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My message to women: Speak, or forever be damned, writes Priya Malik

Ignorance is no longer the best policy for sexual harassment. Confrontation is

brunch Updated: Oct 29, 2017 11:49 IST
Priya Malik
Priya Malik
Hindustan Times
#metoo,sexual abuse,sexual harassment
Ignoring is no longer the best policy for sexual harassment. Confrontation is!(Photo Illustration: Parth Garg)

Age: 11

Location: School bus

Incident: A man grabbed my ass and I just stood there, unable to move or utter a single word.

Age: 17

Location: In the middle of the street

Incident: A passerby on a bike slapped my breasts and drove off as I stood there teary-eyed and embarrassed.

Ages: 12,13,14,15,16,17,18,19,20,21,22,23, 24,25,26,27,28,29,30

Location: Everywhere

Incidents: Being called at, sneered at, whistled at hooted at, laughed at, mocked at, sung songs at, gestured obscenely at, as we all just stood there, ignored it and normalised it because “aisa toh hota hi rehta hai”.

Age: 30

Location: On my way home from the gym

Incident: A man asked for money and I said no, so he decided to comment on how my ass looks like it’s begging to get f****d.

This time, I did not just stand there. I was not teary-eyed. I didn’t ignore it just because “aisa toh hota hi rehta hai”. And, although I wasn’t groped or molested or slapped, I stopped and waited for him to catch up to me, stood there and asked him what gave him the right to say that.

As I stood there, asking him loud enough at what gives him the right to make lecherous remarks to a woman who is just minding her own business, passersby stopped and analysed the incident. From amongst the passersby, an old man walked up to me and said, “Beta, samajhdaari iss baat main hoti, if you ignored him”. And that is the problem.

Talking back

Similarly, in another recent incident, when a group of teenage boys screamed at me, saying “aao kabhi haveli pe”, I stopped them and asked them their haveli’s address so I could report to their family on their street behaviour with women. Towards the end of the conversation, the boy who had asked me to come to his haveli called me “didi” and begged me to not report his behaviour, and, in all probability dreaded ever having me at their haveli. It is funny how an enlarged penis suffers from instant erectile dysfunction when made accountable for its actions.

Why are we called “brave” or “rebellious” when we tackle these instances? That shouldn’t have to be brave or rebellious, it should be standard protocol.

I’ve come across similar instances where “counter speech” is used online. On days when I don’t want to ignore and/or block trolls and decide to speak, name and shame them, it shows me the true power of counter speech and retaliation. The point is to not necessarily attack the perpetrator, but, at the very least, acknowledge him/her and not just “let them get away with it”.

We’ve grown up in a nation that teaches us “kutton ke muh kya lagna?” and that is what has led to this ever increasing menace of stalking, ‘eve teasing’ and sexual harassment. Why are we called “brave” or “rebellious” when we tackle these instances? That shouldn’t have to be brave or rebellious, it should be standard protocol.

Ignorance is no longer the best policy for harassment, confrontation is.

The right of personhood

A lot of people tell me that I should just let it be. Some of my male friends are afraid that my retaliation will land me into trouble. A few of them have even told me that I am inviting an acid attack. But after 30 years of constant harassment, I would rather have acid spilled on my face than let another man get past me doing and saying whatever he pleases.

Let me clarify that I am not suggesting that we take the law in our hands. I am only suggesting that we have the right to exist as peacefully as they do.

We too

I refuse to not enter some public spaces because “acchhe gharon ki ladkiyan aisi jagahon mein nahi jaati”

Yes, #MeToo and I know that you too and we all know that we too but it is time for a call of action. It is time to not just acknowledge it but to retaliate against it. It is time to hash the tag and move beyond it. The last thing I want is my unborn children finding solace in a hashtag like we are doing, or a sense of sanctity knowing that there are others suffering with them too. May they never have to. I refuse to let my children grow up in a world where they’re taught to “just bear it”.

I refuse to live in fear of the consequences of my retaliation when you don’t live in fear of the consequences of your initiation. I refuse to not enter some public spaces because “acchhe gharon ki ladkiyan aisi jagahon mein nahi jaati”. I refuse to dress differently just to help you keep your penis in your pants. I refuse to live in a world where my genitalia determines my privilege.

In other words, I refuse to shut up, until I shut them down.

The author is an ex-participant of Big Brother Australia and Bigg Boss 9, India. Through initiatives on women’s empowerment, she’s taking big steps to make a change.

From HT Brunch, October 29, 2017

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First Published: Oct 28, 2017 22:03 IST