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Have we really understood men?

If you think raising a voice for women means raising a voice against all men, you may have lost the plot already, says Sonal Kalra.

india Updated: Mar 18, 2012 00:28 IST
Sonal Kalra
Gurgaon

Sorry, this week’s column is not going to make you laugh. It might make you think, which is also not a bad thing, if done in moderation. As tough as it is for me personally, to remain serious for long, there is surely something that snaps inside when I read about nightmares such as the one that befell the 23-year-old pub worker in Gurgaon last week.

You know, all along while growing up, we are told that it’s unsafe for girls to go out alone at night. Or that it’s risky to venture out walking on the streets beyond a certain time. I remember, on occasions when I would need to take an autorickshaw, mom would ask me, or whoever was seeing me off, to note or remember the number of the auto, till I safely reached home. Doing just that, seemed to instill a promise of safety in our minds.

Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
This girl, who was returning back from work late at night because her shift demanded so, not only was inside a properly registered and verified radio taxi, but also had her own brother escorting her home, when she was forcibly dragged out of the cab by seven men and eventually gang raped. An incident like this, which is not the worst you would’ve heard of in India, sometimes turns all your beliefs about safety upside down. But, contrary to what you may be thinking by now, today’s column is not about women safety.

The morning after the newspapers splashed the story of this unfortunate incident, there were angry voices all over Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere. ‘Indian men are bastards’. ‘We are a depraved society, castrate them’ — were just some of the points being made, in different forms or phrases. This reminded me of a letter I’d got from a young guy, Saurabh (would want to withhold his last name) several months back. He sounded severely anguished over an incident where a bunch of men were passing lewd comments and harassing a girl in front of his eyes. ‘I felt sick to the core. At that moment, I just couldn’t figure out what I should have done. Confront them and get into a physical fight, when they were many and I was alone? Thankfully they didn’t touch the girl and she left the scene safely but I’ve not been able to sleep peacefully ever since. I feel ashamed and guilty, even though it wasn’t my fault,’ he wrote.

Reading Saurabh’s letter made me realise that his agony of having been a helpless witness to something like this would have easily got drowned in the sympathy I, or anyone, would feel for what that girl had to go through. Many of you may even say that he should have immediately done something, call the cops, fought with the guys singlehandedly, to prove that he’s a real man. Because it’s always easy to ‘say’ things in life, what’s tough is to be in situations and handle them.

Anyway, the point that I’m making is this, while there are millions of girls in our country who grow up facing harassment of some kind at the hands of rogue men who think this is a way of exercising their power, there are millions of men in our country who feel equally disgusted and repulsed by such acts, and also suffer from the additional burden of hearing angry comments when it comes to ‘generalised male bashing’.

I’m not likely to find many supporters for my theory, considering it’s almost always cases of women that get sexually harassed by men come to the light, but let’s face the reality. On hearing about a rape case or any such incident of harassment, although a woman’s reaction may be more empathetic considering they can imagine what the victim may have gone through, I can bet on the fact that an equal number of men and women also end up saying things like ‘she shouldn’t have dressed this way.’ ‘If a girl would go dancing late night in a club, what else does she expect’.

Because, my dear, my theory says that a distorted mindset has no correlation with the gender. Your mom may be equally vehement in telling you not to wear a certain dress to college, than your dad. Sometimes even more than your dad. Our women chief ministers of several states in the past have made public statements condemning a rape victim’s lifestyle, statements that earned them the wrath of the activist kinds. But they were only saying what a whole lot of unknown, common women say every day to their daughters. There is cancer in our very mindset for several generations, some patients get noticed, some don’t.

I realise I may have been blabbering through this column, so here are the quick points I want to make:

1. To the women:
Not all men are lechers or rapists, and you also know that. So let’s stop taking the easy route of generalised male bashing. If only we would care to notice, most men around you are as repulsed as you are, of the heinous crimes against women. And sadly, as helpless. THAT needs to change, for both of you.

2. To the men:
For the sheer fact that it happens to be members of your fraternity that mostly commit these crimes, the onus is all the more on you to bring about a real change. If all that you’ve been doing after reading news about these incidents is shaking your head in sadness, making a few remarks about what our society has come down to, and then supporting your wife in not sending your daughter to that party with friends, you are doing more damage than you think. Think about it.

The biggest criticism I’m likely to face after this week’s column is that all that I’ve said is also mere lip service. How will just saying something bring about a real change? How will this ever stop a girl from being sexually harassed on a secluded road at night. Well, let’s make a villain out of the lips only if spoken words are not followed by constructive action or a definitive change in the mindset. In our own small way, my team and I are hoping to bring about that, and you’ll get to see that happen in the coming weeks on facebook.com/htcity. Spoken words are just the beginning, change has to start somewhere.

Sonal Kalra would wait to hear from you on who you think make the ‘Real Men’.

Write to her at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/sonalkalra13.

Follow her on Twitter @sonalkalra