Let’s Talk About Rape : Eight eminent Indians write open letters in Hindustan Times to discuss the reality of sexual assault in India.
In Part 6 of the series, Arun Kapur writes an open letter to students.
My dear Students,
Safety is increasingly becoming an area of concern for all of us. The safety of young girls, middle-aged women and sometimes much older women is being compromised every day. As I read of crimes against women, little babies as young as a few months old being raped, I realise the responsibility lies with us, the adults who are the caregivers of these children. In my long career as a teacher, I have found one of the best ways of helping children learn is through dialogue. Conversations are an ideal vehicle for the exchange of ideas and thoughts. In every school I have ever worked in, both in India and beyond, I have spent long hours chatting with my students. We’ve talked about almost every topic one can think of and I do believe those long chats have been the crux of education, as important and perhaps more influential than academic learning.
Nurture plays a very important role in the upbringing of children and the time-tested methods of giving a child love, time to engage and freedom to explore are the essential building blocks of what will in time translate into the code of conduct he adheres to. Perhaps, even more important than the three Rs a child learns in school is another “R”: respect for others and self-respect. To teach respect, formal schooling is not necessary; these are lessons learnt within the family and the community. Children will grow to be socially competent and emotionally resilient, if we are able to teach them that smartness, competitiveness and ambition are admirable but come a close second to kindness and sensitivity; and healthy, positive behaviour is the only acceptable norm.
Watch | #LetsTalkAboutRape: How Hindustan Times started the conversation
A rapist is never born a rapist; circumstances and experiences are usually the culprits. Just as we teach our children to feed themselves and dress themselves and then send them to school to read and write and learn numbers and figures, this too needs to be taught. Somewhere we seem to be depriving our boys of the understanding of the norms of respect and sensitivity to others. In 98% of cases of a woman being raped, the rapist is a man and in 93% of cases of a man being raped, the rapist is also a man. And I hold the parents and teachers culpable for each time a boy or a man deviates from the code of honour.
Where are we going wrong with our sons? Of course, it’s years and years of a patriarchal societal construct is what we will all say. But the times they are a changing and our girls are as educated as our boys and as distinguished and successful in every domain. In fact, we men will never be able to become the master jugglers they are, balancing home and hearth with careers of great responsibility and power. Why then are the parents of men not able to educate their sons to respect other mothers, sisters, wives and friends?
Rape of any kind, the horrific ones we read about and the thousands of others that stay unreported, is all about a power game. Do men believe they are the more powerful only because the physical impact of rape does not affect the perpetrator? That is perhaps one of the reasons why we have not focused on teaching our boys not to rape. We owe our sons what we give our daughters in terms of sex education, understanding consent, respecting privacy. As a society, we make an effort to teach girls methods to avoid getting raped but ironically we usually omit to teach boys to not rape. To minimise the risk of sexual assault, parents and educators teach girls to watch what they wear, the dangers of talking to strangers, of getting drunk, of accepting gifts or favours but do we have similar guidelines in place for boys?
What would I have all boys and men all over the world know? First, sexual harassment of any kind is wrong. Rape is, of course, the most extreme form of sexual harassment but our boys must learn that unwanted comments about another person’s body or catcalls on the streets are not acceptable. If we can teach them that sexual harassment, even of the most “harmless” kind, is not acceptable, they will be less likely to contemplate more egregious sexual violence. We need to teach our boys to understand and respect consent. They must wait for a “yes”; the absence of a “no” is not consent. The “yes” is all-important, even with your wife or partner. No one is entitled to sex because they have been a “nice guy” or bought gifts for a girl. The only acceptable kind of sex is where both partners want to have sex with each other and have explicitly said so. We must also explain to our boys the importance of speaking up. Studies have shown that about 80% of men have admitted to feeling uncomfortable when a woman is disrespected or mistreated in their presence. Most of this 80% will usually remain silent bystanders but protesting, resisting and talking can all have a positive impact. Alcohol clouds judgement. Be responsible when you use alcohol, more than 60% of rapists have been seen to have used alcohol just before the incident. To the girls I say, much the same: Do not succumb to the pressure of others, have the courage to protest, to complain and to stand up for your rights. Share your concerns with your parents and teachers; while your friends will always want the best for you, they might not be mature enough to guide you. Trust a responsible adult. Very often a close relative or a family friend may try to access your body in inappropriate ways. Please speak about it, do not feel guilty or ashamed.
To my former students, who cover the entire gamut of parenthood, from soon to be grandparents to soon-to-be parents: Remember to teach your sons the dangers of inappropriate sexual behaviour as carefully as you teach your daughters. While most schools are doing a very good job of imparting structured academic learning and building physical strength and resilience through structured sports and games, the all-important social, emotional and spiritual components very often get over looked. This learning has to be a collaborative process, between the teachers, the parents and the community and must permeate every domain of the school programme.
(The author is an educationist. He is the director of Vasant Valley School, New Delhi and director of the Royal Academy, Bhutan)
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