there is in the corporate world! In fact, the HR trivialize the issue by asking her why did she join a liquor company as a young woman! This is worse than the harassment part itself! Did she have a choice in the first place? She wanted a fast-track career and now she is being shamed AFTER being HARASSED! I am ashamed, being a HR myself.
Then we had Meghna Pant taking the discussion to how sexual harassment has been normalized. Mallika Dua shared her experience of being given the classic Indian Sanskari sexist garbage advice – “Don’t wear short skirts”, “Don’t go at this time of the night” etc. She also gave a valuable insight on how women have been told to save themselves first, whenever there is any sexual harassment or abuse; rather than pursuing the culprit to take action. The discussion focussed on a key point – people giving classic armchair opinions – “Why don’t you react on the spot rather than levelling accusations later?” The issue here is that when a woman is sexually harassed – the first reaction is shock and fear, which prevents her from reacting immediately. Later comes the fear of losing her career, as the system has historically supported men. Taking action means upsetting the system and thus paying the price with her career!
Another important point made by Mallika was that Indians often make Gods of Bollywood to put their faith into; not having faith in the authority. For instance, the recent Great Indian Laughter Challenge where actor Akshay Kumar made a sexist comment “Mallika ji aap bell bajao, main aapko bajata hoon.” – people say it’s “fine” if Akshay Kumar did it, because he is a great star. The issue was made worse by the fake feminism of Akshay Kumar’s wife Twinkle Khanna, as she defended her husband http://www.hindustantimes.com/bollywood/twinkle-khanna-responds-to-akshay-kumar-mallika-dua-controversy-read-her-twitter-post/story-MP2by5yYiEC0Ob7JwcPi5H.html . This highlights how much impunity our society has granted to men, including even superstars. Another example was Salman Khan’s rape analogy, for which he has shamelessly refused to apologize! http://www.firstpost.com/entertainment/salman-khan-refuses-to-apologise-for-rape-analogy-anushka-sharma-calls-it-rather-insensitive-2893360.html
The worst thing that we can learn from all this is that people say lots of crap to women and they have no choice but to let it pass! Whenever women start speaking about sexism, that is when the problems start for them – they end up being shamed publically and thus paying the price for being the victim! According to Mallika, slightly famous men pay the price for being sexist, but not the regular men in households. Another issue raised was that it has been medically proven that women freeze when harassed, since they have been raised to be submissive by nature. Mallika pointed out that when women speak out against harassment, they are often trolled brutally, for instance – “You are a whore looking for publicity” ! This has become so common (especially on social media) that we have almost started accepting it!
Ultimately, men are afraid that the status quo may change – the status quo that men can get away with sexual harassment and sexism. After having drinks, men would often say “Supreet is here. Be careful of what you say”. While this is clearly sexism, it also proves how much fear Supreet has struck into the mindset of men at her workplace – Bravo Supreet! Harnidh has often been told “What, you are such a big feminist !” Well, this has started happening to male feminists like me too – I have been called “Fake” and “Pimping Pup of the Feminazis” on Twitter for my feminism. Many women too are part of the problem – they say “Adjust karlo, he just put a hand on you” ! Whenever a woman says “Its NOT OK!” (to the indecent behaviour of a man), she is seen as a killjoy.
The mindset commonly ingrained in Indian women has been – “Let’s be soft”, “Let’s not upset our career” etc. I can’t blame them, because; usually the moment women start speaking out people shut them down. The conversation often gets derailed from the sexist power structure of patriarchy to the kind of person the particular woman is (character assassination) – Harnidh, being a Sikh; has been called “Khalistani bitch”. Similarly, journalist Rana Ayyub; being a Muslim, has been called “Jihadi Jane”. Men also minimize the effect of sexual abuse by saying things like “A slap is not abuse”, “A pinch is not abuse” etc. There is also a phenomenon called “gas-lighting”, wherein; when a woman speaks out about sexual abuse; she is told that she is imagining things.
This brings us to women being part of the problem as well. Sexism has been ingrained in women too – they have started to think that victims of sexual harassment or sexism are “insane” or “imagining things”. According to Harnidh, “If you feel something is wrong, IT IS WRONG.” Sadly however, women have denied themselves the right to say NO. According to Supreet, in marriages; women are supposed to compromise. Whenever domestic violence happens, the woman is told by the family “You haven’t done something right”, “You provoked him” etc.
This was a very lengthy but extremely productive and thought-provoking discussion on the whole. I am sorry but I am gonna have to split it into two parts so that the essence is not diluted. All women as well as men, PLEASE READ AND SHARE EVERYWHERE!!