Why must girls keep quiet, not protest, sacrifice? A teacher’s letter on rape
Eight residents of Delhi write open letters discussing sexual abuse and rape. In Part 3, an educator addresses other teachers.
Students are the rainbow in our clouds. Yet, somewhere, the skies have darkened, threatening their sense of security and safety, especially with increasing episodes of child abuse and rape across the country.
Age seems to be no bar for these crimes.
School, home and community are a melting pot of emotions, desires, attitudes and aspirations. One may think that the energies that reside in these places are positive as they are supposed to nurture our young.
However, there’s a great deal that lies at a subconscious level within the collective humanity that inhabits these places.
Feelings of intolerance, stress disorder, neglect, and sexual abuse often create attitudes that generate violent and deviant sexual behaviour among adolescents and adults. This leads to destructive tendencies, lack of respect for self and the other, which may culminate in rape.
The challenge is to engage with children through activities, dialogues, workshops, self-help situations and inculcate in them sensitivity, a sense of healthy intimacy that helps in building confidence and developing an understanding of the other’s personal space – physical, mental and emotional.
Self-esteem, right to privacy and gender sensitivity are issues that have to be integrated within the psyche of the children as they grow. The root of the problem lies in peer pressure, alcohol and drug abuse, media and the role models they create, and the attitudes that are endorsed during a child’s growth – of objectifying girls and women, of accepting the male gaze, and of glorifying instant gratification.
The solution to the problem lies in first valuing the girl child. Schools and communities should plan awareness and advocacy campaigns on improving the child sex ratio, since female infanticide and foeticide continue to rise. As long as societies are imbalanced, and more aggressively male, rapes will continue to be a growing reality.
Movies, advertisements, comics and cartoons read and watched by children often perpetuate stereotyping of gender images and offer stimulation for sexual violence. Rape is also about a show of power. Many images in cinema, animation and video games often show women as weak and disempowered through a patriarchal lens.
This creates confusion in a young mind, leading to passivity of action and acceptance of an unequal relationship. Men and boys are often equal victims to the way power operates in our society. From childhood, boys are made to believe that they are strong and need to protect girls.
That is why we have to develop attitudes at home where we sensitise our boys to have mutually respectful relationships with girls.
Patriarchy makes women and girls agents of its own construct. They often get sucked into believing and behaving in a manner expected by society. They are required to be quiet, not protest, fast, eat last and sacrifice, all reflections of submission.
We, as educators, must ensure that girls become activists of thought and are able to articulate their feelings of anger, protest and anguish. We have to instil in them the belief that they have the right to make their own cultural and social choices, whether it is the dress they wear, food they eat or customs they follow. They have the ownership of their bodies and the right to choose the person they would want to live with or not, and to take up a profession of their choice.
Schools have become centres of salvation not only in the minds of parents and children but also of the community at large. Hence, we have the responsibility to ensure that schools go beyond being factories of academia and skill development and become laboratories of gender sensitisation, empathetic listening and understanding diversity by not demonizing or objectifying the other.
As an educator, I believe that we must continue to create linkages between the macro and the micro, bridging the external consciousness with the internal world of our young, creating a common language and vocabulary, which is human. No one has a monopoly over suffering and submission. This is what we have to believe. We must act TOGETHER, we must act URGENTLY and we must act NOW.
Let us commit ourselves to making our students more humane towards each other.
Ameeta Mulla Wattal
Ameeta Mulla Wattal is the principal of Springdales School, Pusa Road and the former chairperson of National Progressive Schools’ Conference, an umbrella body of around 150 private unaided recognised schools.
Let’s Talk About Rape features illustrations by Liza Donnelly, a celebrated New York-based cartoonist and writer best known for her work in The New Yorker Magazine. Next in the series: A survivor narrates her account.
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